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A poem by Arthur Conan Doyle in a collection of his poems called, Songs of Action, is named The Inner Room. This particular poem claims to be a revealing of the complexity of his inner motivations. This poem, like most poems, concentrates considerable content into a few words and leaves most to the interpretation of the reader.

The Inner Room

It is mine—the little chamber,
Mine alone.
I had it from my forebears
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.
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He would gain a purse or stake it,
He would win a heart or break it,
He would give a life or take it,
Conscience-clean.

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.

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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,
Beetle-browed,
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.

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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!

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But if each shall have his day,
I shall swing and I shall sway
In the same old weary way
As before.


What is Doyle telling us with this poem? It seems he has many sides to his personal inner self, soldier, rogue, priest, many more and they each fight one another for control of his consciousness and behavior. Sometimes he is an honor bound soldier, sometimes a saintly priest but sometimes he is a rogue who can be quite savage and then the shadowy others, who do unknown deeds.

If the stark-faced fellow wins, his acts would be so heinous that when discovered he would be hung from a gallows and swing in the same old weary way. But, if he should behave in that illegal way and his saintly self should gain control he would confess and reveal his evil self’s behavior. The result would be the same and again he would swing and he would sway once again in the same old weary way – as before.

This is quite a revealing poem for someone who left clues showing himself to be Jack the Ripper. Who also sent a letter to his mother upon graduating from medical school claiming his diploma gave him a license to kill. To leave no doubt as to his inner-demons’ behavior had the words Steel True, Blade Straight carved into his own gravestone.

Conan Doyle's grave STEEL TRUE – BLADE STRAIGHT – Arthur Conan Doyle
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