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Edgar Allan Poe

The Lake

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1827

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

“The Lake” by Edgar Allan Poe was originally published in 1827 in Tamerlane and Other Poems. This poetry collection, subtitled By a Bostonian, was Poe’s first publication. Just a few years later, “The Lake” appeared in Poe’s collection titled “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems” and included a new, anonymous dedication, “To —.”

“The Lake” is part of the Romantic and Gothic genres of poetry. Poe was inspired by the British Romantic poets, like Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who elevate beauty, nature, and the imagination. “The Lake” focuses on the theme of The Beauty of Nature with its motifs of water, wind, and earth. Poe also includes references to Hauntology and the Supernatural in “The Lake.”

Poet Biography

Poe was born in Boston in 1809. His parents were actors, but not long after Poe’s birth, his father disappeared and his mother died. Poe’s siblings were adopted by various families. Poe, however, became the foster child, but not the legal adoptee, of a tobacco merchant named John Allan in Richmond, Virginia. After attending boarding school, Poe briefly attended the University of Virginia, but had to leave when Allan would not pay outstanding debts.

He enlisted in the army in 1827 and, in that same year, his first book of poems Tamerlane and Other Poems, By a Bostonian—which contains “The Lake”—was published. It did not receive much attention by the press. In 1829, Poe was honorably discharged from the army, and he published another collection of poetry. He briefly attended West Point, but again had to withdraw due to lack of financial support from Allan.

Poe moved to New York City and then Baltimore, where he lived with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and his cousin, Virginia. During this period, Poe began to publish short stories. In 1835, he became the editor of The Southern Literary Messenger and moved back to Richmond with Maria and Virginia. Poe and Virginia were married in 1836. He edited several other journals, moving to Philadelphia to edit Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine, then moving to New York City to edit the Broadway Journal. In 1845, after the publication of “The Raven,” Poe reached the height of his literary fame.

In 1847, Virginia died of tuberculosis. Poe moved on and eventually proposed to another woman. However, as their wedding was being planned, Poe visited Baltimore and died there under mysterious circumstances in 1849.

Poem Text

In spring of youth it was my lot

To haunt of the wide earth a spot

The which I could not love the less—

So lovely was the loneliness

Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,

And the tall pines that tower’d around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall

Upon that spot, as upon all,

And the mystic wind went by

Murmuring in melody—

Then—ah then I would awake

To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,

But a tremulous delight—

A feeling not the jewelled mine

Could teach or bribe me to define—

Nor Love—although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,

And in its gulf a fitting grave

For him who thence could solace bring

To his lone imagining—

Whose solitary soul could make

An Eden of that dim lake.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Lake.” 1827. The Academy of American Poets.

Summary

“The Lake” has 23 lines broken into 4 stanzas. In the first stanza, the speaker describes memories of his youth. In these, his role is to spend time in a particular location—a lake—that is beautiful and isolated. Surrounding the lake are natural features that include rocks and pine trees.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes how the lake looks at night. It is dark and filled with the music of the wind. The nighttime scene causes the speaker to realize how the lake can inspire terror in him.

In the third stanza, he clarifies that the terror he feels is pleasurable rather than frightening. It is a feeling that he does not even have about jewels, and no amount of said jewels could convince him to define his emotions about the lake. The speaker compares this feeling to love.

In the final stanza, the speaker describes how death can be found in the lake’s waves. Death is found by a person who can imagine solace in this otherwise terrifying place, and who, alone, compares the lake to the Garden of Eden.

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