Poe first published “The Lake” in his 1827 collection "Tamerlane and Other Poems," but it appeared again two years later in the collection "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems" with a mysterious dedication added to the title: “The Lake. To-.”
The subject of Poe's dedication remains unidentified to this day. Historians have suggested Poe wrote the poem about Lake Drummond-and that he might have visited Lake Drummond with his foster mother, but the poem was published after her death.
The lake outside Norfolk, Virginia, also known as the Great Dismal Swamp, was said to have been haunted by two past lovers. The supposed ghosts were not thought of as malicious or evil, but tragic-the boy had gone mad in the belief the girl had died.
A Haunted Lake
Lake Drummond was said to be haunted by the spirits of a young Native American couple who lost their lives on the lake. The young woman reportedly died on their wedding day, and the young man, driven mad by visions of her paddling on the lake, drowned in his attempts to reach her.
According to one report, local legend says that "if you go into the Great Dismal Swamp late at night you'll see the image of a woman paddling a white canoe on a lake with a lamp." This woman became known locally as the Lady of the Lake, which has given inspiration to a slew of famous writers over the years.
Robert Frost was said to have visited the central Lake Drummond in 1894 after suffering a heartbreak from splitting up with a longtime lover, and he later told a biographer that he had hoped to get lost in the wilderness of the swamp, never to return.
Although the haunting stories may be fictional, the beautiful scenery and lush wildlife of this Virginia lake and surrounding swamp draw many visitors every year.
Poe's Use of Contrast
One of the things that stands out in the poem is the way Poe contrasts the dark imagery and danger of the lake with a feeling of contentment and even pleasure in the thrill of his surroundings. He refers to the "loneliness" as "lovely," and later describes his "delight" at waking to "the terror on the lone lake."
Poe draws on the legend of the lake to tap into its inherent dangers, but at the same time he revels in the beauty of the nature surrounding him. The poem closes with Poe's exploration of the circle of life. Though he refers to "death" in a "poisonous wave," he describes its location as "Eden," an obvious symbol for the emergence of life.
Full Text of "The Lake. To–"
In spring of youth, it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less-
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.
But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody-
Then-ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.
Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight-
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define-
Nor Love-although the Love were thine.
Death was in that poisonous wave,
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining-
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.