The meaning of Poe’s poem of solitude
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) wrote ‘Alone’ when he was still very young – only 21 years of age. The poem remained unpublished until 1875, over a quarter of a century after Poe’s death. The sentiment is, indeed, something that many of us can relate to from our teenage years and youth: feeling all alone and that we are a misfit in the world around us, not just physically but emotionally alone. Here is Poe’s poem, followed by some words of analysis.
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—
When we’re young and struggling to find and establish our place in the world, many of us feel as though we’re simply not like other people. It comes as little surprise that Edgar Allan Poe – if we take this lyric poem as a personal expression of his own feelings – felt like this, too. It’s one of the paradoxes of adolescence that everyone goes through exactly the same thing: feeling as though they are different from everyone else.
In lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming couplets – a bitingly ironic rhyme scheme to adopt, since Poe’s poem is about his own failure to couple with anyone or find his companion or complement – Poe outlines the tragedy of being different, of not being part of the crowd. Like a sort of belated Romantic (and in many ways Poe’s poetry remains firmly part of the Romantic tradition), Poe broods over his solitariness.
Poe’s ‘Alone’ ends seemingly mid-sentence, mid-thought, with a dash – paving the way for another solitary American poet of the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson. Poe himself would die, aged just forty, having been found alone on the streets of Baltimore.