“Israfel” by Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe, one of my favorite poets, wrote a tenderly enticing poem titled “Israfel.” Preceding the printed poem, a verse is often quoted (“And the angel Israfel, whose heart-strings are a lute, and who has the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures.”) and attributed to the Qur’an. This verse, however, is not from the Qur’an, in which Israfel is never actually named but referenced repeatedly as a trumpet-archangel who awaits the command of God to blow his trumpet “so all those that are in the heavens and all those that are in the earth shall swoon” (Qur’an 39:68).

Allegedly, Poe uses Islamic references for an “exotic” effect, but I take offense at the idea that Poe could ever be this cheap. He was sincerely consumed, I trust, by the beauty of the concept and produced a luscious poem in adulation. (Also, I’m sure it helps that the word “Israfel” is pretty easy to rhyme.) The poem describes the loveliness of the ethereal song of Israfel, so astounding that the rest of the heavens and the earth is transfixed in silence. Poe concludes the poem asking whether he could create a more beautiful melody than Israfel had he the same heavenly inspiration as the angel.

Enjoy.

___

Israfel
Edgar Allen Poe

In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
   “Whose heart-strings are a lute”;
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,
And the giddy stars (so legends tell),
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
   Of his voice, all mute.

Tottering above
   In her highest noon,
   The enamoured moon
Blushes with love,
   While, to listen, the red levin
   (With the rapid Pleiads, even,
   Which were seven,)
   Pauses in Heaven.

And they say (the starry choir
   And the other listening things)
That Israfeli’s fire
Is owing to that lyre
   By which he sits and sings—
The trembling living wire
   Of those unusual strings.

But the skies that angel trod,
   Where deep thoughts are a duty,
Where Love’s a grown-up God,
   Where the Houri glances are
Imbued with all the beauty
   Which we worship in a star.

Therefore, thou art not wrong,
   Israfeli, who despisest
An unimpassioned song;
To thee the laurels belong,
   Best bard, because the wisest!
Merrily live, and long!

The ecstasies above
   With thy burning measures suit—
Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,
   With the fervour of thy lute—
   Well may the stars be mute!

Yes, Heaven is thine; but this
   Is a world of sweets and sours;
   Our flowers are merely-flowers,
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss
   Is the sunshine of ours.

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
   Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
   A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
   From my lyre within the sky.

8 thoughts on ““Israfel” by Edgar Allen Poe

  1. I love Edgar Allen Poe and was obsessed with him in high school. I’d never really paid much attention to ‘Israfel’ before, but understanding the context makes me appreciate it more. I really like the idea of an angel who makes music with his trumpet and enraptures the entire world. It reminds of something from my own religious tradition: the flute played by Krishna that creates divine bliss in whoever hears it.

    Music has a powerful effect on me. I find that it stirs up lots of emotions and transports me to a different state of consciousness. I listen to a lot of devotional music from a variety of religions, despite being an atheist, because I like the passion and intensity that religious music evokes. For that reason, I love religious traditions that link music and god, like Krishna’s flute or Israfel’s trumpet, because the only time I really feel spiritually connected is when I’m listening to music. I would like to hear Israfel’s music one day.

    By the way, has anyone told the angels that music is haram? ;)

    Like

    1. Raphaelle

      Depends on what music, dear. Edgar Alan Poe was more Christian than Muslim. Go read the last book of the New Testament. The blessed souls and the angels sing and play music in heaven.

      Like

    1. Nahida

      Oh gosh. Um, Emily Dickinson, Khalil Gibran, Lewis Carroll, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rumi (of course), William Blake, Countee Cullen, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Langston Hughes, and admittedly sometimes William Shakespeare.

      Sometimes it surprises me I like things, like the 7th sonnet in Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. What a tiresome sequence. But how masterful!

      There’s this by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

      A subtle chain of countless rings
      The next unto the farthest brings;
      The eye reads omens where it goes,
      And speaks all languages the rose;
      And, striving to be man, the worm
      Mounts through all the spires of form.

      Ooooh.

      Like

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