This has always been a favorite of mine because it is so totally histrionic. Since both of Edgar Allan’s parents were actors, that’s hardly surprising. The poem is supposedly written by Ligeia, dark muse from the story of the same name, whose beauty and death so torments her bereft husband, however it actually appeared in Graham’s Magazine a few years before he revised “Ligeia” to include it.
The low budget 1968 British horror film, Witchfinder General, was retitled The Conqueror Worm in the U.S. to link it to Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series, and the film, while gruesome, actually has nothing to do with Poe or his works except for the fact that it too is incredibly histrionic. Director Michael Reeves actually died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was released. He was 25.
The Conqueror Worm
Lo! ’t is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
—Edgar Allan Poe
Clearly, we are not talking about bookworms!
—Erin Orison, DEAD LOVE/The Daily Slice