Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm”: Deeper Meaning To the PoemPoe’s “The Conqueror Worm”: Deeper Meaning To the Poem
We often call Edgar Allen Poe one of the fathers of terror and mystery.
His twisted, Macabre tales and poems are filled with great detail and often end
with a dismal twist. “The Conqueror Worm” is one example of his masterful
rhymes and tells how a play on life turns into reality for mankind.
The setting is a theater but it is not just a site for plays. Poe
describes it to be that way to trick the reader, but the theater is actually the
setting for mankind. We play our lives in this stage for everyone else to see.
Lines three through six describe the crowd and how they are there to see “a play
of hopes and fears.” If people would look beyond the point of reading the line
just to understand the words, they would see that the play is actually the lives
of everybody in society. I say this because everyone has their own hopes like
getting a good job, succeeding, having a family and ultimately dieing happily.
Along with their hopes, everyone also has their personal fears.
The characters of the poem are also some very meaningful keys in showing
the hidden meaning. The first stanza describes the crowd that has gathered to
watch the enactment of our human lives. Lines three and four states “an angel
throng, bewinged, and bedight in veils, and drowned in tears.” Poe is stating
that a group of angels is going to watch the spectacle put on for them, although
they are already drowning in the tears from plays before. The orchestra that
plays for them is another set of characters that have meaning. They represent
the background in everyone’s life by “playing the music of the spheres.” A
third set of characters that show hidden meaning is the “Mimes, in the form of
God on high.” They denote the people that inhabit the earth. Poe describes
them as “Mere puppets they, who come and go at bidding of vast formless things.”
The vast formless things are the ideas that we have. Ideas like the things that
we think we have to do for ourselves to survive and succeed. They also make up
drama of the play. A final, prominent figure in this dramatic performance is
the conqueror worm. Poe illustrates it as “a blood-red thing.” He images the
end of mankind as this but it could take any form. It is correctly named
because in the end no one is left standing except the “conqueror worm.”
Many of the lines of “the Conqueror Worm” try to tell us a deeper
meaning to the poem by using certain figures of speech. The second stanza tells
us that the “vast formless things” spread trouble by “flapping from out their
condor wings invisible woe!” Poe was stating that the vast formless things
spread their trouble in great fanning motions like the condor flaps its wings.
The most important figure of speech would have to be the stage curtain coming
down like a funeral pall violently ending mankind and showing the Conqueror Worm
as the victor. “The rush of a storm” signifies how the curtain quickly came to
end the play and covered “each quivering form” to show that mankind was truly
Poe uses great sound in the poem. Many of the alliterations add
intrigue to the epic of the magnificent slaughtering worm. One example of
alliteration is the use of the letter l in the first two lines. “Lo! Tis a gala
night within the lonesome latter years!” gives the reader an idea that Poe is
telling a story with an eery setting. Sadness is also very evident in this line
because it foreshadows the angel mob donned in veils to hide their tears.
Another use of alliteration is in the lines “through a circle returneth in to
the self-same spot.” The stanza that it lies in tells us about the plot of the
play itself. The usage of the words beginning with s give us an idea of how the
main character, or mankind, cannot escape a circle of bad events which will
eventually lead to its death.
Edgar Allen Poe wanted us to see how he thinks the world will end with
this poem. He described the end as a disgusting, grotesque worm devouring us
all but in a real sense, the play showed the troubles of man and how it will end
our lives. The play was fittingly described in the last stanza by the mourning,
pale colored angels as a tragedy that they called “Man”.