Text of the Poem

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently—
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free—
Up domes—up spires—up kingly halls—
Up fanes—up Babylon-like walls—
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers—
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol's diamond eye—
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass—
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea—
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave—there is movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide—
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow—
The hours are breathing faint and low—
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones.

Shall do it reverence.


  1. The noun “reverence” means a profound respect for something or someone. Poe suggests that hell honors the city by rising up to meet it as it falls.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The unnerving stillness of the scene is disrupted when the buildings seem to sink and “settle” downward. The waves glow redder and hell rises up to meet the condemned city, presumably to honor its wickedness. Due to this, Poe’s poem possibly implies that humans are innately evil, given that all people—“the good and the bad and the worst and the best”—end up in a city that sinks into hell, suggesting that how people live their lives does not matter since hell is unavoidable.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Poe alludes to hell, where Christians believe the fallen angel Satan rules over the souls of unrepentant sinners. Many beliefs about hell, including its location and its qualities, exist across Christian denominations. Poe suggests that hell resides somewhere within the Earth, given that the city sinks downward and a fiery red hell rises up to meet it. The glowing redness of Poe’s hell is consistent with depictions found in the Bible, in which hell is described as an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41–43).

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Poe alludes to heaven, a physical location where God and his angels are believed to reside. Most Christian denominations believe that righteous people are rewarded with the honor of spending eternity in heaven after they die, while sinful people are condemned to suffer for eternity in hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. These two lines contain alliteration, or the repetition of consonants, in the words “heavings,” “hint,” “have,” and “hideously.” The repetition of an unvoiced, soft consonant like “h” reinforces both the poem’s gloomy tone and its flowing, eerie rhythm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The noun “fane” is a shrine, temple, or church. In this disturbing, unnatural city, churches and graves alike “yawn level” with the waves. Everything is so terrifyingly still that one might begin to believe that there are no normal winds “upon some far-off happier sea” elsewhere.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The adjective “pendulous” means hanging, or suspended, and able to swing freely. The shadows are indistinguishable from the buildings, so the entire city appears to be floating in the air without any visible support.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. In classical architecture, a “frieze” is the middle of three sections that make up a large structure of moldings called an “entablature,” which is a large structure that sits atop columns. More broadly, however, and in this context, a frieze is an ornamental band on a building or piece of furniture, often sculpted or brought into relief.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This line uses diacope, a device in which a word is repeated in succession with intervening words in between. Poe repeats the word “many” in order to reinforce the poem’s rhythm while also developing the spectacular image of the silent city.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Poe alludes to the ancient kingdom of Babylon that existed between approximately 1700 BCE and 1000 CE and was surrounded by massive walls, which were considered impenetrable. In the Bible, Babylon was a sinful city infamous for its celebration of debauchery and materialism. Poe’s allusion to Babylon strongly suggests that the city in the sea not only contains massive walls, and is therefore massive itself, but also it is similarly corrupt.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. A “turret” is a small tower that extends vertically at an angle of a building. Turrets once aided in military fortification, but have more recently been used for decoration.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. In this context, the adjective “lurid” contains several meanings: that the sea has a gruesome or horrific quality and/or that it has a yellow to orange—perhaps reddish and fiery—coloring. Though the city in the sea is deprived of heaven’s light from above, it is illuminated by an unnatural, horrible light from below.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Poe uses personification, or the attribution of human feelings or qualities to nonhuman things, in his description of the sea. He portrays the water as melancholy, which is an adjective meaning a prolonged state of gloom or sadness, and lying beneath the sky “resignedly.” Personification in this context creates tone and supplements the rich imagery of the doomed city.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. This line uses polysyndeton, or the repetition of conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or” in rapid succession. Poe uses polysyndeton to ensure that readers understand that every type of person imaginable ends up in this city after death.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. The exclamation “Lo!” is a call to look closely or to pay attention to the words that follow, often something the writer considers surprising or amazing. The speaker indicates that the reader should pay close attention to what is about to be described.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor