Saturday, December 31, 2016


"Silence" is another prose-poem, less allegorical than "Shadow." The story takes the form of a tale told by a creature known only as "The Demon" to an unnamed listener. The Demon speaks of the sights he beheld in a "dreary region in Libya, by the borders of the river Zaire," but what he describes seems entirely otherworldly-- a forest, whose trees rock back and forth even though there's no wind, and water-lilies that "sigh" to one another.

A stranger appears in the region, and chooses to sit down upon a large rock. The Demon watches the morose-looking man from hiding, marveling at his godlike appearance, and also notices that for some unvoiced reason the word "DESOLATION" is written into the rock. After the man sits there a while, the Demon takes offense at his unwavering stoicism, and "curses the elements." The man stays where he is despite a great storm, so then the Demon resorts to a "curse of silence." This causes everything, including the sighing lilies, to cease making any sound. The curse also causes the letters in the rock to change so that they read, "SILENCE." The unnamed man on the rock listens for any sounds, finds none, "shudders," and then flees the region, never again to be seen by the Demon.

In the last paragraph, the presumably human narrator reacts by finding the story "most wonderful," even exceeding the tales told by "sybils" and "iron bound volumes of the Magi." However, he can't laugh, as the Demon can, at the predicament of the man in the story. The Demon curses the listener as well, but nothing happens, except that a lynx wanders out of a nearby tomb, lies down at the Demon's feet, and looks up at him-- at which point the story closes.

Since at one point the listener alludes to Allah, it's probable that Poe was seeking to duplicate the effect of certain tales in the Arabian Nights that portray realms of imponderable mystery. In this he succeeds, for even though the strange region is supposedly in Libya, it seems like a wholly unreal place, governed by its own poetic laws. Rather than "horror" or even "proto-science fiction," "Silence" is a story of otherworldly fantasy. It bears a family resemblance to William Beckford's novel VATHEK, which also takes place on Earth but visits weird otherworldly realms.

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