Home » poetry & song » The Conqueror Worm (Poe)

The Conqueror Worm (Poe)

Lo! ’t is a gala night
   Within the lonesome latter years!   
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
   In veils, and drowned in tears,   
Sit in a theatre, to see
   A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully   
   The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,   
   Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
   Mere puppets they, who come and go   
At bidding of vast formless things
   That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
   Invisible Wo!
That motley drama—oh, be sure   
   It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore   
   By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in   
   To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,   
   And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
   A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out   
   The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs   
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
   In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!   
   And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
   Comes down with the rush of a storm,   
While the angels, all pallid and wan,   
   Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”   

   And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

-Edgar Allan Poe, 1843

I have always loved this poem… there is a certain hope that stands in the shadows just off stage, that lurks in the meter, even as the subject matter of the poem is the despairing end of all men.  Perhaps it is just me, for I know the end of this act is not, in point of fact, the end of the play. The “heroism” of the worm will be triumphantly cut short.  Yet much in the flavor of Ecclesiastes – a book Poe was intimately familiar with in thought, if not in word – there is a hopelessness that thrives under the sun, for often things appear hopeless indeed.  The tragedy of man seems, in each successive generation, to be at its crescendo.

But to be a follower of Christ is to know Hope, deep in your bones.  And having known it, you start to see it everywhere.  Perhaps just the slightest hint of a bud, a smear of green on a single branch far out on the edge of reality’s despairing tree.  But we see it, and our souls know it for what it is.

So the funeral pall comes down, and the storm rages, and angels weep, and the cruelty of man expressed in the hatred of his neighbor seems a stain that can never be washed from the world, no matter the downpour…

And we linger in that moment just before the Hero comes to save the day.

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