Out of the Wings

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¿Dónde estás, Ulalume, dónde estás? (1990), Alfonso Sastre Salvador

English title: Where are you, Ulalume? Where are you?
Date written: 1990
First publication date: 1990
First production date: 11 October 1994
Keywords: family, love, society > poverty, art, love > relationships
Genre and type: tragicomedy, tragedy

The life of a great writer is not necessarily a happy one. Edgar Allan Poe has arrived in Baltimore on his way to a new life. But fate and his love of the bottle lead to Eddy’s best-laid plans going tragically awry.


Baltimore, 1849. Edgar Allan Poe – or Eddy – arrives in town on his way to New York. For the first time in a long time, Eddy’s life is taking a positive turn. He plans to marry his childhood sweetheart, Elmira. Eddy was lost for many years in a haze of alcohol, grieving after the death of his first young wife, Virginia. But he has promised Elmira he will be sober from now on. Sadly, this is a promise Eddy will be unable to keep, as he gradually succumbs to his demons.

After arriving in Baltimore, Eddy makes his way to the railway station to catch a train to Philadelphia. Here, he finds that he has quite a long wait ahead of him: it is early evening and the train is not expected until midnight. With nothing else to do, Eddy has a meal at the station. He is offered a drink, and after some hesitation, he accepts. His hands shaking, Eddy takes a tentative first sip of wine. Soon, dizzy from the alcohol, Eddy ventures out into the Baltimore night to clear his head.

As Eddy walks the streets, something very strange happens. Suddenly, he finds himself walking through what looks like a tree-lined cemetery. Finally, he comes across what he believes to be Ulalume’s tomb. Ulalume is the name of a dead love in a poem Eddy has written, and as he stares at the tomb he hears a voice reciting lines from this poem. In drunken wonder, Eddy asks, ‘Where are you, Ulalume? Where are you?’. But Ulalume’s tomb is not what it seems, as it magically transforms into the Red Cypress-Tree Tavern. Inside, Eddy meets an old sailor, Redbeard, who offers him a drink. Once again, Eddy initially refuses. He confesses to Redbeard that he has already spent too much of his life lost in alcohol after the death of his wife Virginia. In the end, however, Eddy accepts some of Redbeard’s gin. He then leaves to return to the station.

Somehow, despite his best intentions, Eddy has managed to get drunk. He passes out in the street, failing to return to the station in time for his train. When he awakes the next morning he resolves to make it back to the station so that he can catch that night’s train. He cannot, however, find his way back to the station. Eddy meets a Vagrant who promises to take him in the right direction. As they walk, the Vagrant offers Eddy sips from a bottle. All intentions of sobriety have now disappeared, as Eddy shares the Vagrant’s drink. The two inebriates are soon walking round in circles, unable to find the station. Eddy finally goes off alone and ends up in the middle of a public fair taking place to celebrate the local elections. Here, he heads to the beer tent and once again passes out drunkenly. He is taken away in a cart with all the other drunks.

When Eddy wakes up he finds that he has, once again, missed the train out of Baltimore. Still drunk, Eddy poetically recites a tale about his ongoing grief at the loss of his dear Virginia. He is reunited with the Vagrant, and soon the two of them are off once more in search of the station. This time they find it, but Eddy’s two-day-old ticket is invalid for the train. The Vagrant advises Eddy to hide in the goods car of the train. The two men say a tearful and drunken farewell. Eddy falls asleep as the train moves off, only to be woken up in the early hours of the morning by a ticket collector. Without a ticket, Eddy is taken back to Baltimore, where he continues his drunken walk through the city. Alcohol and tiredness soon lead to Eddy having hallucinations. These become more and more frightening. In the end, he falls unconscious at the Red Cypress-Tree Tavern.

Eddy is treated in hospital for his delirium. He passes in and out of semi-consciousness for days, until he finally dies. He has a very quiet and poorly-attended funeral. He does, however, receive a touching memorial from Mrs Clemm, his former mother-in-law. Mrs Clemm vows to move to Baltimore, accompanied by her daughter Virginia’s body, so that Eddy can rest beside his beloved forever. Mrs Clemm tells Eddy’s grave that his headstone will bear the words ‘Where are you, Ulalume? Where are you?’. She promises to visit his graveside every day. But later, after some time has passed, she confesses that her new home in Baltimore is too far away from the graveyard. She may not be able to visit. Nevertheless, even if she cannot visit, Mrs Clemm promises Eddy that she will never, ever forget him.


The play is loosely based on the last days and hours of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49). The death of Edgar Allan Poe remains shrouded in mystery. Just as in Sastre’s play, Poe left Richmond on September 27, 1849 to return to New York. He was subsequently found delirious outside a tavern in Baltimore on October 3. Nothing definite is known about how he spent the time between these dates. The character of Doctor Snodgrass, who appears in Sastre’s play, was indeed one of Poe’s acquaintances.

About two years before his death, Poe wrote a poem called Ulalume. In it, a narrator laments the loss of a lover. The poem ends with the narrator realising that he has unconsciously returned to the tomb of his lost love, one year after her death. Scholars have argued over the identity of Ulalume, although the narrator’s grief in the poem may be an expression of Poe’s own grief at the early death of his first wife, Virginia. After Virginia’s death, Poe remained close to her mother – Muddie or Mrs Clemm – who appears at the end of Where are you, Ulalume? Where are you? to pay her respects to Eddy.

At the beginning of the play, Eddy says farewell to Elmira. Edgar Allan Poe had a childhood sweetheart called Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. After Virginia’s death, Poe was rumoured to have become engaged to Elmira, although they never married.

Critical response

This is one of Sastre’s most popular plays, which is seen not only as a reflection on alcoholism but also as an exploration into our failure to communicate with one another. The play is also considered to be a dramatisation of the conflict between the tormented genius and a society resistant to what he has to say (Puerta 2006: 476). A number of critics and reviewers note similarities between Eddy’s nightmarish journey through Baltimore and the last days of Max Estrella’s life, which he spent wandering the streets of Madrid in Luces de Bohemia (Bohemian Lights).

  • Puerta, Xabi. 2006. ‘Ulalume es el POEma’. In Sastre, Alfonso. 2006. Teatro escogido, vol II, ed. Javier Villán, 473-91. Madrid, Asociación de Autores de Teatro. Digital edition 2008, Alicante. Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, http://bib.cervantesvirtual.com/FichaObra.html?Ref=29896 [accessed April 2011] (Online Publication) (in Spanish)

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 1990. ¿Dónde estás, Ulalume, dónde estás? Bilbao, Hiru

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 2006. ‘¿Dónde estás, Ulalume, dónde estás?’. In Teatro escogido, vol II, ed. Javier Villán. Madrid, Asociación de Autores de Teatro

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 2007. ¿Dónde estás, Ulalume, dónde estás? Madrid, Caos Editorial, http://www.caoseditorial.com/libros/ficha.asp?lg=en&id=13 [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 6 June 2011.

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