Read an Excerpt
By Lou Reed
Grove Atlantic, Inc.
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
The Conqueror Worm
Lo! It's a gala night.
A mystic throng bedecked
Sit in a theater to see
A play of hopes and fears
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Minds mutter and mumble low-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
Disguised as gods,
They shift the scenery to and fro
Inevitably trapped by invisible woe.
This motley drama-to be sure-
Will not be forgotten.
A phantom chased for evermore,
Never seized by the crowd
Though they circle-
Returning to the same spot-
Circle and return
To the selfsame spot
Always to the selfsame spot,
With much of madness and more of sin,
And horror and mimic rout
The soul of the plot.
Out-out are the lights-out all!
And over each dying form
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes with the rush of a storm.
The angels, haggard and wan,
Unveiling and uprising affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the conqueror worm.
As I look back on my life-if I could have the glorious
Moment-the wondrous opportunity to comprehend-the
chance to see my younger self one time-to converse ... to
hear his thoughts....
Cello melody-continues throughout speech
In the science of the mind there is no point more thrilling than to
notice (which I never noticed in schools) that in our endeavors
to recall to memory something long-forgotten we often find
ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance without being in
the end able to remember. Under the intense scrutiny of Ligeia's
eyes, I have felt the full knowledge and force of their expression
and yet been unable to possess it and have felt it leave me as so
many other things have left-the letter half-read, the bottle
half-drunk-finding in the commonest objects of the universe a
circle of analogies, of metaphors for that expression which had
been willfully withheld from me, the access to the inner soul
Eyes blazed with a too-glorious effulgence, pale fingers
transparent, waxen, the hue of the grave. Blue veins upon the
lofty forehead swelled and sunk impetuously with the tides of
deep emotion and I saw that she must die, that she was wrestling
with the dark shadow. Her stern nature had impressed me with
the belief that, to her, death would come without its terrors-but
not so. I groaned in anguish at the pitiable spectacle. I would
have soothed. I would have reasoned. But she was amid the
most convulsive of writhings. Oh, pitiful soul. Her voice more
gentle, more low, and yet her words grew wilder of meaning. I
reeled, entranced, to a melody more than mortal.
She loved me, no doubt, and in her bosom love reigned as no
ordinary passion. But in death only was I impressed with the
intensity of her affection. Her more than passionate devotion
amounted to idolatry. How had I deserved to be so blessed and
then so cursed with the removal of my beloved upon the hour of
her most delirious musings?
In her more than womanly abandonment to love, all unmerited
and unworthily bestowed, I came to realize the principle of her
longing. It was a yearning for life, an eager, intense desire for
life, which was now fleeing so rapidly away as she returned
solemnly to her bed of death. And I had no utterance capable of
expressing it, except to say, Man doth not yield to the angels,
nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his
I became wild with the excitement of an immoderate dose of
opium. I saw her raising wine to her lips or may have dreamed
that I saw fall within a goblet, as if from some invisible spring in
the atmosphere of the room, three or four large drops of a
brilliant and ruby-colored fluid. Falling. While Ligeia lay in her
bed of ebony-the bed of death-with mine eyes riveted upon
her body. Then came a moan, a sob low and gentle but once. I
listened in superstitious terror but heard it not again. I strained
vision to see any motion in the corpse, but there was not the
slightest perceptible. Yet I had heard the noise and my whole
soul was awakened within me. The red liquid fell and I thought,
Ligeia lives, and I felt my brain reel, my heart cease to beat, and
my limbs go rigid where I sat. In extremity of horror I heard a
vague sound issuing from the region of the bed. Rushing to her I
saw-I distinctly saw-a tremor upon her lips. I sprang to my
feet and chafed and bathed the temples and hands but in vain; all
color fled, all pulsation ceased. Her lips resumed the expression
of the dead, the icy hue, the sunken outline, and all the
loathsome peculiarities of that which for many days has been the
tenant of the tomb.
And again I sank into visions of Ligeia. And again I heard a low
sob. And as I looked she seemed to grow taller. What
inexpressible madness seized me with that thought? I ran to
touch her. Her head fell, and her clothing crumbled, and there
streamed forth huge masses of long disheveled hair.
It was blacker than the raven wings of midnight.
Excerpted from The Raven
by Lou Reed
Copyright © 2003 by Lou Reed.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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