POE AND THE WOMEN

Rufus Griswold: an investigation of 19th century women poets must go through him—and Poe.

The female poet was a major literary force in 19th century America, and this happy circumstance lingered in the early 20th century, with poets like Edna Millay and Dorothy Parker, but that dream faded as modern tastes took hold, and men dominated the profession once more.  The names of those 19th century women poets are forgotten and no renaissance of any note has been attempted in America in the name of the female poet.  Influential male writers—Walt Whitman, Henry James, and Mark Twain, to name a few, were not impressed by female versifiers and made it known they thought women poets were silly.  The ‘Pound Era’ wiped out ‘The Poetess’ for good, as even Millay was abused by the Pound clique, and the whole lot of 19th century female poets fell into neglect—most readers today can only name Emily Dickinson.

Modernism wanted nothing to do with the Romantic or Victorian spirit in poetry—and as a direct result, woman’s poetry, one could say, became a casualty of the 20th century, too.

From the introduction to American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology, (Rutgers 1992) the editor, Cheryl Walker, writes:

Given the almost total neglect accorded nineteenth-century popular women poets, it is a pleasure to be able to show through an anthology that these writers were neither all alike nor without merit.

The ability to earn significant amounts of money by publishing poetry in the popular media certainly provided an impetus for women to write verse. Until relatively recently, however, it was assumed that women were composing  their poems in isolated cottages or garrets, cut off from the mainstream of literary life. In Literary Women, for instance, Ellen Moers asserted: “Women through most of the nineteenth century were barred from the universities, isolated in their own homes, chaperoned in travel, painfully restricted in friendship. The give-and-take of literary life was closed to them.” The Bronte sisters and Emily Dickinson were taken to be typical of woman’s lot. Today, in contrast, we know that Emily Dickinson was very much the exception among  American women poets. By and large, literary women on this side of the Atlantic were not isolated from each other, secretly composing in the upstairs bedroom, but were actively involved with a world simultaneously social and intellectual. One feature of this world was the literary salon.

As early as 1830, Lydia Sigourney was earning an income by selling her productions to over twenty periodicals.

…literary life in America was an arena distinctly more favorable to women in the late nineteenth century than it had been in its earliest decades. In an 1887 memoir of Lydia Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier reflected: “She sang alone, ere womanhood had known/The gift of song that fills the air today.” By the 1870s the many minor poets who found their way into the popular magazines were about equally male and female.

Today it is fashionable to decry market forces, but women poets in the 19th century benefited from the rise of industry and capitalism.  Female poetry grew with America’s growth.  Enlightenment and Romantic ideals helped women, as well.  Henry James and Walt Whitman may not have taken 19th century women poets seriously, but Edgar Allan Poe did.  Poe was also a casualty of 20th modernist criticism, his rich legacy swept aside by the impatience of gum-chewing, jazz age critics.   Little brass poems and ‘let’s wow ‘em’ experimental poems rejected the old sublime, which lingered, but by the 1930s was dead, hauled off by a little red wheel barrow.  American poetry became odd, and women poets who had written in the old ways were forgotten.  Radio was the sentimental masterpiece now, not books of poems.  With radio and film, women were pretty and sang, they were dolls to movie tough-guys, not poets anymore.

What’s really odd is how much 19th century women’s poetry and Edgar Poe go hand in hand.  You can’t read an account of 19th century woman poets without running into Poe at every turn; Poe, more than any other figure in the 19th century, reviewed and supported women poets, was worshiped by them at the literary salons.  Not only that, the greatest anthologist of woman poets in the 19th century, a Poe rival for the attention of literary women, but  a man known today only because of Poe—not for his literary efforts on behalf of women—is Rufus Griswold, who almost single-handedly mauled Poe’s reputation, putting into circulation the false rumors of the lonely drug fiend and alcoholic in his obituary in Horace Greeley’s Tribune.  Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, a prominent poet in Cheryl Walker’s anthology, quoted by Herman Melville and married to a famous humorist, wrote now-suppressed magazine articles of how Poe was beaten and murdered.  Fanny Osgood, another well-known American poet of this time, her husband a reputed portrait painter, supposedly had an affair with Poe.  Helen Whitman, still another poet of note in the 19th century, was going to marry Poe until Greeley and Griswold conspired to put an end to it.

Poe’s murder in 1849 coincided with Griswold’s anthology, Female Poets of America, (1849) and we can’t help but feel that this anthology was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame.  Important women poets were in a position to defend Poe, and, in the case of at least one (Oakes-Smith), to give evidence on how Poe really died.  Was Griswold’s anthology a way to keep the women silent?  Keep quiet about Poe and Uncle Rufus will make your poetry live forever.

When Poe gave Griswold power over his posthumous works, in the year of his death, 1849, Poe sealed his fate, and the circle closed in around him.

Was 19th century women’s poetry essentially killed by the same forces that killed Poe, and his reputation, and ushered in the rule of the Modernist Men’s club, Pound and Ford Madox Ford and radical, militaristic, fascist, gold-digging, Golden Dawn crazies who hated American democracy?  The virtuous woman, the respected woman of Letters, was a horror to men like Pound, Eliot, and Ford, who used women in various ways.   The proud, independent, 19th century poetess was an ideal that faded away in the gaudy light of modernism.

The trail is pretty clear: the chauvinist Emerson (who despised Poe) , the chauvinist Whitman (inspired by Emerson) Henry James (sneered both at literary women and Poe;  Emerson was a family friend of the James family) and T.S. Eliot (had issues with Poe, Romanticism, and women; Eliot’s grandfather was Unitarian preacher friend of Emerson’s).

The sordid tale is even more bizarre, if that’s possible.  Margaret Fuller, associate of both Emerson and Horace Greeley (Fuller and Greeley were roommates for years) alarmed the literary salon community by getting together a posse of belles to demand at Poe’s cottage door supposed love letters he had from a married woman, causing Poe to subsequently seek to arm himself against enraged men folk. Fuller’s gambit took place in 1847, two years before Poe’s death, and was just the sort of fearful incident that began to make Poe persona non grata in higher literary circles, and easier to push aside as potential allies were scared into silence.  Unfortunately, in any literary network, the rival phenomenon plays an ugly role, as one reputation may eclipse others—one is only a good a writer as rivals permit one to be.   This was especially true in Poe’s day, when Letters was judged by a more universal standard of ‘Western Tradition’ transparency and democratic popularity: there was one mode of excellence and a writer was original, or not, within that mode, even as comic or tragic, domestic or worldly subjects were chosen.  There was no hiding behind experimental differences—there was no way to do that and call oneself an artist in the community’s eyes.  This made literary rivalries especially cut-throat in Poe’s day, and Poe strove to make himself part of the mainstream of American Letters, which included women poets.  Poe was not one of the producers/publishers of literature; he was merely the best of the writers.  The action taken against him by Margaret Fuller must have really shaken Poe’s reputation.  Two years later, Greeley and Griswold finished the job Fuller had begun, as their Tribune obituary hit the streets hours after Poe’s mysterious murder.  1845 saw Poe gain worldwide fame with “The Raven,” and the salon circuit was good to him as late as 1847, but as Poe’s enemies poured on the drunk/sexually immoral slanders, his salon-fame flower faded by 1848.  Poe turned his attention to comosogony (“Eureka”) as his social star fell behind the hills.  Cheryl Walker again:

Women participated in literary salons from the eighteenth century onward, and in several notable cases they supervised these social occasions themselves, holding salons for the great and near great in their homes. One of the most famous was the New York salon run by Anne Lynch (later Botta) which entertained writers such as Poe, Emerson, Frances Osgood, Rufus Griswold, Margaret Fuller, the Cary sisters, and Elizabeth Oakes-Smith. Edith Thomas’s career was launched at one of Botta’s evening entertainments.  Such salons were often inbred and typically thrived on gossip, but they also played a significant role in establishing networks of literary inter-relationships.  In her autobiography, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith gives a fascinating account of one evening at Emma Embury’s during which Frances Osgood sat adoringly at the feet of Poe and guests engaged in witty repartee. She remarks: “I remember Fannie Osgood and Phoebe Cary rather excelled at this small game, but Margaret Fuller looked like an owl at the perpetration of a pun, and I honored her for it.”

We’ll just print one poem from the anthology of 19th century American women poets, a brief lyric by Anne Lynch Botta, the salon hostess mentioned above.  Do 19th century women poets who can write like this deserve to be forgotten?  This poem contains many merits: artistic unity, descriptive power, force of imagery, and a symbolism which is not static, but unfolds as we read the poem:

LINES on an incident observed from the deck of a steamboat on the Mississippi river

Where the dark primeval forests
Rise against the western sky,
And “the Father of the Waters”
In his strength goes rushing by:

There an eagle, flying earthward
From his eyrie far above,
With a serpent of the forest
In a fierce encounter strove.

Now he gains and now he loses,
Now he frees his ruffled wings;
And now on high in air he rises;
But the serpent round him clings.

In the death embrace entwining,
Now they sink and now they rise;
But the serpent wins the battle
With the monarch of the skies.

Yet his wings still struggle upward,
Though that crushing weight they bear;
But more feebly those broad pinions
Strike the waves of upper air.

Down to earth he sinks a captive
In that writhing, living chain;
Never o’er the blue horizon
Will his proud form sweep again.

Never more in lightning flashes
Will his eye of terror gleam
Round the high and rocky eyrie,
Where his lonely eaglets scream.

Oh majestic, royal eagle,
Soaring sunward from thy birth,
Thou hast lost the realm of heaven
For one moment on the earth!

Perhaps this is not a ‘great poem’ to a 21st century professor bent over it in a library, but imagine a 19th century salon, where poems live in a rich, down-to-earth, social atmosphere: one part gossip, one part entertainment, one part noble tradition.  Would this poem not be perfect?

42 Comments

  1. December 5, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Some questions.

    “Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, a prominent poet in Cheryl Walker’s anthology, quoted by Herman Melville and married to a famous humorist, wrote now-suppressed magazine articles of how Poe was beaten and murdered.”

    What do you mean by ‘now-suppressed magazine articles’? The following quote is easily found at http://www.eapoe.org/papers/misc1851/18760315.htm:

    “That Edgar Poe may have subjected himself to the imputation of inebriety may perhaps be conceded, for a glass of wine would act fearfully upon his delicate organization; but that he was a debauched man in any way is utterly false. He was not a diseased man from his cups at the time of his death, nor did he died from delirium tremens, as has been asserted. The whole sad story will probably never be known, but he had corresponded with a woman whose name I withhold, and they having subsequently quarrelled, he refused to return her letters, nor did she receive them till Dr. Griswold gave them back after Poe’s death. This retention not only alarmed but exasperated the woman, and she sent an emissary of her own to force the delivery, and who, failing of success, beat the unhappy man in a most ruffianly manner. A brain fever supervened, and a few friends went with him to Baltimore, his native city, which he barely reached when he died.”—Elizabeth Oakes Smith, “Recollections of Poe,” Home Journal, March 15, 1876

    Smith here is confusing different episodes in Poe’s life. The incident regarding the unreturned letters (the woman Smith refuses to name is that sour-gashed batterfanged womb-pipe Elizabeth F. Ellet) occurred in 1847, two years prior to Poe’s “murder” (as you yourself point out in your article). The beating administered to Poe was not ‘an emissary of her own’, but T.D. English. Poe had sought a pistol from English to defend himself against the threats of Ellet’s brother who was defending her “honor”, the two quarreled, and they fought. It seems unlikely that Poe developed ‘a brain fever’ as a result of his fight with English that would take two years to kill him.

    Poe was not the victim of a murder; a very slow suicide, perhaps.

    “Poe’s murder in 1849 coincided with Griswold’s anthology, Female Poets of America, (1849) and we can’t help but feel that this anthology was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame. Important women poets were in a position to defend Poe, and, in the case of at least one (Oakes-Smith), to give evidence on how Poe really died. Was Griswold’s anthology a way to keep the women silent? Keep quiet about Poe and Uncle Rufus will make your poetry live forever.”

    This is ludicrous. Female Poets of America was published in mid-December of 1848, over nine months prior to Poe’s death, so you’ve embarrassed yourself there. Disregarding that fact, why would Griswold have felt the need to bribe the blue-stockings with publication and fame in order to conceal Poe’s “murder”?

    “[Sarah] Helen Whitman, still another poet of note in the 19th century, was going to marry Poe until Greeley and Griswold conspired to put an end to it.”

    Whitman called off her marriage to Poe after receiving an anonymous letter informing her that the wretched poet had failed to keep the promise of sobriety he had made to her. What evidence do you have to suggest that either Greeley or the honorable Reverend Griswold had anything to do with it?

  2. thomasbrady said,

    December 5, 2011 at 3:31 am

    Rufus,

    By “now-suppressed” I refer to how little attention has been given to Oakes-Smith’s testimony; the various theories: died after a drinking binge theory, the rabies theory, and the ‘cooping’ theory have all received a great deal of attention, with no real evidence. I assume you have read Walsh’s book, “Midnight Dreary,” where he not only destroys the silly ‘cooping theory’ but traces it to the dirty liar who originated it. Yet the ‘cooping theory’ has been repeated as the best theory for years.Snodgrass altering the note from ‘worse for wear’ to ‘bestial intoxication’ is alarming, yet none have ever suspected Snodgrass of anything but noble behavior. As far as Oakes-Smith ‘getting her facts wrong,’ how do we know precisely what she got wrong when we don’t know all the facts. She never says exactly when the beating occured, but if a beating did occur as she says it did, that’s information that is never discussed—and yet it shouldn’t be, because you are satisfied that she mixed up her dates? For someone who wasn’t there, you seem very sure of what you don’t (or couldn’t) fully know. Your sort of thinking is exactly why Poe’s death is permitted to be buried under lies.

    Again, with the dates on Griswold’s anthology, as if this seals the matter. You deny Poe had hateful enemies, and Griswold was not one of them, and that Griswold was not a bitter rival of Poe’s in Letters, among literary women of the time, and that many of these women were potential defenders of Poe?

    James Harrison’s 1901 biography quotes a letter from Greeley to Griswold, in which the former almost as much as orders the latter to prevent Poe’s marriage to Whitman. The Temperance slander was a well-known ploy of Poe’s enemies—because Whitman fell for it does not necessarily mean the slanderers were right.

    Tom

  3. December 6, 2011 at 3:41 am

    By “now-suppressed” I refer to how little attention has been given to Oakes-Smith’s testimony; the various theories: died after a drinking binge theory, the rabies theory, and the ‘cooping’ theory have all received a great deal of attention, with no real evidence.
    Oh, I thought you were implying that there was some sort of modern conspiracy to cover up Poe’s “murder”. Fair enough. And I agree that there is no conclusive evidence to explain the exact circumstances of Poe’s death but it is a mystery that we are not going to solve here.
    I assume you have read Walsh’s book, “Midnight Dreary,” where he not only destroys the silly ‘cooping theory’ but traces it to the dirty liar who originated it.
    I have read Walsh’s book. He does an excellent job debunking wild theories about Poe’s death but then an equally feeble job of presenting his own theory. “Midnight Dreary” is as much fiction as Walsh’s other Poe-related effort, “Plumes in the Dust”.
    As far as Oakes-Smith ‘getting her facts wrong,’ how do we know precisely what she got wrong when we don’t know all the facts. She never says exactly when the beating occured, but if a beating did occur as she says it did, that’s information that is never discussed—and yet it shouldn’t be, because you are satisfied that she mixed up her dates?
    But we do know enough to know that she is confusing items in Poe’s biography, as the excerpt from my previous comment makes clear: She says the beating occurred during the same episode in which Poe was quarrelling with the anonymous woman (Ellet) regarding her letters, and that occurred in 1847. Poe died in 1849. You don’t need a time machine to be certain of this, you just a calendar.
    Yes, a beating occurred. It was delivered by Thomas Dunn English. What we know for certain is that the beating to which Oakes-Smith is referring is the one that was the result of the Poe-Ellet scandal. Poe may have been beaten again, closer to the time of his death, but we cannot know that.
    Again, with the dates on Griswold’s anthology, as if this seals the matter.
    Why so sensitive about my reliance on facts. The dates are critical! Speculation regarding the unknowns is fine, but these theories MUST mesh with the known facts if they are to be read as anything but fiction…and the fact that Griswold compiled his anthology way to early in time to have been able to use it to silence poetesses about Poe’s death because it would not happen for another nine months!
    You deny Poe had hateful enemies, and Griswold was not one of them, and that Griswold was not a bitter rival of Poe’s in Letters, among literary women of the time, and that many of these women were potential defenders of Poe?
    I deny none of these things. Poe had hateful enemies (including but not limited to Lewis Gaylord Clark, Thomas Dunn English, Elizabeth Ellet, Margaret Fuller), and of course the honorable Reverend Dr. Rufus Griswold was one of them, and not only in private correspondence but in public notices as well. Certainly many of the female poets in their circle would have been inclined (and some did) to defend Poe’s reputation.
    What I deny is that The Female Poets of America “was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame” in an attempt to keep the blue-stockings silent about Poe’s “murder”.
    James Harrison’s 1901 biography quotes a letter from Greeley to Griswold, in which the former almost as much as orders the latter to prevent Poe’s marriage to Whitman.
    I assume you mean this letter, written from Greeley to Griswold on January 21st, 1849:
    “Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman? Of course you have heard it rumored that she is to marry Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and— you know what Poe is. Now I know a widow of doubtful age will marry almost any sort of a white man, but this seems to me a terrible conjunction. Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her? I never attempted this sort of thing but once, and the net product was two enemies and a hastening of the marriage; but I do think she must be deceived. Mrs. Osgood must know her.”
    This very letter exonerates Griswold simply based upon, yes, again, the date that it was written. The engagement of Poe and Whitman was called off on December 23rd, 1848; Greeley was opining to Griswold on the subject on January 21st of the following year. The letter also suggests that Francis Osgood would likely have been Greeley’s instrument in informing Whitman of Poe’s true dissipated nature, not Griswold.
    Also, at no point does Greeley even suggest that Griswold himself go to Whitman with information regarding Poe’s true nature.
    For someone who wasn’t there, you seem very sure of what you don’t (or couldn’t) fully know.
    Was Elizabeth Oakes-Smith present at the “murderous” beating of Poe? On what evidence does she base her theory?
    I have no idea how Poe really died, but I am confident that a study of the facts is more likely to yield the truth than wild speculation.
    And I DO know about Rufus Wilmot Griswold.
    I can tell you for certain that in November & December of 1848 Rufus Griswold was NOT thinking about Edgar Allan Poe. He was the object of much female attention as a result of his impending anthology; one of his best friends was suffering a nervous breakdown and soon to be committed to an insane asylum; also he began to suffer from epileptic fits and discovered opium (“I am in a terrible condition, both physically and mentally. I do not know what the end will be…I am exhausted—betwixt life and death—and heaven and hell”).
    Though an enemy of Poe, the monomania regarding the wretched poet that is attributed to Griswold is utterly unfounded; Poe was neither Griswold’s arch-nemesis nor his idol, but a brief and unfortunate series of episodes in Griswold’s life. The revised history of their relationship would suggest that Gris merely existed as a vindictive character in Poe’s biography, but his life beyond Poe was rich and full (I highly recommend studying his bio, it is fascinating!)
    Your sort of thinking is exactly why Poe’s death is permitted to be buried under lies.
    That seems a bit melodramatic.

  4. December 6, 2011 at 3:47 am

    RE-POSTED FOR EASIER READING

    “By “now-suppressed” I refer to how little attention has been given to Oakes-Smith’s testimony; the various theories: died after a drinking binge theory, the rabies theory, and the ‘cooping’ theory have all received a great deal of attention, with no real evidence.”

    Oh, I thought you were implying that there was some sort of modern conspiracy to cover up Poe’s “murder”. Fair enough. And I agree that there is no conclusive evidence to explain the exact circumstances of Poe’s death but it is a mystery that we are not going to solve here.

    “I assume you have read Walsh’s book, “Midnight Dreary,” where he not only destroys the silly ‘cooping theory’ but traces it to the dirty liar who originated it.”

    I have read Walsh’s book. He does an excellent job debunking wild theories about Poe’s death but then an equally feeble job of presenting his own theory. “Midnight Dreary” is as much fiction as Walsh’s other Poe-related effort, “Plumes in the Dust”.

    “As far as Oakes-Smith ‘getting her facts wrong,’ how do we know precisely what she got wrong when we don’t know all the facts. She never says exactly when the beating occured, but if a beating did occur as she says it did, that’s information that is never discussed—and yet it shouldn’t be, because you are satisfied that she mixed up her dates?”

    But we do know enough to know that she is confusing items in Poe’s biography, as the excerpt from my previous comment makes clear: She says the beating occurred during the same episode in which Poe was quarrelling with the anonymous woman (Ellet) regarding her letters, and that occurred in 1847. Poe died in 1849. You don’t need a time machine to be certain of this, you just a calendar.

    Yes, a beating occurred. It was delivered by Thomas Dunn English. What we know for certain is that the beating to which Oakes-Smith is referring is the one that was the result of the Poe-Ellet scandal. Poe may have been beaten again, closer to the time of his death, but we cannot know that.

    “Again, with the dates on Griswold’s anthology, as if this seals the matter.”

    Why so sensitive about my reliance on facts. The dates are critical! Speculation regarding the unknowns is fine, but these theories MUST mesh with the known facts if they are to be read as anything but fiction…and the fact that Griswold compiled his anthology way to early in time to have been able to use it to silence poetesses about Poe’s death because it would not happen for another nine months!

    “You deny Poe had hateful enemies, and Griswold was not one of them, and that Griswold was not a bitter rival of Poe’s in Letters, among literary women of the time, and that many of these women were potential defenders of Poe?”

    I deny none of these things. Poe had hateful enemies (including but not limited to Lewis Gaylord Clark, Thomas Dunn English, Elizabeth Ellet, Margaret Fuller), and of course the honorable Reverend Dr. Rufus Griswold was one of them, and not only in private correspondence but in public notices as well. Certainly many of the female poets in their circle would have been inclined (and some did) to defend Poe’s reputation.

    What I deny is that The Female Poets of America “was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame” in an attempt to keep the blue-stockings silent about Poe’s “murder”.

    “James Harrison’s 1901 biography quotes a letter from Greeley to Griswold, in which the former almost as much as orders the latter to prevent Poe’s marriage to Whitman.”

    I assume you mean this letter, written from Greeley to Griswold on January 21st, 1849:
    “Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman? Of course you have heard it rumored that she is to marry Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and— you know what Poe is. Now I know a widow of doubtful age will marry almost any sort of a white man, but this seems to me a terrible conjunction. Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her? I never attempted this sort of thing but once, and the net product was two enemies and a hastening of the marriage; but I do think she must be deceived. Mrs. Osgood must know her.”

    This very letter exonerates Griswold simply based upon, yes, again, the date that it was written. The engagement of Poe and Whitman was called off on December 23rd, 1848; Greeley was opining to Griswold on the subject on January 21st of the following year. The letter also suggests that Francis Osgood would likely have been Greeley’s instrument in informing Whitman of Poe’s true dissipated nature, not Griswold.

    Also, at no point does Greeley even suggest that Griswold himself go to Whitman with information regarding Poe’s true nature.

    “For someone who wasn’t there, you seem very sure of what you don’t (or couldn’t) fully know.”

    Was Elizabeth Oakes-Smith present at the “murderous” beating of Poe? On what evidence does she base her theory?

    I have no idea how Poe really died, but I am confident that a study of the facts is more likely to yield the truth than wild speculation.

    And I DO know about Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

    I can tell you for certain that in November & December of 1848 Rufus Griswold was NOT thinking about Edgar Allan Poe. He was the object of much female attention as a result of his impending anthology; one of his best friends was suffering a nervous breakdown and soon to be committed to an insane asylum; also he began to suffer from epileptic fits and discovered opium (“I am in a terrible condition, both physically and mentally. I do not know what the end will be…I am exhausted—betwixt life and death—and heaven and hell”).

    Though an enemy of Poe, the monomania regarding the wretched poet that is attributed to Griswold is utterly unfounded; Poe was neither Griswold’s arch-nemesis nor his idol, but a brief and unfortunate series of episodes in Griswold’s life. The revised history of their relationship would suggest that Gris merely existed as a vindictive character in Poe’s biography, but his life beyond Poe was rich and full (I highly recommend studying his bio, it is fascinating!)

    ‘Your sort of thinking is exactly why Poe’s death is permitted to be buried under lies.

    That seems a bit melodramatic.”

  5. Undine said,

    December 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Interesting little debate going on here. The Reverend has basically taken the words out of my mouth (a strange twist of fate, indeed,) so I can only comment on a couple of minor points. (By the way, the murky scandal involving Poe and Elizabeth Ellet took place early in 1846, not 1847.)

    “The names of those 19th century women poets are forgotten and no renaissance of any note has been attempted in America in the name of the female poet.”

    Most male writers of the period have been forgotten, as well. Reading the names of the once-acclaimed authors that Poe reviewed and Griswold anthologized reminds one of just how fleeting fame can be. And, let’s face it, most of them don’t deserve to be remembered. A case can be made that good taste, not sexism, is responsible for the fact that these women poets are unread today.

    “Poe, more than any other figure in the 19th century, reviewed and supported women poets, was worshiped by them at the literary salons.”

    Poe was an influential critic, and he had his very brief moment of social prominence in 1845, but it’s probable that anthologists like Griswold and editors like George R. Graham did more to promote the female writers of the time. (Poe’s evaluations of the “poetesses” always had a decided sting in their tail, anyway.)

    “Rufus Griswold, who almost single-handedly mauled Poe’s reputation…”

    Although Griswold is today Poe’s most famous enemy, and the “memoir” certainly cemented the most notorious lies about him, but Griswold was hardly alone in maligning Poe. The ironic thing is that other figures, such as Thomas Dunn English, Lewis Gaylord Clark, Elizabeth Ellet, and Charles F. Briggs, played a much bigger role in slandering Poe, both before and after his death. Griswold merely repeated stories that people such as these had already put into circulation. As the Rev. himself hinted above, Griswold was in reality a surprisingly minor figure in Poe’s life, and vice-versa.

    “Margaret Fuller, associate of both Emerson and Horace Greeley (Fuller and Greeley were roommates for years) alarmed the literary salon community by getting together a posse of belles to demand at Poe’s cottage door supposed love letters he had from a married woman, causing Poe to subsequently seek to arm himself against enraged men folk.”

    To make a very long story as short as possible, it was Mrs. Ellet, not Fuller, who was behind the whole scandal–a scandal where the true details are still uncertain. Practically all we know of the story comes from Sarah Helen Whitman, and she is hardly an infallible source. She herself was professedly uncertain if Fuller was involved at all, and what we know of Fuller and her very distant relationship with Poe makes it unlikely that she was.

    Finally, I have to agree that, although the exact circumstances of Poe’s end will forever be a mystery, there is no credible evidence that he met his death as a result of foul play. It’s usually ignored that he suffered from poor health for some years before his death, and it seems logical that his chronic illnesses, possibly coupled with his battles with alcohol and/or exposure to harsh weather, led to his demise. Poe himself dropped many hints indicating that he did not believe he would live a long life. I suspect the truth about his death is much less dramatic than many like to imagine. (Where Poe is concerned, the truth is nearly always much less colorful than the legend.)

    I do thank you for recognizing that Poe has been the victim of many damaging legends. Few people, even today, appreciate that fact. The Rev. here and I are just trying to keep new legends from being promoted.

  6. December 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    “By the way, the murky scandal involving Poe and Elizabeth Ellet took place early in 1846, not 1847.”

    So it did. I stand in error. But 1846 is better for my case than 1847, so I can live with that.

  7. thomasbrady said,

    December 6, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Poe’s death has murder written all over it—every single aspect of his demise cries foul play. The surrounding events, the behavior of the individuals involved, the slanders, the whole life…I hear a thousand souls howling, “Murder!”

    Undine’s suggestion that Poe might have died from “exposure to harsh weather” is so undramatic (unless it was a great storm that blew Poe off a tower) that we might as well curl up in a little ball and suck our thumb and then drink some milk and then go to bed…and what were we talking about again?

    By the way, Poe & Fuller were very connected. They were not intimates, but they were very aware of each other. Emerson’s frenzied hatred of Poe and Fuller’s very strong connection to Emerson and Greeley must call attention to her. Fuller led the posse of belles to Poe’s door.

    “Most male writers of the period have been forgotten.” Good point. Emerson and Whitman hog the whole show. A shame.

    Those 19th century Amercian women do deserve to be read. I don’t agree they should be forgotten.

    I’d like to read that strange novel by English, one day. I don’t think Oakes-Smith was thinking of English when she said Poe was beaten.

    Griswold’s anthology was an ongoing project. The exact dates are not important.

    Greeley’s Tribune was very influential.

    • Undine said,

      December 6, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      Just to clarify a couple of things: I didn’t suggest that Poe died because of the weather. It’s well-established that he had had bouts of increasingly poor health in his last years, and I think it’s most likely that this chronic illness, coupled with his drinking problem, finally killed him. It’s also established that Baltimore was going through a period of particularly harsh weather at the time he was there, which could well have been a contributing factor to his demise. (Some claimed to have seen a death certificate for Poe that listed the cause of his death as exhaustion and exposure, but that, of course, cannot be proven.)

      Elizabeth Oakes Smith quoted Emerson as speaking somewhat disparagingly of Poe’s poetry, but that hardly proves he had a “frenzied hatred” for him. Also, as I said, It was Elizabeth Ellet, not Margaret Fuller, who was behind the “letters scandal.” We have only Sarah Helen Whitman’s word, given 30 years later, that Fuller was involved at all, and she admitted she was uncertain of that fact. There is nothing to indicate Fuller was hostile to Poe–in fact, what little we have of her comments regarding him, such as her December ’49 letter to Elizabeth Barrett, are distinctly sympathetic.

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm

        It was a very small world back then—as it sometimes seems today.

        Helen Whitman lived at home with her mother. Whitman happened to know Fuller and Greeley. That may have been a big problem for Poe.

        It is not “well-established” that Poe was ill at the end of his life. The guy worked like a dog, but he wasn’t ill anymore than the next person, and he could get hyperbolic in his letters—which are not reliable, because Poe was not an ordinary man, an ordinary letter-writer, etc. For goodness sake, he gave Muddy a fake name to look for in a missive at the end of his life. One has to ‘throw out the usual rules’ when trying to figure Poe out. Poe is one of a handful of the greatest geniuses who ever lived.

        Emerson’s silence on Poe speaks volumes. Poe ridiculed Emerson’s circle and Emerson said not one word re: Poe until well after Poe’s death, when E. was quoted calling Poe the “jingle man” by Dean Howells in a conversation. You have to think outside the box a little to get the gist of what was going on. Poe was a patriot and didn’t trust the abolitionists’ motives—he believed, like many, they had impure motives and they were tied to England’s attempt to subvert the USA. If you don’t understand this political aspect, you may just decide Poe died because he didn’t wear his galoshes one day. Poe was mixed up in the highest possible perturbations…remember, Poe knew the future Sec. of the Navy (Kennedy) was at West Point, was acquainted with Winfield Scott, etc Not to mention all the literary quarrels, etc

        Oakes-Smith and these other ladies were not just poets, either. The silencing of their literary efforts is shameful. (and let’s call it what it is—silencing.) The fact that American women’s poetry today is Marianne Moore (ugh) and Elizabeth Bishop (skilled but very minor) and these 19th century women NEVER get a mention is disgusting.

        Tom

  8. December 7, 2011 at 3:12 am

    “Greeley’s Tribune was very influential.”

    I don’t recall the Tribune making a public appeal to warn Whitman of Poe.

    “I don’t think Oakes-Smith was thinking of English when she said Poe was beaten.”

    Is there some kind of evidence to support that opinion? Other articles by Oakes-Smith on the subject that clarifies her meaning?

    “Griswold’s anthology was an ongoing project.

    It ceased to be ongoing as of December 13th, 1848 so it would have been impossible for Griswold to have used it as leverage against female poets who could shed light on Poe’s death in October of the following year.

    ” The exact dates are not important.”

    Sure, why be constrained by facts and logic in consideration of this matter? Let your fevered imagination feed on unreliable scraps of gossip and heresay and fill the unknown portions of Poe’s biography with romantic notions of phantom assailants and paritally-cooked murder conspiracies…Just realize that it has ceased to be scholarship and is historical fantasy.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Griswold was the most infuential anthologist of that time. A female poet looking to be remembered could not have but looked on Griswold as extremely helpful. Before the anthology was published, during its publication, after its publication—when, exactly, are you saying, Griswold’s importance to a female poet simply ended? I’m really confused by what you are trying to say. “Hey, I’m putting together this anthology…might you have a poem for me?” The anthology is published and is extremely successful. Griswold is now even more important. The future is open and the female poets are alive to Griswold’s success. Why are you saying the exact date of the publication changes everything? It doesn’t. All through the process and beyond it is important.

  9. December 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    “When, exactly, are you saying, Griswold’s importance to a female poet simply ended? I’m really confused by what you are trying to say. “Hey, I’m putting together this anthology…might you have a poem for me?” The anthology is published and is extremely successful. Griswold is now even more important. The future is open and the female poets are alive to Griswold’s success. Why are you saying the exact date of the publication changes everything?”

    Previoiusly you opined:

    “Poe’s murder in 1849 coincided with Griswold’s anthology, Female Poets of America, (1849) and we can’t help but feel that this anthology was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame. Important women poets were in a position to defend Poe, and, in the case of at least one (Oakes-Smith), to give evidence on how Poe really died. Was Griswold’s anthology a way to keep the women silent? Keep quiet about Poe and Uncle Rufus will make your poetry live forever .”

    It is certain that Griswold’s reputation as literary tastemaker and eminent anthologist would give him a certain amount of influence; I am not asserting otherwise. My point regarding the chronology is that, unless you believe that Griswold was somehow involved in a conspiracy to murder Poe, which I don’t believe you do, why would he (or how could he) try to use it to keep “important women poets…in a position…to give evidence on how Poe really died” silent. How could he have said to Oakes-Smith “Keep quiet about Poe and Uncle Rufus will make your poetry live forever” if Poe had yet to be murdered? I don’t see why this is so difficult to understand.

    Now, if you are saying that Griswold, after Poe’s death, exerted his influence to bury the truth about Poe’s murder, I am curious to know what Griswold’s motive would be…unless, that is, you do believe that Griswold was somehow involved in a Poe “murder”. The only reason I can think of, in the absence of Griswold’s own involvement in Poe’s death, is that it would be less damaging to Poe’s reputation to say that he was murdered than many of the other theories bandied about.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Uh…yea…Griswold was a conspirator in Poe’s demise…how can you think otherwise?

      Motive? Envy and Hatred. It’s sort of ruled mankind since the beginning.

      Poe once said we see a star by its ray, not the star itself. Don’t look at the star, look at the rays.

      Where are the newspaper reports in October, 1849: POET FOUND ILL AND DELIRIOUS IN BALTIMORE: FAMOUS AUTHOR EDGAR POE WAS DISCOVERED SEMI-CONSCIOUS NEAR HOME OF POE’S FRIEND, BALTIMORE SUN REPORTER, MR. SNODGRASS. POLICE TAKE POET TO HOSPITAL, VOW TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF INCIDENT

      Where are these newspaper reports? Why do we get ‘the story’ in The New York Tribune, the most important newspaper in the land, by ‘Ludwig’ reciting Poe’s lack of friends and his drinking issues? The carting off to that crappy hospital, with iron bars on the windows, with only N.Poe looking after him, his ENEMY, N. Poe, then the hurried burial without an autopsy, NO REPORTS of ANY kind of the suspicious nature of Poe’s death. Where are the news stories that express dismay at how the poet died? That reported the poet’s difficulty BEFORE he died. That expressed concern, outrage, horror? Where are they? There are none. What is the explanation for this? Fear, intimidation, and deliberate cover-up is how one explains it. No honest soul would deny this. How does the absence of reports in the press not point to a conspiracy in Poe’s death?

      It was a conspiracy. And Ludwig, excuse me, Rufus, was in the middle of it.

      The suspicious behavior of Snodgrass is excused by saying, ‘Well he was a Temperance guy, so he deliberately made it look like Poe had died of drink (explicitly contradicted by the physician—though he, too, is suspicious in his behavior, as well) but if that was the case, why was this ‘death by drinking’ covered up—no autopsy, etc. If Poe had died of drink, it would have been easy for evidence of this kind to be publicized, but the physician wouldn’t sign on to it. Conspiracy to cover up a crime or participate in a crime of murder would surely call into question the ‘purer motives’ of a Temperance reformer—and his actions. Why weren’t any of Poe’s friends contacted in the days between when Poe was found and his death? Why wasn’t an autopsy drawn up? Why was the burial so hasty and attended only by Snodgrass, N.Poe (and a couple of non-entities)?

      Then Greeley and Griswold (keeping in mind that letter) are ready with their story, hours after Poe’s death. No report of the murder. Only an obituary of libels.

      Tom

  10. December 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    “Undine’s suggestion that Poe might have died from “exposure to harsh weather” is so undramatic (unless it was a great storm that blew Poe off a tower) that we might as well curl up in a little ball and suck our thumb and then drink some milk and then go to bed…and what were we talking about again?”

    Not that “harsh weather” can be proved as a contributor of Poe’s demise, but what does the fact that it would have been “so undramatic” prove? The fact that Poe being murdered would have been more dramatic or romantic is utterly irrelevant and cannot be construed as evidence in any way!

  11. Des said,

    December 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

  12. December 9, 2011 at 2:50 am

    “Uh…yea…Griswold was a conspirator in Poe’s demise…how can you think otherwise?”

    The fact that you still have presented absolutely zero real evidence to support the claim that Griswold had anything to do with a conspiracy to murder Poe is how I can think otherwise.

    “Motive? Envy and Hatred. It’s sort of ruled mankind since the beginning.”

    I had inquired what you thought Griswold’s motive would be for covering up Poe’s “murder” if he HAD NOT BEEN a conspirator in Poe’s murder, but, as you state above, you DO believe that.
    Poe and Griswold were certainly not friends…hatred might be a bit strong of a word, but the two definitely disliked each other very strongly. Remember, they only interacted, and not even on a regular basis, for the last eight years of Poe’s life. Their lives were not interwoven throughout as many seem to think, and nor were they mortal enemies. It could be argued that Poe had worse enemies while he lived than Griswold, whose biggest offense against Poe did not occur until after his death.
    While Griswold may have envied Poe his talent and his genius, that is all Poe had to covet. Griswold was far more successful professionally than Poe would ever be while he lived.
    Also, many people envied Poe his genius and hated him for a variety of reasons…were they ALL in on this conspiracy?

    “Where are the newspaper reports in October, 1849: POET FOUND ILL AND DELIRIOUS IN BALTIMORE: FAMOUS AUTHOR EDGAR POE WAS DISCOVERED SEMI-CONSCIOUS NEAR HOME OF POE’S FRIEND, BALTIMORE SUN REPORTER, MR. SNODGRASS. POLICE TAKE POET TO HOSPITAL, VOW TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF INCIDENT
    NO REPORTS of ANY kind of the suspicious nature of Poe’s death. Where are the news stories that express dismay at how the poet died? That reported the poet’s difficulty BEFORE he died. That expressed concern, outrage, horror? Where are they? There are none. What is the explanation for this? Fear, intimidation, and deliberate cover-up is how one explains it. No honest soul would deny this.”

    I think you may be overestimating Poe’s importance little bit…he was a starving and dissipated if incredibly talented wordsmith when he lived, not the revered poet he has become today.

    “Where are these newspaper reports? Why do we get ‘the story’ in The New York Tribune, the most important newspaper in the land, by ‘Ludwig’ reciting Poe’s lack of friends and his drinking issues? How does the absence of reports in the press not point to a conspiracy in Poe’s death?”

    Several notices were printed regarding Poe’s death, one the 8th, and two more (in addition to Ludwig’s) on the 9th of October, 1849, when Griswold’s obit was printed. I print them below for your perusal:

    The Sun (Baltimore), Monday, October 8, 1849, p. 2, col. 1: DEATH OF EDGAR A. POE. — We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. — This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it. Mr. Poe, we believe, was a ¬native of this State, though reared by a foster-father at Richmond, Va., where he lately spent some time on a visit. He was in the 38th year of his age.

    Baltimore Clipper, October 9, 1849, p. 2, col. 7: Died: —
    On the 8th instant of congestion of the brain, Edgar A. Poe, Esq. aged 38 years. Mr. Poe was well known as a writer of great ability.

    New York Journal of Commerce, October 9, 1849, Editorial Columns: Edgar A. Poe — Our readers will observe, under our telegraphic head, the announcement of the death of this well known author. For some years past he has been more or less ill, and the announcement of his death is not unexpected, though none the less melancholy on that account.
    Few men were his equals. He stands in a position among our poets and prose writers which has made him the envy of many and the admiration of all. His life has been an eventful and stormy one, and if any one shall be found to write its history, we venture to say that its simple truths will be of more thrilling interest than most romances.
    During the early part of his life he wandered around the world, wasting the energies of a noble mind. Subsequently he returned to his native country, but his heart seemed to have become embittered by the experiences of life, and his hand to be against every man. Hence he was better known as a severe critic than otherwise; yet Mr. Poe had a warm and noble heart, as those who best knew him can testify. He had been sadly disappointed in his early years. Brilliant prospects had been dashed away from before him, and he wandered over the world in search of a substitute for them. During the latter part of his life it has seemed as if his really high heart had been weighed down under a heavy load, and his own words best express the emotions of his soul:
    “Alas, alas for me,
    Ambition — all is o’er!
    No more, no more, no more,
    (Such language hath the solemn sea
    To the sands upon the shore,)
    Shall bloom the thunder blasted tree.
    The stricken eagle soar.”
    It will not be denied, even by his enemies, that Mr. Poe was a man of great ability, — and all other recollections of him will be lost now, and buried with him in the grave. We hope he has found rest, for he needed it.

    The New York Herald, dispatch from Baltimore correspondent (dated October 8, printed October 9, 1849): Our city was yesterday shocked with the announcement of the death of Edgar A. Poe, Esq., who arrived in this city about a week since, after a successful tour ¬[page 850:] through Virginia, where he delivered a series of able lectures., On last Wednesday, election day, he was found near the Fourth ward polls laboring under an attack of mania à potu, and in a most shocking condition. Being recognized by some of our citizens, he was placed in a carriage and conveyed to the Washington Hospital, where every attention has been bestowed on him. He lingered, however, until yesterday morning, when death put a period to his existence. He was a most eccentric genius, with many friends and many foes, but all, I feel satisfied, will view with regret the sad fate of the poet and critic. His last days were spent in the same institution where Dr. Lopland [John Lofland] the Milford Bard, spent so many of his latter years, laboring under the effects of the same sad disease. [FROM THE POE LOG: Whoever the Herald’s correspondent may have been, he provided authentic information not found in the other obituaries: the day and place Poe was discovered, the name of the hospital where he was taken, and the cause of his death.]

    “Why weren’t any of Poe’s friends contacted in the days between when Poe was found and his death? Why wasn’t an autopsy drawn up? Why was the burial so hasty and attended only by Snodgrass, N.Poe (and a couple of non-entities)?”

    I do not know the answers to these questions, but, again, their existence proves nothing. And, an absence of answers does not necessarily point to a murder conspiracy.

    “Greeley and Griswold (keeping in mind that letter) are ready with their story, hours after Poe’s death. No report of the murder. Only an obituary of libels.”

    As noted, there were a few notices about Poe’s death printed on the 8th and 9th of October. Griswold’s notice while full of misinformation and libels regarding the dead poet does not say one way or another how Poe died. Of Poe’s actual death Griswold ONLY says “We have not learned of the circumstance of his death. It was sudden, and from the fact that it occurred in Baltimore, it is to be presumed that he was on his return to New-York.” Griswold neither says that Poe was murdered nor that he died of exposure, rabies, or any of the other theories that have been tossed off over the years…simply that he died.

    I will concede that, in as much as the true nature of Poe’s demise remains unclear, a murder conspiracy is possible, but, based on the lack of evidence provided, the contempt for facts and dates that you seem to have, and your obvious desire to romanticize the death of Poe (whose life hardly needs further romanticizing), unconvincing.

  13. thomasbrady said,

    December 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Griswold,

    You begin by writing,

    “zero evidence to support the claim that Griswold had anything to do with a conspiracy to murder Poe…”

    and then conclude,

    “I will concede that, in as much as the true nature of Poe’s demise remains unclear, a murder conspiracy is possible…”

    Between these two statements lies the nub of the matter. In Poe’s case, you take the facts, then note how persons respond in public to those facts. That’s step one. Step two: If you trust those persons, you assume those persons know something we, in the present, don’t, since when a 40 year old man collapses in a public place and then dies a few days later, the normal response is: how did this 40 year old man die? Step three: You choose not to trust those persons and conclude ‘something’s rotten in Denmark’ because those persons don’t behave in the expected manner. Leaving the matter at step two is to admit ignorance, and this admitted ignorance is precisely why step two observers will never move on to step three, and will always trust the persons who were there at the time, and they will also use this ignorance to beat the step three observers with. The Step Two observers will treat every action as discrete and unconnected (Griswold/Greeley’s obituary will be treated as an isolated newspaper article, etc etc) because the fact of ignorance guides them. No one tried to get to the bottom of Poe’s death in 1849 and so we, 150 years later, would be foolish to suspect foul play since there must be a perfectly good reason why no one seemed to suspect foul play in 1849.
    If we list every fact we know about Poe’s death, one would have to conclude a very high likelihood of foul play. But Step Two observers put this likelihood to rest, since they don’t know exactly how the foul play took place. Ignorance at the beginning of the “Investigation” simply prevails until the end of the “investigation.”

    I perfectly understand how Step Two Observers think.

    But the Step Three Observers (I am one) go on the hunch that… wait a minute…something’s wrong here…there’s too much consistent Poe abuse…let’s take a closer look at everything…

    Those newspaper accounts support what I said. None even hint at the facts of his death or treat it as the least unusual: “for some years past more or less ill…” “the frailties…” and that Herald story from the Baltimore correspondent is the worst: “mania a potu” is a nice way of saying he ‘died insanely from drinking too much’ (though the physician, Dr. Moran, said drinking was not the cause, no trace of alcohol was found) and its mention of John Lofland is pure libel, since the ‘Milford Bard’ was a known opium addict/alcoholic. Wonder who that “Baltimore correspondent” was? Surely he knew Snodgrass, who worked for the Sun. Remember, Poe was not supposed to be in Baltimore…it was bizarre that he was even found there..and it happened he was ‘found’ in walking distance from Snodgrass’s home, his ‘friend’ who subsequently took care of things from start to finish, and whose behavior has never been called into question. I’ve studied the correspondence between Poe and Snodgrass. Poe told Snodgrass a lot of personal opinions, including that he (Poe) didn’t trust his cousin, N. Poe. He was very forthcoming to Snodgrass, thinking him a pal. Then the correspondence abruptly ends. My theory is that Snodgrass led Poe on, making Poe think he was his intimate ally, and got as much as information as he could, because after their period of correspondence, Snodgrass does not act like a friend, at all.

    Tom

  14. juliefrenchie said,

    August 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    I’m late to the party, of course, but can anyone tell me why there wasn’t an autopsy done on Poe? Or is it an unknown, an x factor up there with the lost death certificate? I was reading yesterday about a 17 year old girl named Rosetta Jackson, who died in Chicago in 1874. Although a doctor had pronounced her death as having resulted from typhoid fever, a policeman came by the next day to “investigate the sudden passing” and made the decision to conduct an enquiry, which included an autopsy.

    Given even a slight celebrity status, which I would argue Poe had, coupled with the unusual situation surrounding his death, wouldn’t someone have seen the usefulness of an autopsy? I honestly don’t believe for a minute it was a conspiracy, because even if we do grant Poe that slight celebrity, I don’t think he was much of a threat to any other writer during his lifetime. But I do wonder why authorities were so quick to attribute a cause of death and ship him out.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    August 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    julie, you are correct to ask for an autopsy, and there was none, and no curiosity found in newspaper reports regarding one—Poe’s death was a cover-up wrapped up in a cover-up. For a lot of people, two cover-ups equal no cover-up, but their math is wrong. You write, “I honestly don’t believe for a minute it was a conspiracy” and the reason you give is, “I don’t think he was much of a threat to any other writer…” even as you ponder the hurried burial and the lack of an autopsy for a famous writer. But Poe was a huge threat to other writers: 1) as a critic he destroyed and damaged reputations of dignified, flesh-and-blood persons with his reviews and notices, 2) he expressed disdain for literary cliques and he named names. 3) he was from the south and lived in the north and was a genius, an icon, and a magazinist, with many influential years in front of him—fanatics and desperate characters of all types had reason to fear him, simply because he was a genius and a uniting force; he was neither pro-slavery nor an abolitionist, but a Lincoln-like figure, or a Zachary Taylor-like compromise figure who could have brokered a peaceful settlement re: the War Between the States. Poe knew Winfield Scott (another compromise figure) and the future sec. of the navy, Poe was not just a scribe—he did have some ‘connections.’ Poe was ‘good people.’ His true friends—those who defended him after his death, people like Willis and Helen Whitman—were ‘good people.’ Bad people, the murderers, intimidate and silence opposition—that’s part of what they do. The editors of the Sun and the Tribune decided to cover up the crime. The good people, who were friends of Poe, were frightened into silence. That was part of the crime: not only kill Poe but show the world it could be done with impunity. That’s why it’s a particularly nasty crime and it cries out for answers.

    By the way, both Poe and Virginia’s hair samples were tested and they did find high amounts of arsenic. Zachary Taylor, the compromise president, died suddenly in 1850 (Poe was killed in 1849) and historians suspected foul play and Taylor’s body was exhumed and tested for poisoning—again, they did find arsenic, but inconclusive amounts to warrant poisoning. But they couldn’t rule it out, either. It seems arsenic was in the water back then, or something. The fact that there was enough suspicion to dig up a U.S. president’s body should give us pause.

    Anyway, Julie, the main point: was Poe a “threat to other writers?” The answer is absolutely yes. He had already, as a critic, at the time of death, murdered the reputations of other writers—including a writer (Channing the younger) mentored by Ralph Emerson—a confirmed anglophile, Poe-hater, and friend of Greeley’s.

    Tom

  16. January 28, 2013 at 12:37 am

    From A Letter From Lesbia

    … So, praise the gods, Catullus is away!
    And let me tend you this advice, my dear:
    Take any lover that you will, or may,
    Except a poet. All of them are queer.

    It’s just the same — a quarrel or a kiss
    Is but a tune to play upon his pipe.
    He’s always hymning that or wailing this;
    Myself, I much prefer the business type.

    That thing he wrote, the time the sparrow died —
    (Oh, most unpleasant — gloomy, tedious words!)
    I called it sweet, and made believe I cried;
    The stupid fool! I’ve always hated birds …

    Dorothy Parker

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 28, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      Little is known about Catullus—was he a Roman, a Celt? We do know this: the world knows of him only because a single book of his survived…

      We write down things so we might live.

      Whether we write of sparrows or women…?

      Poet! Fool! I’ve always hated words!

    • January 28, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Parker’s text in a song—
      Thus sentimentalized?
      Methinks that’s wrong:

  17. February 16, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    According to Padilla, remembered Amalfitano, all literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual. Poetry, on the other hand, was completely homosexual. Within the vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philenes. But the two major currents were faggots and queers. Walt Whitman, for example, was a faggot poet. Pablo Neruda, a queer. William Blake was definitely a faggot. Octavio Paz was a queer. Borges was a philene, or in other words he might be a faggot one minute and simply asexual the next. Rubén Darío was a freak, in fact, the queen freak, the prototypical freak (in Spanish, of course; in the wider world the reigning freak is still Verlaine the Generous). Freaks, according to Padilla, were closer to madhouse flamboyance and naked hallucination, while faggots and queers wandered in stagger-step from ethics to aesthetics and back again. Cernuda, dear Cernuda, was a nymph, and at moments of great bitterness a faggot, whereas Guillén, Aleixandre, and Alberti could be considered a sissy, a butch, and a queer, respectively. As a general rule, poets like Blas de Otero were butches, while poets like Gil de Biedma were—except for Gil de Biedma himself—part nymph and part queer. Recent Spanish poetry, with the tentative exception of the aforementioned Gil de Biedma and probably Carlos Edmundo de Ory, had been lacking in faggot poets until the arrival of the Great Faggot of All Sorrows, Padilla’s favorite poet, Leopoldo María Panero. And yet Panero, it had to be admitted, had fits of bipolar freakishness that made him unstable, inconsistent, and hard to classify. Of Panero’s peers, a curious case was Gimferrer, who was queer by nature but had the imagination of a faggot and the tastes of a nymph. Anyway, the poetry scene was essentially an (underground) battle, the result of the struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize control of the word. Sissies, according to Padilla, were faggot poets by birth who, out of weakness or for comfort’s sake, lived within and accepted—most of the time—the aesthetic and personal parameters of the queers. In Spain, France, and Italy, queer poets have always been legion, he said, although a superficial reader might never guess. What happens is that a faggot poet like Leopardi, for example, somehow reconstrues queers like Ungaretti, Montale, and Quasimodo, the trio of death. In the same way, Pasolini redraws contemporary Italian queerdom. Take the case of poor Sanguinetti (I won’t pick on Pavese, who was a sad freak, the only one of his kind). Not to mention France, great country of devouring mouths, where one hundred faggot poets, from Villon to Sophie Podolski, have nurtured, still nurture, and will nurture with the blood of their tits ten thousand queer poets with their entourage of philenes, nymphs, butches, and sissies, lofty editors of literary magazines, great translators, petty bureaucrats, and grand diplomats of the Kingdom of Letters (see, if you must, the shameful and malicious reflections of the Tel Quel poets). And the less said the better about the faggotry of the Russian Revolution, which, if we’re to be honest, gave us just one faggot poet, a single one. Who? you may ask. Mayakovsky? No. Esenin? No. Pasternak? Blok? Mandelstam? Akhmatova? Hardly. There was just one, and I won’t keep you in suspense. He was the real thing, a steppes-and-snow faggot, a faggot through and through: Khlebnikov. And in Latin America, how many true faggots do we find? Vallejo and Martín Adán. Period. New paragraph. Macedonio Fernández, maybe? The rest are queers like Huidobro, fairies like Alfonso Cortés (although some of his poems are authentically fagotty), butches like León de Greiff, butch nymphs like Pablo de Rokha (with bursts of freakishness that would’ve driven Lacan himself crazy), sissies like Lezama Lima, a misguided reader of Góngora, and along with Lezama all the queers and sissies of the Cuban Revolution except for Rogelio Nogueras, who is a nymph with the spirit of a faggot, not to mention, if only in passing, the poets of the Sandinista Revolution: fairies like Coronel Urtecho or queers who wish they were philenes, like Ernesto Cardenal. The Mexican Contemporaries are also queers (no, shouted Amalfitano, not Gilberto Owen!); in fact Death Without End is, along with the poetry of Paz, the “Marseillaise” of the highly nervous Mexican poets. More names: Gelman, nymph; Benedetti, queer; Nicanor Parra, fairy with a hint of faggot; Westphalen, freak; Pellicer, fairy; Enrique Lihn, sissy; Girondo, fairy. And back to Spain, back to the beginning: Góngora and Quevedo, queers; San Juan de la Cruz and Fray Luis de León, faggots. End of story. And now, to satisfy your curiosity, some differences between queers and faggots. Even in their sleep, the former beg for a twelve-inch cock to plow and fertilize them, but at the moment of truth, mountains must be moved to get them into bed with the pretty boys they love. Faggots, on the other hand, seem to live as if a dick were permanently churning their insides, and when they look at themselves in the mirror (something they love and hate with all their heart), they see the Pimp of Death in their own sunken eyes. For faggots and fairies, pimp is the one word that can cross unscathed through the realms of nothingness. But then, too, nothing prevents queers and faggots from being good friends, from neatly ripping one another off, criticizing or praising one another, publishing or burying one another in the frantic and moribund world of letters.

    “You missed the category of talking apes,” said Amalfitano when Padilla at last fell silent.

    “Ah, those talking apes,” said Padilla, “the faggot apes of Madagascar who refuse to talk so they don’t have to work.”

    — from Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño (translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer)

  18. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I favor rough and tumble criticism, but this passage is full of Sadean cruelty, which I don’t condone. Human life can be reduced, by cheap psychology, to carnality, by the tough-talking, just as it can be reduced to wan spirituality, by the polite. Life, if not poetry, is far more complex than either path.

    I have never heard Poe called a homosexual, but I notice that most of his readers are men. Maybe this is changing, or will change, as a new phase of Poe Studies begins. I have no idea, but Poe, like the Romantic poets in general, emphasized love, sorrow, and fear, not sex.

  19. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    The knight, love, slays the dragon, lust, finally. The lamp that guides the knight? Good Taste.

  20. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I hate filth. I love free speech equally. This is the human dilemma.

  21. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Psychological/political rant is the most insidious and the most prevalent enemy of love, beauty, taste, and poetry in our time.

  22. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Anyone can blather about Whitman’s sexuality. But who talks about Emerson’s? The latter’s is secret and unknown–and thus ten times more interesting.

    • noochness said,

      February 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      While I agree that
      The passage isn’t lyrical,
      I think it’s intended
      To be classed as satirical—

      Mocking our age in which
      Poems are ignored,
      But re: poets’ sexuality it’s asked:
      “Who’s getting bored?”

  23. thomasbrady said,

    February 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Nooch, you are probably right.
    I didn’t read the passage in that light.

  24. August 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    CHIVERS AND POE

    The small life of Poe by Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers was perhaps finished in 1857, a year before Chivers’ death, and has been mummified in the Huntington Library until recently. As an ode in prose to Poe, it is false, orphic sublimity, but the homage is tender and just and comes from a quick, interior nature alien to gross matter. Despite the biographies of Poe, and his current revivification, the author of “The Raven” still stands as a great, ruined obelisk in American literature. His genius is a monumental waste; his marvelous tales, gothic cabala, are transhuman and inscrutable.

    Chivers has left us some swollen dithyrambs on Poe’s person. “The Messiah of melody,” as Chivers describes his hero, had a pensive, Grecian bend when he walked, and a long, slender neck which made him appear taller when seated. Poe had feminine hands and considerable knowledge in the “aesthetics of dress.” He carried a cane, and I imagine he would have worn the vests of Bacchus or Heinrich Heine, or been as modish as Baudelaire, if he had possessed the money. Chivers’ remark that money would have ruined Poe shows abundant wisdom, for though many writers have been harmed by penury, more have suffered damage from lucre.

    Poe gave readings to ladies’ societies dedicated to gabbling. He had a chaste voice, but he lacked the humbug actor’s inflections needed for success in such groups. He was very vain, as all good writers are (the meek ones are furtive, belonging to another tribe). He had told Chivers that every article in the last number of the Broadway Journal was remarkable and had been written by himself, with the exception of one poem which Chivers claimed was also by Poe. Poe had a testy temperament, an occupational trait of the writer, but he also had a good digestion, which Chivers asserts is not a scholarly sign.

    Emily Dickinson had no one to turn to except that drab ecclesiastic of letters, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who was astonished at the reception the posthumous publication of her verse received. Poe, no less unfortunate than Miss Dickinson, had as his literary executor the Reverend Rufus Griswold. Griswold wrote a memoir about Poe which in pure weight of spite took care of the same amount of genius Griswold lacked. This stygian piece of literary Calvinism endured, and for a hundred years what has concerned the attention of exsanguine critics was Poe’s drunkenness. There was also small pardon in the ashy hearts of the critics for the poet’s marriage to Virginia Clemm, his cousin, when she was thirteen.

    Along with Rufus Griswold and the other predatory prudes on lower Broadway who could not abide Poe’s rancor or his astonishing abilities was Margaret Fuller. A rude, bellicose crone of the arts, Miss Fuller got up a delegation which demanded that Mrs. Osgood relinquish Poe’s friendship!

    There were other recondite scandals in Poe’s life. He had had a fugitive liaison with one of the lady poets of the time. Eros is cold and altogether reposeful in the “Tales,” though Poe was a toady to any Ophelia. He could pen a frightening invective against almost any man who malpracticed verse, but he was the serpent and dove with the lady poetasters. Poe found in many of these dear sibyls, whose sighs were more beatific than their poems, the most valorous defenders of his character and afflatus. There were Sarah Helen Whitman, Mrs. Osgood, and Emilie Weltby who had pulsed to Poe’s genius and manners and august face. Maria Clemm, the mother of his bride, loved her two occult children, and Mrs. R.S. Nichols, another defender, wrote the monody, “let him rest by lost ‘Lenore.’”

    “Israfel” was a greater original than Byron, Shelley, or Keats. Poe’s verse is very inferior to Keats’s “Hyperion” or to the “Endymion,” but the form of Poe’s prose poems is aboriginal. He was an abstruse psalmist, a saturnine Saul who had stature of soul. “Ligeia,” “Eleonora,” “Berenice,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” are Arabic music of the soul fit for an Antony or the seraglio in Mahomet’s Paradise, but of what profit to human wisdom or to the spirit in its transient, purblind earthly pilgrimage? Chivers said of Poe that he “always wrote as though all Poetry consisted more in the Poetry of the language than in the passions of the heart to be expressed through that language.”

    Without Poe’s “Tales,” Les Fleurs du Mal could not have been born in Baudelaire’s mind. Each morning before starting to write, Baudelaire prayed to the Virgin Mary, to his mother, and to Edgar Poe. That poems should be cold, passionless objectivism is the creed of the imagists, who, in part, are the heirs of Poe. The “Tales” are flowers in hell, and they have the odor of Persephone. It is with the most obdurate reluctance that I suggest that they are the fallen angelic parent of today’s cankered mystery story. Poe’s belief that a poem ought to be governed by the ratiocinative intellect rather than by the controlled tumult of feeling has been taken up by today’s Brahmins of aesthetics. Poe so hated the forerunners of these Brahmins, the mandarins of Beacon Hill of the nineteenth century, that he always said he was born in Baltimore, though his birthplace was actually in Boston.

    There were some arguments between Poe and Chivers. Poe admired some of Lowell’s verse; Chivers thought Poe had overpraised Lowell. Poe regarded Tennyson as a great bard; Chivers regarded him as “a phlegmatic fat baby.” Sharing Chivers’ feeling, James Joyce called the poet “Alfred Lawn Tennyson.”

    Dr. Chivers was a marvelous friend, for he was a poet himself. (Cézanne once said that it takes one writer to catch another.) Chivers did not have to wait a century to be an enthusiast of a contemporary genius. He wrote: “I allude . . . to those who dispraised him in his lifetime, on account of envy of his genius, as well as to those still more despicable souls who pretend to defend him on the still basic principle of wishing the world to believe that they are . . . the faithful Apostles of his greatness.” Any writer reading this prayer cannot help but say in his own conceited heart, “I wish that Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers had known me!”

    Edward Dahlberg (collected in his volume of essays Alms for Oblivion )

    • drew said,

      December 1, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      Mildly interesting – but verbose.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    August 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    “He was an abstruse psalmist, a saturnine Saul who had stature of soul. “Ligeia,” “Eleonora,” “Berenice,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” are Arabic music of the soul fit for an Antony or the seraglio in Mahomet’s Paradise, but of what profit to human wisdom or to the spirit in its transient, purblind earthly pilgrimage?”

    What does this even mean?

    Poe was a common sense scientist, yet Dahlberg inhabits a glittering constume to speak of the master—yet another writer who gets Poe, inventor of detective fiction, code breaker who aided America in WW II, author of “Eureka” which looked ahead to Einstein, completely wrong. Nice try, Edward.

  26. August 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Edward Dahlberg “On Writers and Writing” — from his book of proverbs Reasons of the Heart:

    A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself.

    One who is enough of a simpleton to become a writer is capable of any folly.

    Literature is the tragic sport of dust.

    The squid squirts its ink to protect itself from a foe, but I write and am naked.

    It is better to misunderstand a truthful book than to understand a bad one.

    A serious book will sink a fool and he will lose a pound a page.

    Any man who calls himself well-read is an enemy of literature and an asp in the breast pocket of his friend.

    If I could give all my learning to a beggar he would be poorer than he already is.

    What snail, stuffed with plants, cannot crawl more quickly than the poet clogged with books.

    A wit believes he can be tragic in comic socks without being ridiculous.

    Narcissus never wrote well nor was a friend.

    The platitude is the vermin of the petit-bourgeoisie.

    Those who imagine that poets care more for truth than for profligate sensations are mistaken. They are a riggish band and will immolate Plato, or the Four Gospels, for an image or an agreeable similitude. From the beginning they have belonged to the brood of Delphic falsifiers.

    Art must seem reasonable though man is not.

    The making of many books is great poverty.

    The proletariat sits on the toilet-stool absorbed in cartoons and comic-strips while the cat in the back alley pisses on Homer’s Iliad.

    I am the enfant terrible of that humbug Black Mass we call American Literature.

  27. WCTU support said,

    September 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

    We will drink from God’s bottles.
    Apples are God’s bottles: the sweet juice of the apple
    God has placed in His own bottle.
    What a beautiful rosy-red bottle it is!
    These red bottles hang on the limbs of a tree
    until they are all ready for us to use.
    Do you want to open God’s bottle?
    Bite the apple with your teeth,
    and you will taste the sweet juice
    God has put in His bottle for you.
    Grapes are God’s bottles: these purple and green bottles
    you will find hanging on a pretty vine.
    See! So many little bottles are on a single stem!
    Put a grape in your mouth and you will open God’s bottle.
    How nice the juice tastes!
    Some men take the juice of apples and grapes
    and make drinks, that will harm our bodies.
    They put the drinks in glass bottles,
    but we will not drink from such bottles.
    We will drink from God’s bottles.

    — from a leaflet issued by the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (date unknown)

  28. September 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    […] Scarriet has written elsewhere, numerous talented and successful 19th century women poets are ignored by contemporary po-biz.  […]

  29. October 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    …Edgar Allan Poe is the most baffling of all American writers; until I had studied the essays of [Allen] Tate on Poe and Dante, I had not understood the immense importance of Poe’s genius. Nor was I able to move from the works of Poe to the poems of Charles Baudelaire, his disciple. My views on Poe were “stumps of heresy.”

    Poe is indeed a perplexing sorcerer; he is a master of bathos—an oxymoron, I know. His Marginilia, as Tate has declared, is filled with “sham erudition.” Tate also says Poe wrote of the abstruse books that Ligeia possessed, but which never existed. Yet Poe read. What books he reaped had an enormous effect upon him. It is quite conceivable that a man of genius like Edgar Poe should have had so much veneration for learning without possessing it, and yet in some way be a charlatan.

    What then did he read? The Tales, occult syllogisms, were of the royal blood, as all genius is. That the following remarks are grounded upon conjecture must be admitted: the Tales were the children of Dante’s Inferno, and the witchcraft in Poe may have come out of Increase Mather’s Remarkable Providences. This scholarly author, dismissed, or not even known, because he was a warped Puritan, was perhaps the Cave of Endor for Edgar Poe. What knowledge Poe required for his funeral bedchambers, vaults, sepultures he may have come upon in this astonishing volume.

    Allen Tate thinks that Poe read the Pensées, and I quote this passage Tate takes from Pascal which he believes explains in part Poe’s attitude toward the universe. “The slightest movement affects the whole of nature.” Interpreting Poe’s The Power of Words, Tate claims: “It almost seems as if Poe had just read this passage and had come at once to his desk to begin The Power of Words.” “One more step, and the ‘slightest movement,’ a spoken word, will act creatively”: the word, concludes Tate, is “beautiful and hallowed, unless, of course, the word is a ‘magic recipe,’ incantatory magic, which I believe undoubtedly we get in The Power of Words.” The savant of the Pensées was, at moments, in some adage or thought a Chaldean necromancer.

    But words, like good counsel, have no effect upon unalterable character, and certainly none on the Kosmos. Is it idle to remark that papyrus grows in the shallows of the shoals? Let us return to the perplexity: after quoting a dialogue between Poe’s Oinos and Agathos, Tate resumed his argument: “How had Agathos created this beautiful but unhallowed object? By the ‘physical power of words,’ he tells Oinos.”

    For one thing, the universe is indifferent to the Iliad ; it too will perish and be forgotten. Whether Poe shuffled through some pages of the Pensées or not I do not know, and that is a certainty. But it is my guess, and let the scholars determine whether I am right or wrong, that he ransacked Remarkable Providences for what he needed.

    Increase Mather could have furnished him with great references he did not have to acquire himself. On the pages of the Remarkable Providences were allusions to Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Burton, Dioscorides, Hesychius, Ovid, obviously read and cherished by Increase Mather, but loot for a man of letters who wants to be a sage. Poe was a genius whose awe of knowledge was as great as that of the ancient Jews, who could not see God face to face, but were told that if they looked upon his hinder parts they could be prophetic.

    Let me assume that the reader is familiar with the Tales and that I need no more than refer to Poe’s gaudy, funeral decorations, or what Tate calls the “machine of symbols,” and he may then discern the influence of the Remarkable Providences on Poe. That we are dealing with satanism, magic, sorcery, should be evident to any serious advocate of Poe.

    One can imagine how quick Poe would have been to pounce upon the following excerpt from Mather: “Especially it is true concerning melancholy, which has therefore been called Balneum Diaboli”; the Tales are a lamentation garnished with magic and witchcraft, which he took, at least in part, from Dante and Increase Mather. Of course, I do not know. The reader is entitled to plain words, and no shuffle, and so I shall take a few examples out of Mather’s learned and neglected book, and then let the reader make his own decision:

    “It is no less superstitious when men endeavor by character, words, or spells, to charm away the witches, devils, or diseases.

    “There cannot be greater vanity than to imagine that devils are really frighted with words and syllables.

    “Saint Francis caused the devil to depart out of a possessed person by using an alike brutish expression. He folded up the paper in a cloth, requiring the diseased party to wear it about her neck.

    “whoso shall read Proclus his book, de Sacrificio et Magia, will see how the Ethnicks taught that smells and smokes would cause daemons to depart.

    “Porphyrus saith that the Egyptians had symbols which Serapis appointed them to use in order to the driving away daemons.”

    Nor can we fail to think of “The Fall of the House of Usher” as we muse upon this line: “some . . . advised the poor woman to stick the house round with bayes as an effectual preservative against the power of evil spirits.” Poe’s passionate concern with satanism and necromancy is so obvious that had Mather lived at the time Poe composed the Tales, he would have added the name of the American satanist to the list of the demons mentioned in the Bible. Mather writes: “Scripture makes particular mention of many that used those cursed arts . . . that is, Jannes, and Jambres, Balaam, Manasseh, Simon, Elymas.” Consider also Poe’s raven and then ponder this line from Remarkable Providences : “De la Cerda speaketh of a crow that did discourse rationally; undoubtedly it was acted by a caco demon.”

    It is also possible that Poe first came upon Glanvill in the book by Mather, and that he may have read Webster’s book on witchcraft mentioned by that learned author. Is it necessary to mention the celebrated quotation Poe took from Glanvill and used in Ligeia? Also, are not the chambers and the house of Usher, tombs at Gadarene, inhabited by demons?

    Nor is it ridiculous to compare Poe with Dante. Obviously, Poe as an author is only a caitiff angel from Dante’s Inferno. Poe borrowed his sloughs, fens, loathsome pools, and marshes as well as his furies clothed in miasmas and the effluvia of scummed lakes from Dante. Says Tate: “Poe’s heroines — Berenice, Ligeia, Madeline, Morella . . . are all ill-disguised vampires — his heroes necromancers . . . whose wills, like the heroines’ wills, defy terms of life to keep them equivocally ‘alive.’” “Poe’s imagination,” asserts Tate, “can be located in only two places in Dante’s entire scheme of the after-life: in Canto XIII the harpies feed upon the living trees enclosing the shades of suicides — those violent against themselves’; in Canto XXXII we are in ‘the Ninth Circle, where the doleful shades were sounding with their teeth like storks.’”

    Dante searched for the light of God, Poe for a satanic flame. Dante’s invocation is: “Turn, Beatrice, turn those holy eyes.” According to Tate: “Poe’s strange fire is his leading visual symbol . . . You will see it in the eye of the Raven; in ‘an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison,’ of Roderick Usher; . . . in ‘Those eyes! Those large, those shining, those divine orbs,’ of the Lady Ligeia.”

    In one respect Poe sees more than Dante; the divine Italian poet portrays an allegorical purgatorio in which muddied shadows speak. But what is allegory in Dante is in Poe a reality in the world of the dead. Poe imagined that the deceased bones have motions and sensations. The “animated dead,” Tate calls them in one of his poems. We do not know, as Tate claims, whether Ligeia, Madeline Usher, Morella, and Berenice are alive or dead, whether they have been annihilated by their lovers or have killed themselves. Returning to Increase Mather, we see that these Medusas are perhaps subject to syncope. They are the “undead,” as Tate speaks of them. Poe was always meditating upon the experiences of the deceased; he was dealing with souls rather than with bodies; the corporeal heroes and heroines are undecayed, but the spirits are dead and corrupt matter, or, as Mather might have put it, they are under the influence of a deliquium.

    Other comparisons between Dante and Poe are worth noticing; both poets were palmers making the hapless and impossible pilgrimage to the Empyrean, the habitation of Essences. Poe in Eureka, and in some of the Tales, as Tate states, fell into the “angelic fallacy.” A universal or godhead sitting upon the summit of Mt. Ida, is ungraspable. Tate, alleging that neither Dante nor Poe can behold essences, adds: “If we take nothing with us to the top but our emptied, angelic intellects, we shall see nothing . . . Poe as God sits silent in darkness” and so does every metaphysician. Allen Tate claims that only angels, and not man have immediate knowledge of Absolutes. “Not,” says Beatrice to Dante, “that such things are in themselves harsh; but on your side is the defect, in that your sight is not yet raised so high.”

    Poe, momentarily, recognized man’s intellectual impotence; he writes: “Even while he stalked a God in his own fancy, an infantine imbecility came over him.” Poe knew this in one essay or fable but not in another, and his pursuit of essences maimed his natural understanding of what Tate called the “common thing.” As a result of this we find in Poe’s writing the fusty triad of the schoolmen, namely, feeling, intellect, and will. Tate declares: “Thus we get the third hypertrophy of a human faculty: the intellect moving in isolation from both love and the moral will, where it declares itself independent of the human situation.” Lest we imagine that Tate thinks we are able to apprehend such operations of the will or the emotions apart from the intellect, he continues: “It is important . . . to observe that Poe takes for granted the old facultative psychology of intellect, will, and feeling.” This triune has given us a turbid language; we know where the pinch lies, and yet when we endeavor to divide what appears to be various kinds of responses in people, we run upon the pikes. No one, not even Herbert Read, whose English is an ore of Ophir, is able to eschew such words as spirit and eternal verities. I suppose the best we can do about it is to accept Donne’s explanation: “I say again, that the body makes the Minde.” Otherwise, when we babble about reason, as something apart from sensibility, it is lofty prating.

    Should there be any doubt of what Allen Tate says, more citations from Dante will truss up his true insights: here are the “shadowy prefaces” of Ligeia, Morella, Monos, and Una, “where all at once had raised up the Hellish Furies, stained with blood, who had the limbs and attitude of women.” In the Inferno it is written: “the diviners, the augurs, sorcerers, coming slowly along the bottom of the Fourth Chasm. By help of their incantations and evil agents, they had endeavoured to pry into the Future which belongs to the Almighty alone.” “We now arrived in the deep fosses, which moat that joyless city” of the Inferno, writes Dante, which introduces us to the House of Usher. Whether Berenice’s lover extracted her teeth, or the latter is also a symbol of suicide, Poe may well have been thinking of “At Filippo Argenti! The passionate Florentine spirit turned with his teeth upon himself.”

    (to be continued)

  30. December 5, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Allen Tate has said that the hearse-like furniture of Poe’s stories is trumpery; instead of perception Poe gives us funeral appointments; Tate observes: “His purpose in laying on the thick decor was to simulate sensation.” Unless we comprehend the reason for the trashy gothic ornaments in the Tales we are reading Poe without purpose. Again, Tate says: “but no man is going to use so much neo-Gothic over and over again, unless he means business with it.”

    Aristotle asserts that the use of such decorations shows a want of art. If we take Poe as an American magian instead of an unusual prose stylist, which he was not, we then see that in all the crepuscular furnishings, the bedchambers which are vaults or crypts, Poe gave us not the divine poetry of the nine circles, but mortuary tinsel, and rubbishy fantasies. In Poe we have diabolism, which, to quote Tate, is the privation of light, or as Dante says: “I am in the Third Circle, that of the eternal accursed, cold and heavy rain.”

    Poe was not concerned with sordid living bodies or their turgid senses; Tate declares: “Very rarely he gives us a real perception because he is not interested in anything that is alive. Everything in Poe is dead: the houses, the rooms, the furniture, to say nothing of nature and of human beings.”

    Why is it, as Tate observes, that there are no amours between the Poesque lovers? There is incestuous passion between Roderick and Madeline Usher, but no sexual connection. Are the “undead” women succubae who have carnal intercourse with men when they are asleep? Was this in Poe’s mind, there is reason to assume that, unlike the ancients, he did not associate sleep with death. However, after the act of coition, the soul lags and sullenly throbs with a dull hypochondria. There is something of the canticle of the worm involved in erotical communion. When sensations are too acute flesh is well nigh dead; of such unendurable raptures we have these lines from Baudelaire’s “Correspondences” translated by Allen Tate:

    Amber and myrrh, benzoin and musk condense
    To transports of the spirit and the sense!

    Only Baudelaire came closer than Allen Tate to the enigma of the Tales. Crying out of the deepest abyss of man Baudelaire sighs: “Les morts, les pauvres morts, ont des grandes doleurs.” The shrieks of the “troop of the undead,” Tate’s startling insight, are more terrible than the planch, the song of lamentation, of Dante’s half-buried sinners. The heir of Poe understood his master’s genius and believed that nobody, after his ambulatory life beneath the sun is finished, is totally dead. The bones, deprived of diction, sensibility, conceptions, and understanding, are still in motion and still dream. Lacking sight and touch, but containing some minute fragment of its former senses, the cadaver “lives.” Or, as Tate writes in “The Ancestors”: “The bones hear but the eyes will never see.”

    Constantly thinking about the miseries of the deceased, whose bones are unconscious but groan, Poe seemed indifferent to the canicular days of wretched man who lives. There is not one figure in Poe’s Tales who, like Glaucus, even tastes the grass. Tate refers to the women in Poe as “undead” ladies and “machines of sensation.”

    The women in Poe are sorceresses, occult sibyls wholly aloof from the flock-bed and the midden. Ligeia, Berenice, and Madeline Usher seem to have walked out of Dante’s pages: “See the wretched women who left the needle, the shuttle, the spindle, and made themselves divineresses; they wrought witchcraft with herbs and images.”

    For Poe does not see the talons of death tearing the countenances of the loved ones, their flesh and raiment still whole; his disciple, Baudelaire, however, embaces the madonna while she rots in his arms. This mordant knowledge of woman is our tragedy; we have been hoarse for centuries, and have no other amorous flame within us.

    “A Carrion,” englished by Tate, and just about the only translation of Baudelaire I have been able to read with pleasure, shows us our modern Helen as Poe’s sublime worm fondled by his pupil:

    Speak, then, my Beauty, to this dire putrescence,
    To the worm that shall kiss your proud estate,
    That I have kept the divine form and the essence
    Of my festered loves inviolate!

    “A Carrion” helps us to understand the quasi-deceased in Poe’s Tales, those who are walled up, or interred, and abhorred and loved. The hero sepulchres his beauty, but does not quite murder her, nor does she altogether do away with herself. Dante had it: “Their covers were all raised up; and out of them proceeded moans so grievous that they seemed indeed the moans of spirits and wounded.”

    There is, among other difficulties I cannot resolve, another dubbio, a baffling question, in Poe’s works. Why do the heroes desire to see the heroines dead? This is not just necrophilism; the clue is in the sentence selected by Tate, and taken from Eureka: “In the original unity of the first thing lies the secondary cause of all things, with the germ of their inevitable annihilation.” Poe, as Tate alleges, was preoccupied with the catastrophe of the universe; this theme, “a cataclysmic end of the world, modeled on the Christian eschatology,” in Tate’s words, is in “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” The Power of Words, and Eureka. What does, to cite Tate, this “semi-rational vision of the final disappearance of the material world into the first spiritual Unity, or God” signify? If I do not err, Poe could not endure his total separation from others which is man’s portion and woe. Edgar Poe composed horror stories in which women are, perhaps, destroyed by their lovers whose appetites were not for their bodies, but for their souls or identities. Tate expresses it beautifully in his poem “Aeneas at Washington”: “The singular passion/ Abides its object and consumes desire/ In the circling shadow of its appetite.” Union with complete identification with another person is impossible, and that is a ludicrous statement; far closer to the truth and the tragic dilemma is that we don’t know anybody, and are never able to see a face that belongs to somebody else or even our own.

    Allen Tate remarks: “The theme and its meaning as I see them are unmistakable: the symbolic compulsion that drives through, and beyond, physical incest moves towards the extinction of the beloved’s will in complete possession, not of her body, but of her being.” This explains the infernal combat between Ligeia and her lover, between Madeline and Roderick Usher; each one is sorely wounded because of the intolerable gulf that divides them from each other. Tate writes: “The spirits prey upon one another with destructive fire which is at once pure of lust and infernal.”

    Poe only considered the joys of the body because they seemed to be so similar to the moods of buried bones; otherwise, as Tate has shown, Poe had no interest whatever in sensuality. Poetry is the terrain of the country, and neither Poe nor any other American poet has written amorous verse. Perhaps the closest we have come to the fires of Eros is in Allen Tate’s marvelous translation of “The Vigil of Venus” (I cite here only one quatrain):

    Now the tall swans with hoarse cries thrash the lake:
    The girl of Tereus pours from the poplar ring
    Musical change — sad sister who bewails
    Her act of darkness with the barbarous king!

    Or in this stanza from his poem “Seasons of the Soul”:

    All the sea-gods are dead.
    You, Venus, come home
    To your salt maidenhead,
    The tossed anonymous sea
    Under shuddering foam —
    Shade for lovers, where
    A shark swift as your dove
    Shall pace our company
    All night to nudge and tear
    The livid wound of love.

    At this point one must ask who besides the French symbolist poets and Allen Tate really understood the master of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Valéry? Poe has been dismissed as a scribbler of cheap gothic bathos, a nineteenth-century Cain who who took laudanum and married a child who was thirteen years old. That he had few ideas, almost no sensibility of feeling, neither Tate nor anybody else who understands Poe can gainsay. But after one has said this, he has still misread the Tales. Aldous Huxley denounced Poe because his English is ungrammatical nonsense. Would it not be more intelligent to set aside the remarks of our well-known hackneys and turn to William Hazlitt, who said: “If I am assured that I never wrote a sentence of common English in my life, how can I know that this is not the case?”

    By now it should be obvious that any real understanding of Poe hangs by the thread of Ariadne. Edgar Poe is simply nobody else, and we must let it go at that. Let us then endeavor to comprehend him as best we can. It won’t do us any good if we imagine we can dismiss or undermine Poe by saying that “he had the tumours of a troubled mind,” Milton’s phrase. For above two thousand years and more, the poet has been looked upon as a putrescent biped with genius, utterly abnormal; but who can contemplate the average man, and consider his insane mechanical amusements, and not cower? Poe doubtless had most of the fevers and sick nerves of mediocre people, but he knew how to fable his malady. A banal man who is ill on top wishes to destroy everybody, a genius only craves to compose a book; he desires to make his illness useful to the commonwealth, or as Shakespeare tells us, “I will turn disease to commodity.”

    Notice should be taken of Poe’s obsession with magic. Our Dr. Faustus was looking for a supernatural chemical, or syllable, that would give him power over nature. According to Tate, the American of that era viewed nature as the enemy: Moby-Dick is the lucifer swimming in the ocean seas, whose occult evil can never be overcome.

    Whatever religious feeling Poe had I do not know; one might surmise that his heart bellowed until it burst its anguish, roaring, “My God, my God, there is no God!” He was deeply torn by kosmic apathy to human sorrow; the universe was the archfiend that ate man, and everything else it created. Maybe John Donne described Poe’s attitude toward God: “It is a half Atheisme to murmure against Nature.”

    Poe is a colossus in any literature; he is, however, a gigantic dwarf with scarce any conceptions and with little human nature in him. An idea in the Tales is a sin against Poe’s genius. Poe’s demon was his fury rather than his parent, or as one Greek cynic has said: “For Zeus, father of us all, variously is father to some, to others but a step-father.”

    Of Poe Tate says: “The sensibility is frustrated, since it is denied its perpetual refreshments in nature.” Poe has no sun or “lazy smoke” in his blood, and all of the erotic bouts between the dilacerated lovers take place on the livid shingle of Acheron.

    At this point it is necessary for me to admit that I have been wrong about the Tales for above a generation. It is hard to be ashamed of one’s ignorance, but far worse to hide it behind cant phrases. Besides, stupidity is as close to us as our characters, and impossible to escape. Nor is it amiss to add that Dreiser taught me how to read Shakespeare, and from Allen Tate I have learned to understand Poe, for Tate, like Poe, has “brooded on angels and archfiends.”

    Were we obliged to answer why we read criticism, or for that matter, philosophy, we could say no more than what is told in [Hazlitt’s] Winterslow: “If it should be asked what use such studies are, we might answer with Hume, perhaps of none, except that there are certain persons who find more entertainment in them than in any other.”

    Tate has an immense devotion to literature, and a genius for it, but he has pelting patience with what he calls the “hoariest pedantries in English criticism.” In one of his poems he writes:

    Immaculate race! To yield
    Us final knowledge set
    In a cold frieze, a field
    Of war but no blood let.

    No doubt most literary commentaries are bibliographical codpieces stuff with countless footnotes and lacking any spermatic fumes. How many professors grow white in their grammar, and more crabbed in their quiddities and quoddities!

    I have neither the heart nor the stomach to deny Tate’s darkling apprehensions; we both know that the sacred tribe of poets is rapidly disappearing. We cannot then afford to relinquish one page of poetry or prose style. How many a poem would expire were it not contained in some critical volume. We are lost, groping in the darkest mazes of nihilism, when Nothing can be affirmed. Our famous scribblers are writing in the night of almost total ignorance, larded with a profligacy not even felt.

    The honest folk prate of morals and justice and virtue which, as Lautréamont has it, is “nothing but a collection of sonorous verbiage,” while Mammon is the Voice crying in the wilderness. Doubtless, most critics are, as Tate holds, bad versifiers or no poets at all. But there are times when I require Miguel de Unamuno more than his master Cervantes. It is boastful to say that one has ever learned anything at all from anybody. Were it not so disagreeably arrogant to make this assertion I should exclaim: “My God, think what I have found out about literature from Dryden’s Dramatic Poesy!”

    Whether one writes criticism when he is unable to be Menander or Orpheus is, at least, half a quandary. Doubtless it is the poet Allen Tate who has such recondite, as well as sound, wisdom about Poe. Tate, himself, has a wry, Poesque face flensed by some teleological anguish. As for me, I can find little or no contentment save in the balsam of poetry or criticism or belles lettres; let it be Raleigh or Swift or Hazlitt or The Forlorn Demon, for I can lie a dreaming with a boke, and imagine myself stretched upon that oxhide in Iberia where Menelaus once slept.

  31. thomasbrady said,

    December 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Wonderful stuff from Dahlberg via Tate but mostly crap; Tate, like so many Poe-haters, completely misreads him, and hauling in sex-interpretation will only mangle and ruin and misinterpret Poe’s chaste majesty. “Why don’t Poe’s characters ever have sex? Why? Because Poe was a weirdo!” So says the weirdo.


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