THE POWER OF WORDS
by Edgar Allan Poe
OINOS. Pardon, Agathos, the weakness of a spirit new-fledged with
AGATHOS. You have spoken nothing, my Oinos, for which pardon is to
be demanded. Not even here is knowledge thing of intuition. For
wisdom, ask of the angels freely, that it may be given!
OINOS. But in this existence, I dreamed that I should be at once
cognizant of all things, and thus at once be happy in being
cognizant of all.
AGATHOS. Ah, not in knowledge is happiness, but in the acquisition
of knowledge! In for ever knowing, we are for ever blessed; but to
know all were the curse of a fiend.
OINOS. But does not The Most High know all?
AGATHOS. That (since he is The Most Happy) must be still the one
thing unknown even to Him.
OINOS. But, since we grow hourly in knowledge, must not at last
all things be known?
AGATHOS. Look down into the abysmal distances!- attempt to force the
gaze down the multitudinous vistas of the stars, as we sweep slowly
through them thus- and thus- and thus! Even the spiritual vision, is
it not at all points arrested by the continuous golden walls of the
universe?- the walls of the myriads of the shining bodies that mere
number has appeared to blend into unity?
OINOS. I clearly perceive that the infinity of matter is no dream.
AGATHOS. There are no dreams in Aidenn- but it is here whispered
that, of this infinity of matter, the sole purpose is to afford
infinite springs, at which the soul may allay the thirst to know,
which is for ever unquenchable within it- since to quench it, would be
to extinguish the soul’s self. Question me then, my Oinos, freely
and without fear. Come! we will leave to the left the loud harmony
of the Pleiades, and swoop outward from the throne into the starry
meadows beyond Orion, where, for pansies and violets, and heart’s-
ease, are the beds of the triplicate and triple- tinted suns.
OINOS. And now, Agathos, as we proceed, instruct me!- speak to me in
the earth’s familiar tones. I understand not what you hinted to me,
just now, of the modes or of the method of what, during mortality,
we were accustomed to call Creation. Do you mean to say that the
Creator is not God?
AGATHOS. I mean to say that the Deity does not create.
AGATHOS. In the beginning only, he created. The seeming creatures
which are now, throughout the universe, so perpetually springing
into being, can only be considered as the mediate or indirect, not
as the direct or immediate results of the Divine creative power.
OINOS. Among men, my Agathos, this idea would be considered
heretical in the extreme.
AGATHOS. Among angels, my Oinos, it is seen to be simply true.
OINOS. I can comprehend you thus far- that certain operations of
what we term Nature, or the natural laws, will, under certain
conditions, give rise to that which has all the appearance of
creation. Shortly before the final overthrow of the earth, there were,
I well remember, many very successful experiments in what some
philosophers were weak enough to denominate the creation of
AGATHOS. The cases of which you speak were, in fact, instances of
the secondary creation- and of the only species of creation which
has ever been, since the first word spoke into existence the first
OINOS. Are not the starry worlds that, from the abyss of
nonentity, burst hourly forth into the heavens- are not these stars,
Agathos, the immediate handiwork of the King?
AGATHOS. Let me endeavor, my Oinos, to lead you, step by step, to
the conception I intend. You are well aware that, as no thought can
perish, so no act is without infinite result. We moved our hands,
for example, when we were dwellers on the earth, and, in so doing,
gave vibration to the atmosphere which engirdled it. This vibration
was indefinitely extended, till it gave impulse to every particle of
the earth’s air, which thenceforward, and for ever, was actuated by
the one movement of the hand. This fact the mathematicians of our
globe well knew. They made the special effects, indeed, wrought in the
fluid by special impulses, the subject of exact calculation- so that
it became easy to determine in what precise period an impulse of given
extent would engirdle the orb, and impress (for ever) every atom of
the atmosphere circumambient. Retrograding, they found no
difficulty, from a given effect, under given conditions, in
determining the value of the original impulse. Now the
mathematicians who saw that the results of any given impulse were
absolutely endless- and who saw that a portion of these results were
accurately traceable through the agency of algebraic analysis- who
saw, too, the facility of the retrogradation- these men saw, at the
same time, that this species of analysis itself, had within itself a
capacity for indefinite progress- that there were no bounds
conceivable to its advancement and applicability, except within the
intellect of him who advanced or applied it. But at this point our
OINOS. And why, Agathos, should they have proceeded?
AGATHOS. Because there were some considerations of deep interest
beyond. It was deducible from what they knew, that to a being of
infinite understanding- one to whom the perfection of the algebraic
analysis lay unfolded- there could be no difficulty in tracing every
impulse given the air- and the ether through the air- to the
remotest consequences at any even infinitely remote epoch of time.
It is indeed demonstrable that every such impulse given the air, must,
in the end, impress every individual thing that exists within the
universe;- and the being of infinite understanding- the being whom
we have imagined- might trace the remote undulations of the impulse-
trace them upward and onward in their influences upon all particles of
an matter- upward and onward for ever in their modifications of old
forms- or, in other words, in their creation of new- until he found
them reflected- unimpressive at last- back from the throne of the
Godhead. And not only could such a thing do this, but at any epoch,
should a given result be afforded him- should one of these
numberless comets, for example, be presented to his inspection- he
could have no difficulty in determining, by the analytic
retrogradation, to what original impulse it was due. This power of
retrogradation in its absolute fulness and perfection- this faculty of
referring at all epochs, all effects to all causes- is of course the
prerogative of the Deity alone- but in every variety of degree,
short of the absolute perfection, is the power itself exercised by the
whole host of the Angelic intelligences.
OINOS. But you speak merely of impulses upon the air.
AGATHOS. In speaking of the air, I referred only to the earth; but
the general proposition has reference to impulses upon the ether-
which, since it pervades, and alone pervades all space, is thus the
great medium of creation.
OINOS. Then all motion, of whatever nature, creates?
AGATHOS. It must: but a true philosophy has long taught that the
source of all motion is thought- and the source of all thought is-
AGATHOS. I have spoken to you, Oinos, as to a child of the fair
Earth which lately perished- of impulses upon the atmosphere of the
OINOS. You did.
AGATHOS. And while I thus spoke, did there not cross your mind
some thought of the physical power of words? Is not every word an
impulse on the air?
OINOS. But why, Agathos, do you weep- and why, oh why do your
wings droop as we hover above this fair star- which is the greenest
and yet most terrible of all we have encountered in our flight? Its
brilliant flowers look like a fairy dream- but its fierce volcanoes
like the passions of a turbulent heart.
AGATHOS. They are!- they are! This wild star- it is now three
centuries since, with clasped hands, and with streaming eyes, at the
feet of my beloved- I spoke it- with a few passionate sentences-
into birth. Its brilliant flowers are the dearest of all unfulfilled
dreams, and its raging volcanoes are the passions of the most
turbulent and unhallowed of hearts.