The Inner Room

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"The Inner Room" is a poem by Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in his 1898 poetry collection Songs of Action.[1] Unlike most of Doyle's poetry, the poem is "a deeply personal, highly introspective effort,"[2] which has been interpreted as "describing the various battles within [Doyle's] mind."[3]

The poem describes Doyle's "inner room"—his own brain or soul—as being inhabited by several different individuals. In Doyle's own words, these "describ[e] our multiplex personality."[4] Discussing the poem, Doyle's biographer Daniel Stashower observes that Doyle "conceived of his own personality as a 'motley company' of conflicting impulses, each represented by a different character—a soldier, a priest, an agnostic—and all of them struggling for control of his soul."[5] Another biographer, Martin Booth, describes this "intensely serious" poem as "fascinating, for it lays bare the powers that [Doyle] believes were in him, eternally fighting to get the upper hand on his soul."[6]

The poem's fifth stanza introduces "a stark-faced fellow, / Beetle-browed, / Whose black soul shrinks away / From a lawyer-ridden day, / And has thoughts he dare not say / Half avowed." Stashower describes this as "quite possibly the most personal and revealing line Conan Doyle ever wrote," perhaps reflecting the difficulties of Doyle's personal life in the mid-1890s.[7]

"At the end of the poem, Doyle resigns himself to what he is."[8] He suggests that none of the competing personalities will prevail over the others. Instead, "if each shall have his day, / I shall swing and I shall sway / In the same old weary way / As before."


It is mine—the little chamber,
  Mine alone.
I had it from my forbears
  Years agone.
Yet within its walls I see
A most motley company,
And they one and all claim me
  As their own.

There's one who is a soldier
  Bluff and keen;
Single-minded, heavy-fisted,
  Rude of mien.
He would gain a purse or stake it,
He would win a heart or break it,
He would give a life or take it,

And near him is a priest
  Still schism-whole;
He loves the censer-reek
  And organ-roll.
He has leanings to the mystic,
Sacramental, eucharistic;
And dim yearnings altruistic
  Thrill his soul.

There's another who with doubts
  Is overcast;
I think him younger brother
  To the last.
Walking wary stride by stride,
Peering forwards anxious-eyed,
Since he learned to doubt his guide
  In the past.

And 'mid them all, alert,
  But somewhat cowed,
There sits a stark-faced fellow,
Whose black soul shrinks away
From a lawyer-ridden day,
And has thoughts he dare not say
  Half avowed.

There are others who are sitting,
  Grim as doom,
In the dim ill-boding shadow
  Of my room.
Darkling figures, stern or quaint,
Now a savage, now a saint,
Showing fitfully and faint
  Through the gloom.

And those shadows are so dense,
  There may be
Many—very many—more
  Than I see.
They are sitting day and night
Soldier, rogue, and anchorite;
And they wrangle and they fight
  Over me.

If the stark-faced fellow win,
  All is o'er!
If the priest should gain his will
  I doubt no more!
But if each shall have his day,
I shall swing and I shall sway
In the same old weary way
  As before.


  1. ^ Arthur Conan Doyle, Songs of Action (1898), pp. 116-20.
  2. ^ Daniel Stashower, Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle (1999), p. 210.
  3. ^ Christopher Roden, Introduction to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Oxford U. Press 1993), p. xvii.
  4. ^ Arthur Conan Doyle, Memories and Adventures (1924), ch. 10.
  5. ^ Stashower, p. 210.
  6. ^ Martin Booth, The Doctor and the Detective—A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1997), p. 222.
  7. ^ Stashower, pp. 210-11; see also Booth, pp. 222-23.
  8. ^ Booth, p. 223.