Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe


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1850
ELEONORA
by Edgar Allan Poe

Sub conservatione formae specificae salva anima.
RAYMOND LULLY.

I AM come of a race noted for vigor of fancy and ardor of passion.
Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether
madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence- whether much that is
glorious- whether all that is profound- does not spring from disease
of thought- from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general
intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which
escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they
obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that
they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they
learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere
knowledge which is of evil. They penetrate, however, rudderless or
compassless into the vast ocean of the “light ineffable,” and again,
like the adventures of the Nubian geographer, “agressi sunt mare
tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi.”
We will say, then, that I am mad. I grant, at least, that there
are two distinct conditions of my mental existence- the condition of a
lucid reason, not to be disputed, and belonging to the memory of
events forming the first epoch of my life- and a condition of shadow
and doubt, appertaining to the present, and to the recollection of
what constitutes the second great era of my being. Therefore, what I
shall tell of the earlier period, believe; and to what I may relate of
the later time, give only such credit as may seem due, or doubt it
altogether, or, if doubt it ye cannot, then play unto its riddle the
Oedipus.
She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and
distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only
sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin.
We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the
Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came
upon that vale; for it lay away up among a range of giant hills that
hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its
sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and, to
reach our happy home, there was need of putting back, with force,
the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to
death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers. Thus it was
that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the
valley- I, and my cousin, and her mother.
From the dim regions beyond the mountains at the upper end of our
encircled domain, there crept out a narrow and deep river, brighter
than all save the eyes of Eleonora; and, winding stealthily about in
mazy courses, it passed away, at length, through a shadowy gorge,
among hills still dimmer than those whence it had issued. We called it
the “River of Silence”; for there seemed to be a hushing influence
in its flow. No murmur arose from its bed, and so gently it wandered
along, that the pearly pebbles upon which we loved to gaze, far down
within its bosom, stirred not at all, but lay in a motionless content,
each in its own old station, shining on gloriously forever.
The margin of the river, and of the many dazzling rivulets that
glided through devious ways into its channel, as well as the spaces
that extended from the margins away down into the depths of the
streams until they reached the bed of pebbles at the bottom,- these
spots, not less than the whole surface of the valley, from the river
to the mountains that girdled it in, were carpeted all by a soft green
grass, thick, short, perfectly even, and vanilla-perfumed, but so
besprinkled throughout with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the
purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel, that its exceeding beauty
spoke to our hearts in loud tones, of the love and of the glory of
God.
And, here and there, in groves about this grass, like wildernesses
of dreams, sprang up fantastic trees, whose tall slender stems stood
not upright, but slanted gracefully toward the light that peered at
noon-day into the centre of the valley. Their mark was speckled with
the vivid alternate splendor of ebony and silver, and was smoother
than all save the cheeks of Eleonora; so that, but for the brilliant
green of the huge leaves that spread from their summits in long,
tremulous lines, dallying with the Zephyrs, one might have fancied
them giant serpents of Syria doing homage to their sovereign the Sun.
Hand in hand about this valley, for fifteen years, roamed I with
Eleonora before Love entered within our hearts. It was one evening
at the close of the third lustrum of her life, and of the fourth of my
own, that we sat, locked in each other’s embrace, beneath the
serpent-like trees, and looked down within the water of the River of
Silence at our images therein. We spoke no words during the rest of
that sweet day, and our words even upon the morrow were tremulous
and few. We had drawn the God Eros from that wave, and now we felt
that he had enkindled within us the fiery souls of our forefathers.
The passions which had for centuries distinguished our race, came
thronging with the fancies for which they had been equally noted,
and together breathed a delirious bliss over the Valley of the
Many-Colored Grass. A change fell upon all things. Strange,
brilliant flowers, star-shaped, burn out upon the trees where no
flowers had been known before. The tints of the green carpet deepened;
and when, one by one, the white daisies shrank away, there sprang up
in place of them, ten by ten of the ruby-red asphodel. And life
arose in our paths; for the tall flamingo, hitherto unseen, with all
gay glowing birds, flaunted his scarlet plumage before us. The
golden and silver fish haunted the river, out of the bosom of which
issued, little by little, a murmur that swelled, at length, into a
lulling melody more divine than that of the harp of Aeolus-sweeter
than all save the voice of Eleonora. And now, too, a voluminous cloud,
which we had long watched in the regions of Hesper, floated out
thence, all gorgeous in crimson and gold, and settling in peace
above us, sank, day by day, lower and lower, until its edges rested
upon the tops of the mountains, turning all their dimness into
magnificence, and shutting us up, as if forever, within a magic
prison-house of grandeur and of glory.
The loveliness of Eleonora was that of the Seraphim; but she was a
maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the
flowers. No guile disguised the fervor of love which animated her
heart, and she examined with me its inmost recesses as we walked
together in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass, and discoursed of
the mighty changes which had lately taken place therein.
At length, having spoken one day, in tears, of the last sad change
which must befall Humanity, she thenceforward dwelt only upon this one
sorrowful theme, interweaving it into all our converse, as, in the
songs of the bard of Schiraz, the same images are found occurring,
again and again, in every impressive variation of phrase.
She had seen that the finger of Death was upon her bosom- that, like
the ephemeron, she had been made perfect in loveliness only to die;
but the terrors of the grave to her lay solely in a consideration
which she revealed to me, one evening at twilight, by the banks of the
River of Silence. She grieved to think that, having entombed her in
the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass, I would quit forever its happy
recesses, transferring the love which now was so passionately her
own to some maiden of the outer and everyday world. And, then and
there, I threw myself hurriedly at the feet of Eleonora, and offered
up a vow, to herself and to Heaven, that I would never bind myself
in marriage to any daughter of Earth- that I would in no manner
prove recreant to her dear memory, or to the memory of the devout
affection with which she had blessed me. And I called the Mighty Ruler
of the Universe to witness the pious solemnity of my vow. And the
curse which I invoked of Him and of her, a saint in Helusion should
I prove traitorous to that promise, involved a penalty the exceeding
great horror of which will not permit me to make record of it here.
And the bright eyes of Eleonora grew brighter at my words; and she
sighed as if a deadly burthen had been taken from her breast; and
she trembled and very bitterly wept; but she made acceptance of the
vow, (for what was she but a child?) and it made easy to her the bed
of her death. And she said to me, not many days afterward,
tranquilly dying, that, because of what I had done for the comfort
of her spirit she would watch over me in that spirit when departed,
and, if so it were permitted her return to me visibly in the watches
of the night; but, if this thing were, indeed, beyond the power of the
souls in Paradise, that she would, at least, give me frequent
indications of her presence, sighing upon me in the evening winds,
or filling the air which I breathed with perfume from the censers of
the angels. And, with these words upon her lips, she yielded up her
innocent life, putting an end to the first epoch of my own.
Thus far I have faithfully said. But as I pass the barrier in
Times path, formed by the death of my beloved, and proceed with the
second era of my existence, I feel that a shadow gathers over my
brain, and I mistrust the perfect sanity of the record. But let me
on.- Years dragged themselves along heavily, and still I dwelled
within the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass; but a second change had
come upon all things. The star-shaped flowers shrank into the stems of
the trees, and appeared no more. The tints of the green carpet
faded; and, one by one, the ruby-red asphodels withered away; and
there sprang up, in place of them, ten by ten, dark, eye-like violets,
that writhed uneasily and were ever encumbered with dew. And Life
departed from our paths; for the tall flamingo flaunted no longer
his scarlet plumage before us, but flew sadly from the vale into the
hills, with all the gay glowing birds that had arrived in his company.
And the golden and silver fish swam down through the gorge at the
lower end of our domain and bedecked the sweet river never again.
And the lulling melody that had been softer than the wind-harp of
Aeolus, and more divine than all save the voice of Eleonora, it died
little by little away, in murmurs growing lower and lower, until the
stream returned, at length, utterly, into the solemnity of its
original silence. And then, lastly, the voluminous cloud uprose,
and, abandoning the tops of the mountains to the dimness of old,
fell back into the regions of Hesper, and took away all its manifold
golden and gorgeous glories from the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass.
Yet the promises of Eleonora were not forgotten; for I heard the
sounds of the swinging of the censers of the angels; and streams of
a holy perfume floated ever and ever about the valley; and at lone
hours, when my heart beat heavily, the winds that bathed my brow
came unto me laden with soft sighs; and indistinct murmurs filled
often the night air, and once- oh, but once only! I was awakened
from a slumber, like the slumber of death, by the pressing of
spiritual lips upon my own.
But the void within my heart refused, even thus, to be filled. I
longed for the love which had before filled it to overflowing. At
length the valley pained me through its memories of Eleonora, and I
left it for ever for the vanities and the turbulent triumphs of the
world.

I found myself within a strange city, where all things might have
served to blot from recollection the sweet dreams I had dreamed so
long in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. The pomps and
pageantries of a stately court, and the mad clangor of arms, and the
radiant loveliness of women, bewildered and intoxicated my brain.
But as yet my soul had proved true to its vows, and the indications of
the presence of Eleonora were still given me in the silent hours of
the night. Suddenly these manifestations they ceased, and the world
grew dark before mine eyes, and I stood aghast at the burning thoughts
which possessed, at the terrible temptations which beset me; for there
came from some far, far distant and unknown land, into the gay court
of the king I served, a maiden to whose beauty my whole recreant heart
yielded at once- at whose footstool I bowed down without a struggle,
in the most ardent, in the most abject worship of love. What,
indeed, was my passion for the young girl of the valley in
comparison with the fervor, and the delirium, and the spirit-lifting
ecstasy of adoration with which I poured out my whole soul in tears at
the feet of the ethereal Ermengarde?- Oh, bright was the seraph
Ermengarde! and in that knowledge I had room for none other.- Oh,
divine was the angel Ermengarde! and as I looked down into the
depths of her memorial eyes, I thought only of them- and of her.
I wedded;- nor dreaded the curse I had invoked; and its bitterness
was not visited upon me. And once- but once again in the silence of
the night; there came through my lattice the soft sighs which had
forsaken me; and they modelled themselves into familiar and sweet
voice, saying:
“Sleep in peace!- for the Spirit of Love reigneth and ruleth, and,
in taking to thy passionate heart her who is Ermengarde, thou art
absolved, for reasons which shall be made known to thee in Heaven,
of thy vows unto Eleonora.”
THE END

 

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