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“The City in the Sea”, by Edgar Allan Poe, starts off by setting the mood for the rest of the poem by starting giving death life, which allows Poe to access his preferred theme. Poe has written many gothic works. The story is not set in a realistic setting but is placed in a romantic land that gives off a feeling of mystery. The City in the Sea is a rewrite of Poe’s earlier poem called, The Doomed City. This title hints at the city’s literal downfall and themes much like many of Edgar Allan Poe’s other works.
In The City in the Sea, the setting is revealed in the middle of the poem, but the main point of the work deals with the idea of death. The life given Death rules the city like a king. Death stands tall, watching over from a tower. Poe says death ‘looks gigantically down’ (Poe 236), upon his land. There are ‘gaping graves’ (Poe 236), that provide the reader with the image of the death’s huge figure in this city thus giving it an eerie mood.
Poe says that the city is ‘far down within the dim West’ (Poe 236), indicating a hellish environment for the poem and symbolizes negativity and death. The phrase ‘the dim West’ (Poe 236), also foreshadows the next stanza, in which Poe explains that the light of the city doesn’t come from the sky, which keeps the title in check. A city where light comes from somewhere other than the sky means that the city is so far down in the sea that light cannot pass through the water.
Poe shows differences between the filled buildings and the small amount of people in the city. He claims the dead are ‘gaily-jewelled’ (Poe 236), which I believe implies celebration. The people lie in open graves with the same, small amount of energy as the ‘melancholy waters” (Poe 236). Poe furthers that the plants consist of ‘sculptured ivy and stone flowers’ (Poe 236). The first time movement happens within the city, it fails to save the city, but instead causes it to sink into the sea. The city’s lack of life makes its reason to stay afloat disappear causing the city in the sea falls into the depth of the ocean.
Although it is said that Poe did not believe that an allegory was a useful literary device in poetry, ‘The City in the Sea’ is kind of an allegory for the death of the human soul, which is a result of a human commiting a sin. I believe that in the final stanza, when the city sinks, Poe is comparing the city to hell. The city draws comparisons to the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah are cities destroyed by God because their citizens’ sins. Another possibility for what Poe could be alluding to with this poem is the city of Atlantis. Atlantis is the lost city that, in legend, sunk under the surface of the ocean and has never been found. Although those are possible interpretations of what he means by this poem, the one that makes the most sense is Poe alluding to hell with his sinking city.
The diction of Poe’s writing gives the poem an old-fashioned feeling, which helps to show the gothic setting of age and decay. Poe does not use a standard meter or use a rhyme scheme in this work. He does uses rhymes throughout. For example, ‘down, down, that town shall settle hence’ (Poe 236). He writes this to emphasize the word down which is a focus of the poem. The reason down is a focus of the poem is because the city is submerging into the ocean. He also uses alliteration in this work such as gaping graves and slightly sinking, which both contribute to the eerie environment created by the Poe.
Most importantly, Poe uses imagery. This is the most important because there are no sounds in the poem. He had to use imagery because he wanted the city to be silent to add a mysterious feeling to the poem. Poe created a vivid city just by painting a picture with his words. He writes about visual domes, spires, and halls while never mentioning any noise whatsoever. He does this because there is no sound and a very little amount of movement
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