Jan 19: Poe on Poetry

Yes, of course, it's Poe's birthday. So “Essays English and American” tonight (Volume 28), with Poe (“Regarded in Europe as one of America’s greatest writers” – if you sent it to France, it would taste imported, I guess. “Here he unravels the fabric of which all poetry is woven.” Somehow the metaphor sticks out to me – I guess because it could be anything. He provides the recipe from which all poetry is simmered. He diagrams the play from which all poetry takes it to the hoop. He provides the drywall of which all poetry is constructed.

Well, it’s not Poe’s fault. Let’s go to “The Poetic Principle”…oh, wait, another thing occurs to me. The description says that Poe

-- originated the detective story
-- perfected the mystery short story, and
-- produced America’s first great poems.

…and that’s why we’re making you read his essays. Bizarre – but that’s Poe-like too!

-- I must note that I get lost in Stevenson’s essay on Samuel Pepys, who I like, but who is a particular favorite of my dad’s.

-- There’s also an essay on “The Elevation of the Laboring Classes” – which I tend to think of the HC as being, although really it’s more the striving middle class who’s supposed to buy the volumes. Whatever – the point is that this effort failed; nobody’s elevated at all, and, in fact, the question of “elevatedness” is much in dispute. I miss it, myself – hence this project – but I can’t miss it too much or I wouldn’t find the “elevated” tone – the tone of which all pretension shares – so hilarious.

Okay, this time for reals.

-- Poe hates long poems which you can hardly find these days, so another round of laudanum for E.A., please! It can’t sustain the degree of excitement, it’s like prog rock, or something.

-- Poe approvingly quotes a lyric of Shelly’s thusly: “Their warm, yet delicate and ethereal imagination will be appreciated by all; but by none so thoroughly as by him who has himself arisen from sweet dreams of one beloved to bathe in the aromatic air of a southern midsummer night.” These days, of course, you can get arrested for that. Actually, in Poe’s time, you probably could too.

-- “The demands of Truth are severe; she has no sympathy with the myrtles. All that which is so indispensable in Song is precisely all that with which she has nothing whatever to do.” I begin to admire Poe, and not just as a fellow over-italicizer. When I was made to read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in 7th grade the phrase “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” seemed asserted but not proven. And I still don’t believe it these days, but the sentiment persists among the airy-fairy set, I guess. Not Poe. Another round of laudanum!

-- And then, right after excoriating the “theory-mad,” he divides “”the world of mind into its three most immediately obvious distinctions.” No wonder he was popular in France.

-- Poe turns out to be a great believer in rhythm as necessary for poetic greatness. Sure, I’ll go along with that. I might even claim that it might be a particularly American sentiment, but I’ll duck as I say it; I don’t have any evidence for it, except for the way our hot rhythms have swept the world repeatedly.

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