Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Ligeia” begins with the narrator admitting that he “cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.” Upon further examination, the narrator explains that his inability to remember may be because her many attributes “made their way into my heart” so gradually that they were not noticed by him. The narrator thinks that he may have met Ligeia in a “decaying city near the Rhine.” And although he cannot recall the specifics, he is quite certain that she descended from an ancient lineage. Can he remember her paternal name? No. Regardless, Ligeia is gone from this world. Clearly, “if ever she, the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt, presided, as they tell, over marriages ill-omened, then most surely she presided over mine.”
The narrator can quite clearly remember Ligeia’s appearance. She was tall and thin. She “came and departed as a shadow,” and the speaker admits that when she would enter his study, he would not notice her presence until her “marble hand” was on his shoulder. She had the radiant beauty of an “opium-dream,” a beauty that no other woman could ever hope to equal. She had pale skin like ivory and glossy, “raven-black” hair that fell in curls. Ligeia’s eyes were especially captivating, though in hindsight they might be described as strange. Looking back, the narrator cannot explain what mysterious essence made her eyes so unusual, but “they became to me twin stars of Leda, and I to them devoutest of astrologers.”
As the narrator continues to struggle to recall the memory of Ligeia, he notices how odd it is that people so often find themselves on the verge of remembering something, only to fail. The struggle to recall Ligeia’s eyes especially provides this phenomenon in the narrator. He goes on to explain that
I mean to say that, subsequently to the period when Ligeia's beauty passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine, I derived, from many existences in the material world, a sentiment such as I felt always aroused within me by her large and luminous orbs. Yet not the more could I define that sentiment, or analyze, or even steadily view it.
The speaker goes on to explain how he has sometimes felt a similar moment of approaching epiphany while studying the natural world. Ultimately, it reminds him of a quote that Poe attributes to Joseph Glanvill:
And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.
The narrator explains that he has traced, after years of thought on the subject, a “remote connection” between this passage and Ligeia’s “stern passion.”
The narrator continues, recalling how Ligeia’s unusual education helped him in his studies during the early years of their marriage. Ligeia was a talented linguist, particularly when it came to classical languages. Her talents were so impressive that “with child-like confidence,” the narrator had always trusted her guidance through the "chaotic world of metaphysical investigation.” The narrator confesses that his goal was to obtain “wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden,” suggesting that his studies were of an occult nature. The narrator goes on to characterize his investigations into the “metaphysical” to “the many mysteries of the transcendentalism in which we were immersed.” Before long, the narrator came to rely on Ligeia’s insights in order to progress in his studies. However, it was then that Ligeia became sickly.
The narrator recalls how he, in spirit, struggled with Azrael, the archangel of death. However, it was Ligeia that truly and passionately struggled. Sitting at her bedside with her hand in his, Ligeia would pour out her passions to the narrator. Now, he reflects, “that she loved me I should not have doubted; and I might have been easily aware that, in a...