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Waits, Tom - Poor Edward

Identifier

021867

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

Poor Edward is one of the tracks on Alice , an album by Tom Waits, released in 2002 on Epitaph Records (under the Anti sub-label). The album contains the majority of songs written for the play Alice.

The track is about Edward Mordake (sometimes spelled Edward Mordrake), said to be heir to an English peerage, who had an extra face on the back of his head. Mordake repeatedly begged doctors to have his "demon face" removed, claiming that it whispered things that "one would only speak about in hell" at night, but no doctor would attempt it. He committed suicide in his mid-20s. 

"He lived in complete seclusion, refusing the visits even of the members of his own family. He was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face – that is to say, his natural face – was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a man. Some versions say that his "demon twin" was female, but that is impossible as all parasitic twins are of the same sex. The ugly twin, "occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however", would be seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips "would gibber without ceasing". No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his "devil twin", as he called it, "which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me. For some unforgiven wickedness of my forefathers I am knit to this fiend – for a fiend it surely is. I beg and beseech you to crush it out of human semblance, even if I die for it." Such were the words of the hapless Mordake to Manvers and Treadwell, his physicians. In spite of careful watching, he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the "demon face" might be destroyed before his burial, "lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave." At his own request, he was interred in a waste place, without stone or legend to mark his grave. "

"Poor Edward" – 3:42

  • Tom Waits – Vocal, piano
  • Larry Taylor – Bass
  • Matt Brubeck – Cello
  • Dawn Harms – Stroh violin
  • Bebe Risenfors – Viola

A description of the experience

Tom Waits - Poor Edward

Did you hear the news about Edward?
On the back of his head he had another face
Was it a woman's face or a young girl?
They said to remove it would kill him
So poor Edward was doomed

The face could laugh and cry
It was his devil twin
And at night she spoke to him
Things heard only in hell
But they were impossible to separate
Chained together for life

Finally the bell tolled his doom
He took a suite of rooms
And hung himself and her from the balcony irons
Some still believe he was freed from her
But I knew her too well
I say she drove him to suicide
And took poor Edward to hell

The source of the experience

Waits, Tom

Concepts, symbols and science items

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Activities and commonsteps

Activities

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Believing in the spiritual world

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