'The Island Of The Fay' by Edgar Allen Poe

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Nullus enim locus sine genio est.

"LA MUSIQUE," says Marmontel, in those "Contes Moraux"* which in all our translations, we have insisted upon calling "Moral Tales," as if in mockery of their spirit- "la musique est le seul des talents qui jouissent de lui-meme; tous les autres veulent des temoins." He here confounds the pleasure derivable from sweet sounds with the capacity for creating them. No more than any other talent, is that for music susceptible of complete enjoyment, where there is no second party to appreciate its exercise. And it is only in common with other talents that it produces effects which may be fully enjoyed in solitude. The idea which the raconteur has either failed to entertain clearly, or has sacrificed in its expression to his national love of point, is, doubtless, the very tenable one that the higher order of music is the most thoroughly estimated when we are exclusively alone. The proposition, in this form, will be admitted at once by those who love the lyre for its own sake, and for its spiritual uses. But there is one pleasure still within the reach of fallen mortality and perhaps only one- which owes even more than does music to the accessory sentiment of seclusion. I mean the happiness experienced in the contemplation of natural scenery. In truth, the man who would behold aright the glory of God upon earth must in solitude behold that glory. To me, at least, the presence- not of human life only, but of life in any other form than that of the green things which grow upon the soil and are voiceless- is a stain upon the landscape- is at war with the genius of the scene. I love, indeed, to regard the dark valleys, and the gray rocks, and the waters that silently smile, and the forests that sigh in uneasy slumbers, and the proud watchful mountains that look down upon all,- I love to regard these as themselves but the colossal members of one vast animate and sentient whole- a whole whose form (that of the sphere) is the most perfect and most inclusive of all; whose path is among associate planets; whose meek handmaiden is the moon, whose mediate sovereign is the sun; whose life is eternity, whose thought is that of a God; whose enjoyment is knowledge; whose destinies are lost in immensity, whose cognizance of ourselves is akin with our own cognizance of the animalculae which infest the brain- a being which we, in consequence, regard as purely inanimate and material much in the same manner as these animalculae must thus regard us.

* Moraux is here derived from moeurs, and its meaning is "fashionable" or more strictly "of manners."

Our telescopes and our mathematical investigations assure us on every hand- notwithstanding the cant of the more ignorant of the priesthood- that space, and therefore that bulk, is an important consideration in the eyes of the Almighty. The cycles in which the stars move are those best adapted for the evolution, without collision, of the greatest possible number of bodies. The forms of those bodies are accurately such as, within a given surface, to include the greatest possible amount of matter;- while the surfaces themselves are so disposed as to accommodate a denser population than could be accommodated on the same surfaces otherwise arranged. Nor is it any argument against bulk being an object with God, that space itself is infinite; for there may be an infinity of matter to fill it. And since we see clearly that the endowment of matter with vitality is a principle- indeed, as far as our judgments extend, the leading principle in the operations of Deity,- it is scarcely logical to imagine it confined to the regions of the minute, where we daily trace it, and not extending to those of the august. As we find cycle within cycle without end,- yet all revolving around one far-distant centre which is the God-head, may we not analogically suppose in the same manner, life within life, the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine? In short, we are madly erring, through self-esteem, in believing man, in either his temporal or future destinies, to be of more moment in the universe than that vast "clod of the valley" which he tills and contemns, and to which he denies a soul for no more profound reason than that he does not behold it in operation.*

* Speaking of the tides, Pomponius Mela, in his treatise "De Situ Orbis," says "either the world is a great animal, or" etc.

These fancies, and such as these, have always given to my meditations among the mountains and the forests, by the rivers and the ocean, a tinge of what the everyday world would not fail to term fantastic. My wanderings amid such scenes have been many, and far-searching, and often solitary; and the interest with which I have strayed through many a dim, deep valley, or gazed into the reflected Heaven of many a bright lake, has been an interest greatly deepened by the thought that I have strayed and gazed alone. What flippant Frenchman* was it who said in allusion to the well-known work of Zimmerman, that, "la solitude est une belle chose; mais il faut quelqu'un pour vous dire que la solitude est une belle chose?" The epigram cannot be gainsayed; but the necessity is a thing that does not exist.

* Balzac -- in substance -- I do not remember the words.

It was during one of my lonely journeyings, amid a far distant region of mountain locked within mountain, and sad rivers and melancholy tarn writhing or sleeping within all- that I chanced upon a certain rivulet and island. I came upon them suddenly in the leafy June, and threw myself upon the turf, beneath the branches of an unknown odorous shrub, that I might doze as I contemplated the scene. I felt that thus only should I look upon it- such was the character of phantasm which it wore.
On all sides- save to the west, where the sun was about sinking- arose the verdant walls of the forest. The little river which turned sharply in its course, and was thus immediately lost to sight, seemed to have no exit from its prison, but to be absorbed by the deep green foliage of the trees to the east- while in the opposite quarter (so it appeared to me as I lay at length and glanced upward) there poured down noiselessly and continuously into the valley, a rich golden and crimson waterfall from the sunset fountains of the sky.
About midway in the short vista which my dreamy vision took in, one small circular island, profusely verdured, reposed upon the bosom of the stream.

So blended bank and shadow there
That each seemed pendulous in air-
so mirror-like was the glassy water, that it was scarcely possible to say at what point upon the slope of the emerald turf its crystal dominion began.

My position enabled me to include in a single view both the eastern and western extremities of the islet; and I observed a singularly-marked difference in their aspects. The latter was all one radiant harem of garden beauties. It glowed and blushed beneath the eyes of the slant sunlight, and fairly laughed with flowers. The grass was short, springy, sweet-scented, and Asphodel-interspersed. The trees were lithe, mirthful, erect- bright, slender, and graceful,- of eastern figure and foliage, with bark smooth, glossy, and parti-colored. There seemed a deep sense of life and joy about all; and although no airs blew from out the heavens, yet every thing had motion through the gentle sweepings to and fro of innumerable butterflies, that might have been mistaken for tulips with wings.*

* Florem putares nare per liquidum aethera.- P. Commire.

The other or eastern end of the isle was whelmed in the blackest shade. A sombre, yet beautiful and peaceful gloom here pervaded all things. The trees were dark in color, and mournful in form and attitude, wreathing themselves into sad, solemn, and spectral shapes that conveyed ideas of mortal sorrow and untimely death. The grass wore the deep tint of the cypress, and the heads of its blades hung droopingly, and hither and thither among it were many small unsightly hillocks, low and narrow, and not very long, that had the aspect of graves, but were not; although over and all about them the rue and the rosemary clambered. The shade of the trees fell heavily upon the water, and seemed to bury itself therein, impregnating the depths of the element with darkness. I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream; while other shadows issued momently from the trees, taking the place of their predecessors thus entombed.
This idea, having once seized upon my fancy, greatly excited it, and I lost myself forthwith in revery. "If ever island were enchanted," said I to myself, "this is it. This is the haunt of the few gentle Fays who remain from the wreck of the race. Are these green tombs theirs?- or do they yield up their sweet lives as mankind yield up their own? In dying, do they not rather waste away mournfully, rendering unto God, little by little, their existence, as these trees render up shadow after shadow, exhausting their substance unto dissolution? What the wasting tree is to the water that imbibes its shade, growing thus blacker by what it preys upon, may not the life of the Fay be to the death which engulfs it?"
As I thus mused, with half-shut eyes, while the sun sank rapidly to rest, and eddying currents careered round and round the island, bearing upon their bosom large, dazzling, white flakes of the bark of the sycamore-flakes which, in their multiform positions upon the water, a quick imagination might have converted into any thing it pleased, while I thus mused, it appeared to me that the form of one of those very Fays about whom I had been pondering made its way slowly into the darkness from out the light at the western end of the island. She stood erect in a singularly fragile canoe, and urged it with the mere phantom of an oar. While within the influence of the lingering sunbeams, her attitude seemed indicative of joy- but sorrow deformed it as she passed within the shade. Slowly she glided along, and at length rounded the islet and re-entered the region of light. "The revolution which has just been made by the Fay," continued I, musingly, "is the cycle of the brief year of her life. She has floated through her winter and through her summer. She is a year nearer unto Death; for I did not fail to see that, as she came into the shade, her shadow fell from her, and was swallowed up in the dark water, making its blackness more black."
And again the boat appeared and the Fay, but about the attitude of the latter there was more of care and uncertainty and less of elastic joy. She floated again from out the light and into the gloom (which deepened momently) and again her shadow fell from her into the ebony water, and became absorbed into its blackness. And again and again she made the circuit of the island, (while the sun rushed down to his slumbers), and at each issuing into the light there was more sorrow about her person, while it grew feebler and far fainter and more indistinct, and at each passage into the gloom there fell from her a darker shade, which became whelmed in a shadow more black. But at length when the sun had utterly departed, the Fay, now the mere ghost of her former self, went disconsolately with her boat into the region of the ebony flood, and that she issued thence at all I cannot say, for darkness fell over an things and I beheld her magical figure no more.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Island of the Fay: A Masterpiece of Gothic Literature

Edgar Allan Poe is known for his macabre and enigmatic tales that explore the darker side of human nature. His writing style is unique and captivating, and his stories leave a profound impact on the reader's mind. One of his lesser-known works, "The Island of the Fay," is a brilliant example of Poe's mastery of the Gothic genre.

Written in 1841, "The Island of the Fay" is a short story that follows an unnamed narrator as he explores a mysterious island. The island is inhabited by birds and plants that seem to be under the control of a beautiful fairy-like creature known as the Fay. The narrator is enchanted by the island's beauty and the Fay's charming presence, but he soon realizes that there is something ominous and otherworldly about the place.

The Gothic Elements in "The Island of the Fay"

"The Island of the Fay" is a Gothic tale that incorporates several elements of the genre. Gothic literature is characterized by its dark and gloomy setting, supernatural occurrences, and psychological terror. Poe's story is no exception, as it features all of these elements in a subtle yet effective manner.

The island itself is a Gothic setting, with its dark forests, misty mountains, and eerie silence. The narrator describes the island as a "wilderness of sweets" that is both beautiful and haunting. The island's flora and fauna are also eerie and mysterious, with plants that grow in strange patterns and birds that seem to have unusual intelligence.

The Fay, who is the central figure of the story, is a supernatural being that embodies the Gothic theme of the supernatural. She is a beautiful and alluring creature that seems to have control over the island's inhabitants. The narrator is mesmerized by her beauty and grace, but he soon realizes that there is something sinister and otherworldly about her.

Poe's use of imagery and symbolism adds to the Gothic atmosphere of the story. The island's landscape is described in vivid detail, with its "phantasmagoric trees" and "ghastly-looking flowers." The imagery creates a sense of foreboding and unease, as if the island is not what it seems. The symbolism of the Fay as a representation of nature's power and beauty also adds to the story's Gothic themes.

The Psychological Terror in "The Island of the Fay"

While "The Island of the Fay" is a Gothic tale, it also incorporates elements of psychological horror. The narrator's experience on the island is a journey into his own mind, as he confronts his deepest fears and desires. The Fay acts as a catalyst for the narrator's psychological exploration, as she represents his own fascination with the unknown and his fear of the supernatural.

The narrator's obsession with the Fay is a manifestation of his own psychological state. He is drawn to her beauty and charm, but he is also plagued by a sense of unease and fear. His fear of the unknown and his desire to understand the supernatural are conflicting emotions that create a sense of psychological tension throughout the story.

The Fay's control over the island's inhabitants is also a metaphor for the narrator's own struggle for control over his thoughts and emotions. The narrator is both fascinated and disturbed by the Fay's power, and he realizes that he is powerless to resist her influence. This creates a sense of psychological terror, as the reader is forced to confront the narrator's own fears and anxieties.

The Importance of Nature in "The Island of the Fay"

Poe's use of nature as a central theme in "The Island of the Fay" is significant in several ways. The island itself is a representation of the natural world, with its plants, birds, and animals that exist in harmony with each other. The Fay is also a representation of nature's power and beauty, as she is able to control the island's inhabitants with her magical abilities.

The narrator's experience on the island is a journey into his own relationship with nature. He is initially drawn to the island's beauty and tranquility, but he soon realizes that there is a darker side to nature that he cannot control. This creates a sense of awe and fear, as the narrator is forced to confront the power of nature and his own limitations.

Poe's use of the natural world as a metaphor for the human psyche is also significant. The island's flora and fauna are a representation of the narrator's own thoughts and emotions, as he struggles to understand his own desires and fears. This creates a sense of psychological depth to the story, as the reader is forced to confront their own relationship with nature and the unknown.


"The Island of the Fay" is a masterpiece of Gothic literature that explores the darker aspects of human nature and the power of the supernatural. Poe's use of imagery, symbolism, and psychological tension creates a sense of foreboding and unease that is both captivating and terrifying. The story's exploration of nature and the unknown adds to its depth and complexity, making it one of Poe's most intriguing works. Overall, "The Island of the Fay" is a must-read for anyone interested in Gothic literature and the power of the human psyche.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Island of the Fay: A Masterpiece of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most celebrated writers in the history of American literature. His works are known for their dark and mysterious themes, and his unique writing style has captivated readers for generations. Among his many works, "The Island of the Fay" stands out as a masterpiece of prose that showcases Poe's mastery of the English language and his ability to create vivid and haunting imagery.

"The Island of the Fay" is a short story that was first published in 1841. It tells the story of a narrator who visits an island that is inhabited by a single fay, or fairy. The narrator is fascinated by the beauty of the island and the fay's ability to control the natural world around her. As he explores the island, he becomes increasingly enchanted by the fay and her magical powers.

The story begins with the narrator describing his journey to the island. He is a lover of nature and is drawn to the island's beauty. He describes the island as a "gem of the ocean" and is immediately captivated by its lush vegetation and crystal-clear waters. As he explores the island, he notices that the fay has the ability to control the natural world around her. She can make flowers bloom and birds sing at her command. The narrator is fascinated by her power and becomes increasingly drawn to her.

Poe's use of language in this story is masterful. He creates vivid descriptions of the island and the fay that transport the reader to another world. He uses words like "verdure," "radiance," and "luminous" to describe the island's beauty, and "ethereal," "graceful," and "enchanting" to describe the fay. These words create a sense of wonder and enchantment that draws the reader into the story.

As the narrator spends more time on the island, he becomes increasingly fascinated by the fay. He watches as she controls the natural world around her, making flowers bloom and birds sing at her command. He is entranced by her beauty and her magical powers. Poe's use of imagery in this part of the story is particularly effective. He describes the fay as "a creature of the element" and "a being of the air." These descriptions create a sense of otherworldliness that adds to the story's sense of enchantment.

As the story progresses, the narrator becomes more and more drawn to the fay. He watches as she dances among the flowers and sings to the birds. He is entranced by her beauty and her magical powers. Poe's use of language in this part of the story is particularly effective. He uses words like "graceful," "ethereal," and "enchanting" to describe the fay's movements and her voice. These words create a sense of wonder and enchantment that draws the reader into the story.

The climax of the story comes when the fay disappears. The narrator is devastated by her loss and spends the rest of his time on the island searching for her. He is unable to find her and eventually leaves the island, heartbroken. Poe's use of language in this part of the story is particularly effective. He uses words like "desolate," "forlorn," and "bereft" to describe the narrator's feelings of loss and despair. These words create a sense of sadness and melancholy that adds to the story's emotional impact.

In conclusion, "The Island of the Fay" is a masterpiece of prose that showcases Edgar Allan Poe's mastery of the English language and his ability to create vivid and haunting imagery. The story is a testament to Poe's unique writing style and his ability to transport the reader to another world. The story's themes of beauty, nature, and magic are timeless and continue to captivate readers to this day. If you have not yet read "The Island of the Fay," I highly recommend it. It is a true masterpiece of American literature.

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