‘The Conqueror Worm’


You’re probably not used to seeing me clad in an argyle sweater-vest and wearing a bow tie, but it’s not my fault. Blame Dave.

Dave is the guy who kicked me awake in English class one day because the teacher had called on me. The topic of the day was “The Raven,” which was the first, and last, exposure we received to the writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849).

That’s too bad, because there’s a lot more to Poe than “The Raven.” Now I ain’t tying to play no English teacher here, and I don’t know nothing about no literature, but since I’m on my best behavior in these intellectual-looking clothes I’m going to mention a favorite poem: “The Conqueror Worm.”

You can recite it at the campfire and really creep out your pals. Poe is good for that. Or if you ever want to cut short a first date but don’t know how to go about this delicate business politely, well, Poe’s good for that, too.

“The Conqueror Worm” opens up describing angels who are sitting down in a theater to watch a play. The play is about mankind. Before the play even starts, the angles are crying. Hey, crying angels is never a good sign, so you know this won’t have a happy ending.

As the play unfolds, the usual array of human dramas runs its circular course.

Then a worm comes along and eats everyone.

Here’s the poem:


The Conqueror Worm
By Edgar Allen Poe

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
Invisible Woe!

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.


That’s quite a riff. I think even Dave and I would have paid attention to that in school. But I’m taking off this bow tie since it’s time to start the weekend. So, cheers, let’s enjoy life before the Conqueror Worm takes us off the stage for good.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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