Poe’s ‘Ms. Found In A Bottle’ fits closely together1 with ‘A Descent in to the Maelstrom’ as the tale of the mariner’s brother — the brother who goes down with the Maelstrom into the abyss. The Ms. ends with these lines:
Oh, horror upon horror! — the ice opens suddenly to the right, and to the left, and we are whirling dizzily, in immense concentric circles, round and round the borders of a gigantic amphitheatre, the summit of whose walls is lost in the darkness and the distance. But little time will be left me to ponder upon my destiny! The circles rapidly grow small — we are plunging madly within the grasp of the whirlpool — and amid a roaring, and bellowing, and thundering of ocean and of tempest, the ship is quivering — oh God! and — going down!
These are the last lines of the Ms. the doomed sailor has time to entrust to a bottle which would later be found floating in the sea — like the mariner who was saved in ‘Descent’. Both the Ms. and the mariner survive the whirlpool: but only by being cast “within the sea”:
At the last moment I will enclose the Ms. in a bottle, and cast it within the sea.
The Ms. and the mariner in ‘Descent’ are bearers of a message from the depths of the abyss. Both record the inception of an unprecedented change in perception:
A feeling, for which I have no name, has taken possession of my soul — a sensation which will admit of no analysis, to which the lessons of by-gone time are inadequate, and for which I fear futurity itself will offer me no key. (…) Yet it is not wonderful that these conceptions are indefinite, since they have their origin in sources so utterly novel. A new sense — a new entity is added to my soul.
And both describe the strange “curiosity” that arises in this changed state:
To conceive the horror of my sensations is, I presume, utterly impossible; yet a curiosity to penetrate the mysteries of these awful regions, predominates even over my despair, and will reconcile me to the most hideous aspect of death. It it evident that we are hurrying onwards to some exciting knowledge — some never-to-be-imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction.
This secret is struck like a spark from an encounter with “the blackness of eternal night” at “the walls of the universe”:
All in the immediate vicinity of the ship is the blackness of eternal night, and a chaos of foaming water; but, about a league on either side of us, may be seen, indistinctly and at intervals, stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away into the desolate sky, and looking like the walls of the universe.2
- In both tales a sudden hurricane engulfs a ship leaving it with only two of its crew. In both there is a lesser whirlpool (“the whirlpool of mountainous and foaming ocean within which we were ingulfed”) before which the ship can run; and a greater whirlpool which takes the ship down. In both the mariner telling the tale goes through a profound change which leads him to study his unprecedented situation despite its “horror”. ↩
- Poe has the strange “foamless water” in this passage, not “foaming water”. This is probably some kind of typo. If it is not, Poe may have wanted to draw a contrast with the “foaming ocean” of the lesser whirlpool at the start of the tale — and to emphasize, perhaps, “the blackness of eternal night” in which no foam could be seen. ↩