For the Love of Ligeia

I examined the contour of the lofty and pale forehead –it was faultless –how cold indeed that word when applied to a majesty so divine! –the skin rivalling the purest ivory, the commanding extent and repose, the gentle prominence of the regions above the temples; and then the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant and naturally-curling tresses, setting forth the full force of the Homeric epithet, “hyacinthine!” I looked at the delicate outlines of the nose –and nowhere but in the graceful medallions of the Hebrews had I beheld a similar perfection.

The narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem doesn’t seem to miss any detail in his description of Ligeia. I think it would be safe to say that Ligeia was a total babe for the narrator. She had a slender body, with ivory skin, long curly hair and eyes that were like “gazelle eyes.” He touches on her physical features, as “faultless” and “divine” which really puts his beloved on a pedestal. But wait! Ligeia isn’t only beautiful beyond words, but very smart too. She is a woman with beauty and brains, which makes her even more of a catch. “Perfection” is as we all know is unachievable, however the narrator challenges that notion with the image of Ligeia. The over-exaggeration of his descriptions make me think that this narrator is completely obsessed! I’ve read along as I listened to Vincent Price’s audio version  and I can really grasp his sorrow when he lost her. Ligeia’s death took a heavy toll on the narrator and I comment Price on really capturing that.

The narrator’s description says more about him than of Ligeia. He made her the center of his life, even when he married Rowena glimpses of Ligeia seem to linger. Wrapping his whole being around this woman reflects his inability to be anything else without her. He is dependent and clinging, if you ask me. I think any woman would feel lucky to have a man write poetry for and about her. However, Poe’s poem leads us into a much darker realm of love: obsession. He plays with the idea of ghosts and even the setting of the narrator’s new home with Rowena to show readers that this isn’t a typical love story with color or warmth. This wasn’t another Disney adaptation with a fairytale ending. It’s cold and dark.

Even with the strong details that paint an image of Ligeia, I still find her mysterious. We are only seeing her through the eyes of someone who loves her, not necessarily stripped down and raw. When someone is obsessed, they tend to make up stories or only think about the good things. So credibility on the narrator’s part can be questioned, leaving Ligeia somehow anonymous.

ligeiaI think this picture of Ligeia captures the great description provided through the text, especially with her long curly hair and big eyes; however, I also get the sense of mystery within the art. I wonder why her skin is more on the bluer side, versus the ivory tone mentioned in Poe’s writing. Maybe the artist was able to see Ligeia in a different way than described? I found that to be really interesting.


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