November 28, 2007


Welcome to Edgar Allan Poe Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

In some ways, Edgar Allan Poe is the Rodney Dangerfield of American literature--he don't get no respect.

T.S. Eliot said some snarky things about him, for example, once stating that Poe "had the intellect of a highly gifted young person before puberty."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the literary eminence of the early and mid 1800s, famously referred to him in a letter as "the jingle-man." To be fair, if you do read or hear more than the proper measure of his poetry, the jingles are very audible.

But here's the deal, Ralphie and Tommy Boy: more people know The Telltale Heart and The Raven than Self Reliance or The Waste Land.

(Note: I'm not implying that this is necessarily good thing.)

John Allan, his foster father, had a pretty sharp take on Poe's genius: "His talents are of an order that can never prove a comfort to their possessor."

Here's James Russell Lowell's take in verse:

"There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge
Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge,
Who talks like a book of iambs and pentameters,
In a way to make people of common sense damn metres,
Who has written some things quite the best of their kind,
But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind."

The snooty Henry James--who was nowhere near as cool as his brother William--wrote that

With all due respect to the very original genius of the author of the Tales of Mystery, it seems to us that to take him with more than a certain degree of seriousness is to lack seriousness one's self. An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.

Walt Whitman was more charitable:

Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demoniac undertone behind every page—and, by final judgment, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat. There is an indescribable magnetism about the poet’s life and reminiscences, as well as the poems.

(If it's any consolation, they loved him in France. But then they liked Jerry Lewis and Derrida over there too.)

But here's the deal: it doesn't really matter what the critics think. Poe has won the verdict of popularity. He was the father of the modern detective story and horror tale and a major early influence on science fiction. Those are three of the most popular literary genres (i.e. they are things people read voluntarily).

The accursed heart still beats...

AN ANNIVERSARY TO REMEMBER. Seventy five years ago this month, FDR--peace be unto him--was elected to the presidency.

THE SCIENCE OF MORALITY is the subject of this article from Time.

SPEAKING OF MORALITY AND SCIENCE, here's a good slam on economic libertarianism with a science slant.



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