29 pages 58 minutes read


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1827

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Summary and Study Guide


“Tamerlane” is Edgar Allen Poe’s first published work and one of his earliest written, composed when he was only a teenager. It was originally published in 1827 in a limited chapbook of 50 copies, titled Tamerlane and Other Poems, by a Bostonian. Its original publication was 406 lines, but it was substantially edited in subsequent years. It is a fictional account of the historical figure Timur Lenk, a warlord and ruler, and details his nostalgic regrets as he faces the end of his life.

Poet Biography

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer, poet, and literary critic best known for his short stories and poetry dealing with the gothic and macabre. He is considered one of the earliest contributors to the detective-fiction genre and has become symbolic of outsiders and outcasts for more than a century.

Poe was born in Boston to two actors who both died less than three years after his birth. He was raised as the foster child of a wealthy tobacco exporter, and so grew up in a privileged environment and was able to attend excellent schools. He briefly studied at the University of Virginia, but he left quickly after disagreements with his foster father regarding Poe’s gambling debts. In 1827, he released his first poetry collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems, followed by Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. During this time, Poe had a brief military career, but it fell apart due to inadequate funding from his family and a lack of discipline.

This experience influenced Poe’s decision to become a full-time writer, and he turned his attentions to short stories and literary criticism. His writing gained attention and acclaim, but he experienced depression and alcoholism throughout his life. In 1836, at the age of 27, he married his cousin Virginia—herself only 13 at the time. She would go on to die of tuberculosis 11 years later, exacerbating Poe’s mental decline. Two years later, he was found in Baltimore on the edge of death and was brought to a hospital; he died four days later from causes that are still contested among scholars and medical professionals. The circumstances around his reason for being in Baltimore and his condition are still a mystery.

Edgar Allan Poe has become an explosive cultural icon, and his life, death, and legacy still fascinate readers of all generations. Both his literary work and his own life have been adapted, with varying degrees of accuracy, to a range of storytelling mediums. Widespread examples include DC Comics’ Batman: Nevermore, which features the caped crusader and the poet as a crime-solving team; the 2019 young adult novel The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters, which follows the poet as a moody teenager; the TV series Witches of East End, which features Poe as a minor character in the past; and the 2022 film The Pale Blue Eye, based on a novel of the same name. Today, Poe is remembered as a forerunner to the “art for art’s sake” movement for his attention to the structure and style of literary practice.

Poem Text

    Kind solace in a dying hour!

        Such, father, is not (now) my theme—

    I will not madly deem that power

            Of Earth may shrive me of the sin

            Unearthly pride hath revell’d in—

        I have no time to dote or dream:

    You call it hope—that fire of fire!

    It is but agony of desire:

    If I can hope—Oh God! I can—

        Its fount is holier—more divine—

    I would not call thee fool, old man,

        But such is not a gift of thine.

    Know thou the secret of a spirit

        Bow’d from its wild pride into shame.

    O! yearning heart! I did inherit

        Thy withering portion with the fame,

    The searing glory which hath shone

    Amid the jewels of my throne,

    Halo of Hell! and with a pain

    Not Hell shall make me fear again—

    O! craving heart, for the lost flowers

    And sunshine of my summer hours!

    Th’ undying voice of that dead time,

    With its interminable chime,

    Rings, in the spirit of a spell,

    Upon thy emptiness—a knell.

    I have not always been as now:

    The fever’d diadem on my brow

        I claim’d and won usurpingly—

    Hath not the same fierce heirdom given

        Rome to the Caesar—this to me?

            The heritage of a kingly mind,

    And a proud spirit which hath striven

            Triumphantly with human kind.

    On mountain soil I first drew life:

        The mists of the Taglay have shed

        Nightly their dews upon my head,

    And, I believe, the winged strife

    And tumult of the headlong air

    Have nestled in my very hair.

    So late from Heaven—that dew—it fell

        (Mid dreams of an unholy night)

    Upon me—with the touch of Hell,

        While the red flashing of the light

    From clouds that hung, like banners, o’er,

        Appeared to my half-closing eye

        The pageantry of monarchy,

    And the deep trumpet-thunder’s roar

        Came hurriedly upon me, telling

            Of human battle, where my voice,

        My own voice, silly child!—was swelling

            (O! how my spirit would rejoice,

    And leap within me at the cry)

    The battle-cry of Victory!

    The rain came down upon my head

Unshelter’d—and the heavy wind

Rendered me mad and deaf and blind

    It was but man, I thought, who shed

        Laurels upon me: and the rush—

    The torrent of the chilly air

    Gurgled within my ear the crush

        Of empires—with the captive’s prayer—

    The hum of suiters—and the tone

    Of flattery ‘round a sovereign’s throne.

    My passions, from that hapless hour,

        Usurp’d a tyranny which men

    Have deem’d, since I have reach’d to power;

            My innate nature—be it so:

        But, father, there liv’d one who, then,

    Then—in my boyhood—when their fire

            Burn’d with a still intenser glow,

    (For passion must, with youth, expire)

        E’en then who knew this iron heart

        In woman’s weakness had a part.

    I have no words—alas!—to tell

    The loveliness of loving well!

    Nor would I now attempt to trace

    The more than beauty of a face

    Whose lineaments, upon my mind,

    Are—shadows on th’ unstable wind:

    Thus I remember having dwelt

    Some page of early lore upon,

    With loitering eye, till I have felt

    The letters—with their meaning—melt

    To fantasies—with none.

    O, she was worthy of all love!

    Love—as in infancy was mine—

    ‘Twas such as angel minds above

    Might envy; her young heart the shrine

    On which my ev’ry hope and thought

        Were incense—then a goodly gift,

            For they were childish—and upright—

    Pure—as her young example taught:

        Why did I leave it, and, adrift,

            Trust to the fire within, for light?

    We grew in age—and love—together,

        Roaming the forest, and the wild;

    My breast her shield in wintry weather—

        And, when the friendly sunshine smil’d,

    And she would mark the opening skies,

    I saw no Heaven—but in her eyes.

    Young Love’s first lesson is—the heart:

        For ‘mid that sunshine, and those smiles,

    When, from our little cares apart,

        And laughing at her girlish wiles,

    I’d throw me on her throbbing breast,

        And pour my spirit out in tears—

    There was no need to speak the rest—

        No need to quiet any fears

    Of her—who ask’d no reason why,

    But turn’d on me her quiet eye!

    Yet more than worthy of the love

    My spirit struggled with, and strove,

    When, on the mountain peak, alone,

    Ambition lent it a new tone—

    I had no being—but in thee:

        The world, and all it did contain

    In the earth—the air—the sea—

        Its joy—its little lot of pain

    That was new pleasure—the ideal,

        Dim, vanities of dreams by night—

    And dimmer nothings which were real—

        (Shadows—and a more shadowy light!)

    Parted upon their misty wings,

            And, so, confusedly, became

            Thine image, and—a name—a name!

    Two separate—yet most intimate things.

    I was ambitious—have you known

            The passion, father? You have not:

    A cottager, I mark’d a throne

    Of half the world as all my own,

            And murmur’d at such lowly lot—

    But, just like any other dream,

            Upon the vapour of the dew

    My own had past, did not the beam

            Of beauty which did while it thro’

    The minute—the hour—the day—oppress

    My mind with double loveliness.

    We walk’d together on the crown

    Of a high mountain which look’d down

    Afar from its proud natural towers

        Of rock and forest, on the hills—

    The dwindled hills! begirt with bowers

        And shouting with a thousand rills.

    I spoke to her of power and pride,

        But mystically—in such guise

    That she might deem it nought beside

        The moment’s converse; in her eyes

    I read, perhaps too carelessly—

        A mingled feeling with my own—

    The flush on her bright cheek, to me

        Seem’d to become a queenly throne

    Too well that I should let it be

        Light in the wilderness alone.

    I wrapp’d myself in grandeur then,

        And donn’d a visionary crown—

            Yet it was not that Fantasy

            Had thrown her mantle over me—

    But that, among the rabble—men,

            Lion ambition is chain’d down—

    And crouches to a keeper’s hand—

    Not so in deserts where the grand

    The wild—the terrible conspire

    With their own breath to fan his fire.

    Look ‘round thee now on Samarcand!—

        Is not she queen of Earth? her pride

    Above all cities? in her hand

        Their destinies? in all beside

    Of glory which the world hath known

    Stands she not nobly and alone?

    Falling—her veriest stepping-stone

    Shall form the pedestal of a throne—

    And who her sovereign? Timour—he

        Whom the astonished people saw

    Striding o’er empires haughtily

        A diadem’d outlaw—

    O! human love! thou spirit given,

    On Earth, of all we hope in Heaven!

    Which fall’st into the soul like rain

    Upon the Siroc wither’d plain,

    And failing in thy power to bless

    But leav’st the heart a wilderness!

    Idea! which bindest life around

    With music of so strange a sound

    And beauty of so wild a birth—

    Farewell! for I have won the Earth!

    When Hope, the eagle that tower’d, could see

        No cliff beyond him in the sky,

    His pinions were bent droopingly—

        And homeward turn’d his soften’d eye.

    ‘Twas sunset: when the sun will part

    There comes a sullenness of heart

    To him who still would look upon

    The glory of the summer sun.

    That soul will hate the ev’ning mist,

    So often lovely, and will list

    To the sound of the coming darkness (known

    To those whose spirits hearken) as one

    Who, in a dream of night, would fly

    But cannot from a danger nigh.

    What tho’ the moon—the white moon

    Shed all the splendour of her noon,

    Her smile is chilly—and her beam,

    In that time of dreariness, will seem

    (So like you gather in your breath)

    A portrait taken after death.

    And boyhood is a summer sun

    Whose waning is the dreariest one—

    For all we live to know is known,

    And all we seek to keep hath flown—

    Let life, then, as the day-flower, fall

    With the noon-day beauty—which is all.

    I reach’d my home—my home no more—

        For all had flown who made it so—

    I pass’d from out its mossy door,

        And, tho’ my tread was soft and low,

    A voice came from the threshold stone

    Of one whom I had earlier known—

        O! I defy thee, Hell, to show

        On beds of fire that burn below,

        A humbler heart—a deeper wo—

    Father, I firmly do believe—

        I know—for Death, who comes for me

            From regions of the blest afar,

    Where there is nothing to deceive,

            Hath left his iron gate ajar,

        And rays of truth you cannot see

        Are flashing thro’ Eternity—

    I do believe that Eblis hath

    A snare in ev’ry human path—

    Else how, when in the holy grove

    I wandered of the idol, Love,

    Who daily scents his snowy wings

    With incense of burnt offerings

    From the most unpolluted things,

    Whose pleasant bowers are yet so riven

    Above with trelliced rays from Heaven

    No mote may shun—no tiniest fly

    The light’ning of his eagle eye—

    How was it that Ambition crept,

        Unseen, amid the revels there,

    Till growing bold, he laughed and leapt

        In the tangles of Love’s very hair?

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Tamerlane.” 1827. Poets.org.


“Tamerlane” is a dramatic monologue told by the ruler Timur—by the English name Tamerlane—as he lies on his deathbed. He’s confessing his life to a priest in hopes of divine absolution. Tamerlane recounts his childhood and how he knew from a young age he was meant to be a warrior. He once was in love with a local peasant girl. The girl was beautiful and good, and they were happy together in their youth. However, Tamerlane found himself caught between his love for the girl and his ambition for power. At first, he thought his lover shared his ambition. Once he realized that she valued true love over conquests, he left her to pursue his dreams alone and created a powerful empire.

One day, after he has won everything he sought to accomplish, Tamerlane looks to the past and revisits his childhood home. However, it has become unfamiliar, and everyone he knew has gone. He discovers the tomb of his lost love and understands that he sacrificed love for his pride and pursuit of power. Tamerlane regrets the choice he made but only understands its true cost at the very end of his life.

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