Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the silliest screeds in the history of Letters, Harold Bloom’s review in the New York Review of Books (Oct 11, 1984) of Edgar Poe’s handsome Library of America 2 volume set, ‘Poetry & Tales,’  Patrick Quinn, ed. & ‘Essays & Reviews,’ G.R. Thompson, ed.

Bloom’s savage (and spooky) article is remarkable for two reasons:  its attempted ferocity and its summary of Modernist pedagogical history as a “conservative” critic abuses a timeless poet with crudely “radical” rhetoric.

In Part 1, Bloom uses Aldous Huxley to beat down Poe’s poetry, copying Huxley’s Miltonic parody of Poe, also found in “Understanding Poetry,” an anti-Poe textbook by the Fugitive New Critic Robert Penn Warren.  Bloom calls Warren “the most distinguished living American writer.”  Huxley’s 1930s charge that the French were wrong to admire Poe (!) was picked up by T.S. Eliot in his 1949 attack on Poe, and here in 1984 Bloom repeats it, as Poe’s verse is held up to ridicule.

Part 2: The prose is condemned as well, dismissed with the quotation of a single paragraph.  “Poe’s actual text does not matter.”  Bloom has a certain respect for ‘Eureka,’ which he feels is “Poe’s answer” to Emerson’s ‘Nature.’   But it’s science (Poe) v. rhetoric (Emerson)–they’re not comparable.   Bloom makes no attempt to cover Poe’s vast territory.   Instead, he  writes: “Whether Eureka or the famous stories can survive authentic criticism is not clear.”  Poe’s  stories are “best read when we are very young.” “Poe’s survival raises perpetually the issue whether literary merit and canonical status go together.”  “Mark Twain cataloged Fenimore Cooper’s literary offenses, but all the exuberantly listed are minor compared to Poe’s.”  Strangely, even though Bloom feels Poe’s stories are “best read when we are very young,” Bloom confesses “Poe induced nasty & repetitious nightmares that linger even now.”

Bloom, in this half-deeply personal, half-frothily anglophilic essay, clutches the teddy bear of Emerson’s ‘self-reliance’ as ‘original sin’ (associated with Poe) moans beneath his bed.  Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, and D.H. Lawrence are brought in to help Bloom vanquish Poe, although Bloom terms Poe “inescapable.”  Bloom wants Poe out of the canon (and his bedroom) but the professor admits it will not happen.

In Part 3, Bloom’s assault now turns on crude cultural politics: “Poe, a true Southerner, abominated Emerson, plainly perceiving that Emerson (like Whitman, like Lincoln) was not a Christian, not a royalist, not a classicist.”   Lincoln was a Christian, Whitman and Lincoln could not have been more different, and Poe was anything but a royalist, and no more Christian than Emerson.  It’s difficult to tell whether Bloom is baiting a certain kind of reader, or writing in pure ignorance.   How a man so erudite could be so ignorant is perhaps something only Harold Bloom could explain.

Part 4 looks at the Freudian aspect of Poe’s novel, ‘Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ and quotes Adorno calling Poe & Baudelaire “the first technocrats of art.”  It’s not long, however, before Bloom turns on his chainsaw again: “Poe is a great fantasist whose thoughts were commonplace and whose metaphors are dead.”  Poe’s “speculative discourses fade away in juxtaposition to Emerson’s, his despised Northern rival.”

Part 5:  Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ may have been read by Helen Whitman and Elmira Royster, and perhaps this is why these women did not marry Poe. (!)  Bloom, who seems to be looking to trade 3 Jesus Christ cards for one Emerson and one Whitman, writes, “…the northern or Emersonian myth of our literary culture culminates in the beautiful image of Walt Whitman as wounddresser, moving as mothering father…”

Part 6:  Bloom doesn’t like Poe’s criticism, either, and dismisses Poe with a couple of  obscure quotations.   Bloom champions, instead, the late Victorian criticism of Arnold, Pater, and Wilde.

Part 7: “Poe was savage in denouncing minor Transcendentalists.”   And Poe, according to Bloom, is racist–because “he would have loved”–published after Poe’s death–‘The Nigger Question’ by Thomas Carlyle.  (Emerson, whose ‘English Traits’ is explicitly racist, was Carlyle’s literary agent in the U.S.)   And one final, embarrassing cheer from Bloom for Emerson: “Poe, on a line-by-line or sentence-or-sentence basis is hardly a worthy opponent.”

Twenty-five years later, is the popular Poe still giving Bloom–and anglo-american ‘zine modernism–nightmares?

Thomas Brady


  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Aesthetic modernism is a religion, and all who have fallen under its spell are uncomfortable with Poe, the artist and critic. George Bernard Shaw and Edna Millay are two 20th century writers who loved Poe, and it is certainly no accident that neither Millay nor Shaw–were very much of their times–bound themselves to the new aesthetic religion of (20th cen) Modernism.

    Bloom exemplifies the Modernist cult’s severity in his review of Poe, and particularly here in Bloom’s review of Poe’s review of a woman poet, in her mid-20s, S. Anna Lewis.

    Who is S.Anna Lewis? To Harold Bloom, she is a nobody.

    In the following, from his 1984 review of Poe’s Library of America works in the NY Review, Bloom haughtily dismisses the young poet and her critical admirer:

    “No, Poe as practical critic is a true match for most of his contemporary subjects, such as S. Anna Lewis, author of The Child of the Sea and other Poems (1848). Of her lyric, “The Forsaken,” Poe wrote: “We have read this little poem more than twenty times and always with increasing admiration. It is inexpressibly beautiful” I quote only the first of its six stanzas:

    It hath been said—for all who die
    there is a tear;
    Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh
    O’er every bier:—
    But in that hour of pain and dread
    Who will draw near
    Around my humble couch and shed
    One farewell tear?”

    And now Bloom is done. The quotation of a stanza with “sigh” and “tear” and “pining, bleeding heart” in it is enough to condemn S. Anna Lewis to oblivion.

    The Modernist aesthetic, which does not appreciate certain kinds of verse with a certain kind of music, nor, I suppose, Italian Renaissance art songs, with their heart-rending simplicity, nor the lieder of Schubert, leads Bloom to confidently reject, without comment, what he feels is self-evident to readers in the New York Review: they, certainly, will have nothing to do with S. Anna Lewis.

    But before we leave S. Anna Lewis, the poet, and Edgar Poe, the critic, perhaps we might look at Poe’s entire review, from ‘Essays & Reviews’ (Library of America):

    Mrs. Lewis has, in a very short space of time, attained a high poetical reputation. She is one of the youngest of our poetesses; and it is only since the publication of her “Records of the Heart,” in 1844, that she can be said to have become known to the literary world: — although her “Ruins of Palenque” which appeared in the “New-World” sometime, we think, in 1840, made a most decided impression among a comparatively limited circle of readers. It was a composition of unquestionable merit, on a topic of infallible interest. In 1846, Mrs. Lewis published, in “The Democratic Review,” a poem called “The Broken Heart,” in three cantos, and subsequently has written many minor pieces for the “American” and ” Democratic” Reviews, and for various other periodical works. In all her writings we perceive a marked idiosyncrasy — so that we might recognize her hand immediately in any of her anonymous productions. Passion, enthusiasm, and abandon are her prevailing traits. In these particulars she puts us more in mind of Maria del Occidente than of any other American poetess.

    * The Child of the Sea and other Poems. By S. Anna Lewis, author of “Records of the Heart,” etc., etc.

    There has been lately exhibited, at the Academy of Fine Arts in New York, a portrait of Mrs. Lewis, by Elliot, which is at the same time a forcible likeness and one of the most praiseworthy pictures ever painted. In fact, we have seen no thing better from Sir Thomas Lawrence; — it alone would suffice to place Elliot at the head of his profession in this country-we mean, of course, as a painter of portraits. This picture conveys a distinct idea of the personal authoress. She is, as we have already mentioned, quite young — probably not more than 25 or 26 — with dark and very expressive hazel eyes and chesnut [[chestnut]] hair, naturally curling — a poetical face, if ever one existed. Her form is finely turned — full, without being too much so, and slightly above the medium height. Her demeanour is noticeable for dignity, grace and repose. She goes little into society and resides at present in Brooklyn, N. Y. with her husband, S. D. Lewis, Esq., Counsellor at Law. We have thought that these succinct personal particulars of one, who will most probably, at no very distant day, occupy a high, if not the highest, position among American poetesses, might not prove uninteresting to our readers.

    The “Records of the Heart” was received with unusual favor at the period of its issue. It consists, principally, of poems of length. The leading one is “Florence,” a tale of romantic passion, founded on an Italian tradition of great poetic capability and well managed by the fair authoress. It displays, however, somewhat less of polish and a good deal less of assured power than we see evinced in her “Child of the Sea.” We quote a brief passage, by way, merely, of instancing the general spirit and earnest movement of the verse:

    Morn is abroad; the sun is up;
    The dew fills high each lily’s cup.
    Ten thousand flowerets springing there
    Diffuse their incense through the air,
    And, smiling, hail the morning beam;
    The fawns plunge panting in the stream,
    Or through the vale with light foot spring:
    Insect and bird are on the wing
    And all is bright, as when in May
    Young Nature holds high holiday.

    “Florence,” however, is more especially noticeable for the profusion of its original imagery — as for example:

    The cypress in funereal gloom
    Folds its dark arms above the tomb.

    “Tenel” (pronounced Thanail,) Melpomene, (a glowing tribute to L. E. L.,) “The Last Hour of Sappho,” “Laone,” and “The Bride of Guayaquil,” are all poems of considerable length and of rare merit in various ways. Their conduct as narratives, is, perhaps, less remarkable than their general effect as poems proper. They leave invariably on the reader’s heart a sense of beauty and of sadness. In many of the shorter compositions which make up the volume of which we speak, “(Records of the Heart”) we are forced to recognize the truth and perfect appositeness of the title we are made to feel that it is here indeed the heart which records, rather than the fancy which invents. The passionate earnestness of the following lines will be acknowledged by every reader capable of appreciating that species of poetry of which the essentiality and inspiration is truth. ”

    Here, then is the review which precedes the quotation of the poem to which Bloom gave us but one stanza.

    We meet Anna Lewis and learn something about her. She has published long poems, not merely one six stanza lyric, of which one stanza does not please Mr. Bloom–who does not review poetry himself (nor does he publish poetry) –this tradition Bloom really has nothing to do with;–further, Emerson, Bloom’s hero, unlike Poe, was not a reviewer, and New Critical modernism explicitly felt (see Vanderbilt University’s John Crowe Ransom’s ‘Criticism, Inc.,’ 1937) that amateurs who review are not really important: one ought to be a university-trained critic like Perloff, Vendler, or Bloom.

    Let us finish with Poe, as he quotes the entire poem of S. Anna Lewis, and gives his commentary:


    It hath been said — for all who die
    There is a tear;
    Some pining, bleeding heart to sigh
    O’er every bier: —
    But in that hour of pain and dread
    Who will draw near
    Around my humble couch and shed
    One farewell tear?

    Who watch my life’s departing ray
    In deep despair
    And soothe my spirit on its way
    With holy prayer?
    What mourner round my bier will come
    In “weeds of wo”
    And follow me to my long home
    Solemn and slow?

    When lying on my clayey bed,
    In icy sleep,
    Who there by pure affection led
    Will come and weep;
    By the pale moon implant the rose
    Upon my breast,
    And bid it cheer my dark repose —
    My lowly rest?

    Could I but know when I am sleeping
    Low in the ground
    One faithful heart would there be keeping
    Watch all night round,
    As if some gem lay shrined beneath
    That sod’s cold gloom,
    ‘Twould mitigate the pangs of death
    And light the tomb.

    Yes, in that hour if I could feel
    From halls of glee
    And Beauty’s presence one would steal
    In secresy,
    And come and sit and weep by me
    In nights’ deep noon
    Oh! I would ask of Memory
    No other boon.

    But ah! a lonelier fate is mine —
    A deeper wo:
    From all I love in youth’s sweet time
    I soon must go —
    Draw round me my cold robes of white,
    In a dark spot,
    To sleep through Death’s long dreamless night,
    Lone and forgot.

    We have read this little poem more than twenty times and always with increasing admiration. It is inexpressibly beautiful. No one of real feeling can peruse it without a strong inclination to tears. Its irresistible charm is its absolute truth — the unaffected naturalness of its thought. The sentiment which forms the basis of the composition is, perhaps, at once the most universal and the most passionate of sentiments. No human being exists, over the age of fifteen, who has not, in his heart of hearts, a ready echo for all here so pathetically expressed. The essential poetry of the ideas would only be impaired by “foreign ornament.” This is a case in which we should be repelled by the mere conventionalities of the Muse. We demand, for such thoughts, the most rigorous simplicity at all points. It will be observed that, strictly speaking, there is not an attempt at “imagery” in the whole poem. All is direct, terse, penetrating. In a word nothing could be better done. The versification, while in full keeping with the general character of simplicity, has in certain passages a vigorous, trenchant euphony which would confer honor on the most accomplished masters of the art. We refer, especially to the lines:

    And follow me to my long home
    Solemn and slow
    and to the quatrain:
    Could I but know when I am sleeping
    Low in the ground
    One faithful heart would there be keeping
    Watch all night round.

    The initial trochee here, in each instance, substituted for the iambus produces, so naturally as to seem accidentally, a very effective echo of sound to sense. The thought included in the line “And light the tomb,” should be dwelt upon to be appreciated in its full extent of beauty; and the verses which I have italicized in the last stanza are poetry — poetry in the purest sense of that much misused word. They have power — indisputable power; making us thrill with a sense of their weird magnificence as we read them.”

    Let us have Poe’s words one more time:

    “No human being exists, over the age of fifteen, who has not, in his heart of hearts, a ready echo for all here so pathetically expressed. The essential poetry of the ideas would only be impaired by “foreign ornament.” This is a case in which we should be repelled by the mere conventionalities of the Muse. We demand, for such thoughts, the most rigorous simplicity at all points. It will be observed that, strictly speaking, there is not an attempt at “imagery” in the whole poem. All is direct, terse, penetrating. In a word nothing could be better done.”


  2. noochinator said,

    March 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    The Stalking of Pamela Lee

    It was many and many a year ago
    That she first cast a spell over me;
    She was languishing bare in a centerfold there,
    With her bra size of 38D;
    And the sight of her bust left me panting with lust
    For the babe now called Pamela Lee.

    Though her jugs knocked me dead in that magazine spread
    ‘Twas their bounce I hungered to see;
    Then to Baywatch she came, and they gained instant fame
    When they jiggled on primetime TV;
    Like a man who was crazed, both my eyes wound up glazed
    As I eyeballed my Pamela Lee.

    On the Net I went ape for her fabulous shape,
    Which she flaunted, I’m sure, just for me;
    All those nips and those tucks costing thousands of bucks
    Made her twice as enticing to see;
    And when implants she got, I burned hotter than hot
    For the body of Pamela Lee.

    How my aching heart bled when that drummer she wed,
    For I knew that abused she would be;
    But they split up for good like I prayed that they would,
    And it proved a great blessing for me;
    She was single once more—now for sure I would score
    With the succulent Pamela Lee.

    Many times did I gape at that pirated tape,
    Getting off on her X-rated spree;
    And I dreamed of the day she would roll in the hay
    And the man she was under was me;
    Like some madman obsessed, I would never find rest
    Till I made it with Pamela Lee.

    Ev’ry day without fail, I would sniff out her trail
    Like a bloodhound in heat I would be;
    And I tracked her for weeks in cafes and boutiques
    While I let my libido run free;
    And while I knew I’d succeed for the gods had decreed
    That I’d hook up with Pamela Lee.

    I shall never forget how we finally met,
    And her cleavage close-up did I see;
    All my love I poured out, and there seemed little doubt
    That she felt the same way about me;
    But the cops had me tailed and I found myself jailed
    For the stalking of Pamela Lee.

    I was tried for the crime; now I’m doing hard time
    I’ll be locked up till 2003;
    But for Pam I still care, and I pray she’ll be there
    If I somehow survive and go free—
    Which is doubtful as hell since I’m sharing a cell
    With her psychotic ex, Tommy Lee!

    Frank Jacobs (from MAD #372, August 1988)

  3. Anonymous said,

    March 8, 2016 at 2:16 pm


    Poe is certainly a formidable figure in American letters who was possessed by genius. He tried his hand at every form of writing, not only because he had to crank it out to make a living, but because his ego sought to master every form, and to extend them, creating new forms (the Detective story).

    While his few memorable poems were extremely successful, I do not think they were particularly good. I think his true genius was found in his prose.

    I can only speculate that Baudelaire championed him because he savored his peculiarly American ‘jingle-jangle’ kitschy badness, as the French symbolists were wont to do, his brilliant gothic prose, and his mad and villainess persona. (Rimbaud: “What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints; old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children’s books, old operas, silly old songs, the nave rhythms of country rimes”)

    So, as for Eliot, I can relate to the wavering. Of course, Eliot is now best remembered by most Americans as writing the very silly Cats. Maybe that was his tribute to Poe!

    I think these arguments over ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ forms of expression are mostly bunk. A lot of time wasted over nothing. One can lie and tell the truth in both. Journalism is ‘true’?! It’s a case by case matter.

    The bible is simple in appearance, and yet their are endless arguments about the ‘correct’ interpretation of many passages. There is mystical writing, occult writing, code…Most philosophers have taken this cue, for obvious reasons. Some poets, as well. Some monstrous things have happened, because, they are, you know, thinking as they are writing..(Do yu think when you write?)..But explanations are so tedious. If you don’t know, you don’t know…Shakespeare, well there was a plain-spoken man if there ever was one. Please. The form should be impeccable, whatever it is, but it’s the combination of content and strength of voice that is unmistakeable, in the end.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    March 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm


    Yes, Poe was great at many genres, even humor. The dig that he wrote “to make a living” is often made against Poe. The Beatles and Stones were much better when they were forced to write material for a deadline, when they were under contract. This is a universal fact: the lazy genius, like a John Lennon, is best when pushed. Thank goodness Poe “had to make a living.” Snobbery and a misunderstanding of genius gets Poe wrong all the time. Poe wrote biblical things, too, by the way. Bloom’s attack on Poe aped Huxley’s and Eliot’s—and will remain a towering monument to ignorance and cowardice. Poe’s ear was impeccable. He wrote some of the greatest poems in the history of the language. True lovers of verse know how good Poe was. And Poe’s great ear for poetry helped him write great prose.

    • Anonymous said,

      March 9, 2016 at 9:24 am

      Tommy, your ‘universal facts’ are simply not.

      Artists create great works both under deadlines or contracts (outside forces, to sustain the support and ‘love’ of the masses, financial support of big institutions or corps) and because of inner resources (conviction, a love of the tradition of their craft and pleasure in its process, support of lovers, friends, private sponsors).

      Hacks (like many of the disposable pop stars of today) create content to satisfy their deadlines and contracts. Approximately 3% of the products of this system (as it currently stands) produce anything of value, or even anything a 13 year old girl who doesn’t have water on the brain could extract any joy or truth or truly original fashion tips from.. That’s the mistake Eliot, et al made – not acknowledging that there are true artists among the hacks (essentially the middle and working class people working their way up through this meat market system.) That’s whole other story. That they get to fight it out on the killing room floor…

      There is a point to this snobbery against people who write for a living (pop stars aside for a moment.). A point I’m really not sure Eliot would have been wont to articulate, even if he could, so far in advance. In his case maybe it was just snobbery. I don’t know.. But the bottom line is that when people are in the position of the ‘hack’, either of the literary or journalist variety, (in a position where their livelihoods are on the line if they do not produce products to please their benefactors, most of whom have become increasingly less benevolent and more hostile to the arts) then you are left with a large group of people with the responsibility of giving us either the news or “the news” who are giving us neither. These husks neither journalists, nor artists, but propagandists. They have become the black-skinhead of lore, the nazi-jew…People who tragically and myopically engage in activities against their own interests, when studied from the pragmatic bird’s eye view of those who have both world experience, and have immersed themselves in the world experience of history.

      This doesn’t account, either, for the many rather well-off people who have made great art. The examples too numerous to mention.

      John Lennon is a poor example, I think, if we want to trot out the old story that he quit making music (for 5 years before his death) because he was too rich and lazy, and not ‘under deadline’.

      John Lennon was psychologically tortured, drugged, and under hypnosis for many years before his death.

  5. mcmc said,

    March 9, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Remind me, someone, what we will be reading from Bloom when 160+ years have passed.

    • noochinator said,

      March 9, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Could Harold Bloom have appropriated his “Shakespeare invented the human” theory from “The New Puritanism,” an early 1970s essay by British novelist and critic John Wain? Mr. Wain seems to say in less than one paragraph what took Mr. Bloom 700 or so pages:

      “… by the time we reach the epoch of Shakespeare, the individual has moved into the centre of the stage. All Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the major tragedies on which his reputation mainly rests, are concerned with the clash between large-scale personalities, aflame with the incandescence of their uniqueness, and the vast impersonal universe to which, somehow or other, they must temper themselves. Indeed, Shakespeare’s main service to the world may well have been that his plays dramatized, and so brought into full consciousness, the nature of the human conflict as it was to be during the centuries of individualism. If this is so, the lives of the gigantic individuals who act out Western history from the Renaissance to our own time were made possible by Shakespeare and the other writers who were nourished by him. Because large-scale individual characters had been imagined and portrayed and set talking and moving on a lighted stage, they were free to exist in ‘real’ life. And this, after all, is not more than the cliché that life imitates art; as one feels that Wilde and Pater were to a large extent creations of a movement in literature that began when they were children…”

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm

        Thank you, Nooch.

        Bloom was a blowhard and unoriginal, as well.

        “The Burden of the Past and the English Poet” (Bate) was published by a colleague at Yale shortly before “The Anxiety of Influence.”

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Thank you, mcmc. Nicely put.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    March 9, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Anonymous, Agreed. A person with no talent will not produce under a deadline.

    • Anonymous said,

      March 10, 2016 at 8:32 am

      Well, you are certainly more of an expert than I am on how to utilize the ignorant and untalented to pump out something under a deadline, whatever it is, some kind of “product” that convinces people of this or that false idea. So I’ll take your word for it.

      • Anonymous said,

        March 10, 2016 at 9:16 am

        There’s a rumour that you are the editor of a Rupert Murdoch owned Sun-style rag there in Boston. I got it on a good source, so pardon me if
        I am mistaken. (And you know how rumours are, it was by rumour alone that the jews were accused of a plot to ‘take over the world’ & eventually marched to the gas chambers…)

        Well, it’s been nice chatting. I was curious if you had any parting words of wisdom. I will always remember “be good to your neighbor” and that the tyrants who rule the earth are “pragmatic,” “self-centered,” and have a lot of “world experience”. These are the kinds of insights a budding intellectual is lucky to be given to ponder for years to come. And, unlike any other of your friends and or digital humanitese I expect, want, nor need a check, mate.

        Warm Regards,


  7. noochinator said,

    March 12, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    For those with Amazon Prime, there’s currently available a film of two Poe tales, “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar” and “The Black Cat”, directed by Dario Argento and George Romero:


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