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10 October 2011

What Inn is this

What Inn is this
Where for the night
Peculiar Traveller comes?
Who is the Landlord?
Where the maids?
Behold, what curious rooms!
No ruddy fires on the hearth—
No brimming Tankards flow—
Necromancer! Landlord!
Who are these below?
                                                           - F 100 (1859)  115

Graveyards are spooky places but they do offer long-term accommodations. In this case, the poet’s “night” would be that long, eternal sleep. The traveler is “Peculiar” as she is no longer treading the pathways of this world. To all intents and purposes, once the bodies have been laid in their graves they are alone there. As the poet wonders where the host is, why there is no hospitality offered, she also asks a deeper question:  what does await the Peculiar traveler on his journey.  She calls out as if  protesting the shabby treatment: “Necromancer! Landlord!”  Now, “necromancer” is the name of one who practices death magic; in its most benign form it would suggest séances, channeling, and so forth; at its worst it suggests raising the zombi dead, calling on dead spirits for combat, etc. So it’s a bit unchristian and definitely not Puritan-ish to call on God as a Necromancer.
            The poem depends on a series of questions in short dimeter and trimeter lines. The questions are followed by a few exclamations: first, remarking on the curiousness of the rooms, and then calling on the absent Landlord / Necromancer—leading to the final question: “Who are these below?”
            At first the question seems simple. The poet is simply making an analogy of graves to a deserted inn. Well and good. But the last question, asking about who might be below asks a more profound question: what and who are we once we have departed this life? Are we to be known as the people we were when living? Or nobody? Or a new identity altogether?


  1. They say there are three important criteria for investing in real estate: location, location, location. Edward Dickinson’s re-purchase of his family’s old Homestead after decades of ownership by the Mack family is a case in point.

    Today, fans of ED’s death poetry reap huge rewards from Edward’s real estate investment because from her second-floor west window she could watch funeral processions on their way to Amherst’s West Cemetery. On quieter days, she and Carlo could walk through the Cemetery visiting interred friends and neighbors in their final accommodations. Ten to one, a walk in West Cemetery fertilized ‘What Inn is This?’ in ED’s brain as she hiked among the graves. We’ll have to ask her when we meet in the great bye and bye.

    I wonder if the Landlord answered her final question, “Who are these below?”. Ten to one, He couldn’t (cf. F85, ‘Whose are the little beds, I asked’).

    PS. Susan K, the opening sentence of your above explication: “Graveyards are spooky places but they do offer long-term accommodations”, would be a killer starter for a stand-up comedy schtick. Nice line!!!

  2. Reading what inn is this reminds/ connects me with Poe’s Mansion