Monday Night Special #1: Delving in with Diagrams (to Poe’s Ligeia)

20 Aug

Because my blog is currently super lame and disjointed, I thought it might be prudent to add a regular feature that might lend an air of organization and credibility to my rather mishmashed efforts at snark and substance.

So, I’ve decided to try something I could potentially knock out at regular intervals that would be fun and not-too-difficultly achieved.  I could’ve done movie reviews, but that’s even lamer than my usual efforts.  I could’ve done more recaps, but Damages season 4 isn’t on Instant Queue yet, and all of my other programs would be too much of a commitment (7 20-episode seasons of Voyager.  Yowza.).

So, I’ve decided on something slightly nerdier, which I came up with because I like to pull out my Tales of Mystery and Imagination and diagram meaty, meandering sentences when I’m bored.

Here’s how this will go down:

I will

  • arbitrarily pick some work of fiction–which could be a story, book, poem, song, TV show, movie, whatevs
  • give a quick synopsis
  • find an important quotation and explain its significance
  • diagram the sentence
  • tell why the structure of the sentence fits with the theme or whatever of the work

Let’s begin.

Arbitrarily Picked Work of Fiction:

“Ligeia” by Edgar Allan Poe, from which all quotations will come and for which the full text may be accessed here.

Quick Synopsis:

An unnamed, opium-addicted narrator tells us of his lost love Lenore Ligeia, who was a tall, dark, Hebrew-looking, ultra-intelligent lady who believed that death could be conquered through force of will.  She also had been obsessively, idolatrously in love with the narrator, as he was with her.  Well, she dies, and he sinks into opium-addled grief and marries a little blonde girl who wants him for his money.  He buys a lavish abbey, in which her bridal suite is creepily furnished with sarcophagi and The Yellow Wallpaper bizarre curtains  that look different in different lighting.  Second wife falls ill and dies.  He stays by her bedside and thinks he hears her stirring.  Some back and forth happens in which he tries to revive her and fails a million times.  Finally, she gets up, and she’s no longer Blondie but Ligeia!!!

Important Quotation:

With how vast a triumph—with how vivid a delight—with how much of all that is ethereal in hope—did I feel, as she bent over me in studies but little sought—but less known—that delicious vista by slow degrees expanding before me, down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden path, I might at length pass onward to the goal of a wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden!

I picked this sentence because it’s fun to diagram.  Other than that, it expresses the narrator’s rather supernatural awe for his wife’s abilities, and it foreshadows the other-worldliness of the conclusion–that the goal of some transcendental wisdom is achievable but should not be achieved.  It gives the audience a vague sense of the fantastic, demonic, macabre that will manifest later in Ligeia’s body-snatching.


Yes, I still write in cursive and diagram sentences. No, I’m not 80.

Thoughts on Structure:

Now, looking at the diagram, we’ve got one independent clause, two adjective clauses, and an adverb clause–a pretty dense sentence.  The main subject and verb are buried in the middle of the long, descriptive sentence, and it’s a very personal subject and verb–expressing the narrator’s personal feelings about a recurring personal encounter with his beloved wife.  At base, this story is a very personal one about a love so deep and unyielding and willful that it cannot be subdued by death or remarriage.

Additionally, the sentence contains several instances of listing that are carefully parallel: the beginning prepositional phrases with three instances of how ____ a ____; the but little ____, but less ____; and “the long, gorgeous, all untrodden path.”  Each of these lists expresses feelings of joy and exhilaration and excitement that compound with each new entry.  It gives the sense of a daily renewing or deepening of the narrator’s feelings for his wife–a sense that each time there’s more and more, and he’s grasping for exactly the right words to convey his exact feelings, but he can never quite put his finger on it, echoing his own sentiment that “we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.”

Final Thoughts:

Ligeia’s not my favorite Poe story; it seems incomplete somehow–as if it should have a sequel about the continuing adventures of the Zombie Bride or something.  Nevertheless, I find its structure and style appealing because of the  sweetness and interest with which the narrator talks about his bride and his total love for her.  This is a departure for Poe (in his prose, anyway) because his narrators are usually obsessed with their loves for kind of yucky reasons whereas this narrator loves Ligeia based on mutual interest as well as dark, mysterious beauty.

Although the narrator admits to using opium, I find him more reliable than some narrators, and I wish him and his Zombie Bride the best in their future undead life together.

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