Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Lake”

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

Overview

Poe first published this poem simply as “The Lake.” in his 1827 collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems. 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 Story Behind “The Lake”

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 having gone mad in the belief the girl had died.

The Text

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.