Edgar Allan Poe's "The Lake"

The Haunting Truth Behind the Famous Poem

Figure in the distance walking on water
Dana Edmunds/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Poe first published this poem simply as “The Lake.” in his 1827 collection, "Tamerlane and Other Poems," but it appeared again two years later in the collection "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems" with a mysterious dedication added to the title: “The Lake. To–.”

The unnamed person to whom Poe adds his dedication remains unidentified to this day. Historians have suggested that Poe wrote the poem about Lake Drummond—and that he might have visited Lake Drummond with his foster mother, but the poem was published after her death.

The lake, then also known as Dismal Swamp, outside Norfolk, Virginia, was said to have been haunted by two past lovers. The supposed ghosts were not thought of as malicious or evil, but tragic—the boy had gone mad in the belief the girl had died.

The Text of "The Lake. To–"

Here’s the full text of “The Lake. To–” in its final form:

In spring of youth, it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less–
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody–
Then–ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight–
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define–
Nor Love—although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining–
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.

A Haunted Lake

Lake Drummond, the lake that may have inspired Poe, was said to be haunted by the spirits of a young couple who both lost their lives on the lake when the young boy committed suicide on the lake after mistakenly thinking his wife had died on its harsh waves, and the widowed woman supposedly spent the rest of her life roaming the swamp in her canoe looking for him.

According to one report, local legend says that "if you go into the Great Dismal Swamp late at night you'll see the image of a woman paddling a white canoe on a lake with a lamp, looking for her lover." This woman became known locally as the Lady of the Lake, which has given inspiration to a slew of famous writers over the years.

Robert Frost was said to visit the central Lake Drummond in 1894 after suffering a heartbreak from breaking up with a long-time lover, and he later told a biographer that he had hoped to get lost in the wilderness of the swamp never to return.

Although the haunting stories may be fictional, the beautiful scenery and lush wildlife of this Virginia lake and surrounding swamp are definitely worth a visit. Check out the official park website for more information on visiting the Great Dismal Swamp and Lake Drummond.