“I do not suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.”
~Edgar Allan Poe
A tad tardy update of a bookish tribute. It was Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday on the 19th of January, and I decided to read something from the master of macabre on his 209th birth anniversary. “The Masque of the Red Death” was first published in 1842, and is one of my favorite short stories of Poe. The allegorical story is about the “Red Death”, a plague that has affected a nation – characterized by redness, bleeding at the pores, scarlet stains on the body and more so on the face, a lot of blood, culminating in death within a few hours of being affected. The prince of the nation constructs an extensive and magnificent structure for himself and his friends, in an attempt to be “safe” from the chaos outside the boundaries of his palace. The structure comprises a masquerade ball, made up of seven rooms in seven different colors, six of which have matching stained glass panes. A few months later, a mysterious figure appears in the midst of their revelry and wreaks havoc in the palace.
Some excerpts from the story for a glimpse into the symbolism and imagery of Poe’s writing.
“The Red Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and seal.”
“Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned a thousand hale and light-hearted knights and dames, and retired to the deep seclusion of his castellated abbey.”
“There were buffoons, improvisatori, ballet dancers, musicians, beauty, wine and security within. Without was the Red Death.”
“The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. His vesture was dabbled in blood – and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.”
“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night.”
“Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
The story touches upon issues like the inevitability of death, how money can’t buy you immortality, and how time waits for no one. Time can delay the inevitable, but not stop it. However much the prince and his nobles tried to keep the affected victims away and ensure their own safety, when Death came knocking there was nowhere to run. A morbid but wonderful tale that holds true over a century after it was written.