Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps the only poet to have snuck his way into the American public’s imagination. I say snuck because, let’s face it—America. Unlike England, with its fancy Dan history, and its Shakespeare, and its endless Queens in silly hats, America, brave sweet practical America, when offered poetry is likely to say, “I prefer dirt.”
Which makes perfect sense.
You can build something with dirt. Stock in dirt is up 7% since last quarter! Heck, with just a cup of water you can serve your little patriots mud pies for dessert. In all seriousness, it’s this practicality which made America possible, and actually work: not sending soldiers out to fight a guerrilla war in red uniforms, governmental checks and balances, flip-flops, etc.
But Poe is not dirt, he is what flies above the dirt.
Then how do you explain our poet reaching the dizzying heights of having a NFL team named after one of his poems? Well, the exemplary horror and detective fiction certainly didn’t hurt. That, and a reputation, warranted or not, of being a drug addled ne’er-do-well will get you far.
The Raven is the most well-known poem in America for a reason (it’s also the name of a horrible Hollywood movie that, unwittingly, christens Poe as a true American hero, imagining him as a gun slinging detective: Bang!). It and its creator transcend the sissy poetry/poet categories.
It’s dark, man. (It's also a masterpiece of rhythm and rhyme, but details!)
Here’s his oft-quoted line from “The Philosophy of Composition”, a mini-manual for rhymesters: “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”
Whether it is the most poetical topic in the world is, of course, questionable, but this assertion gives us a clue to the poet's nature. You see, Poe is a practical poet. Like an American dad with a shovel, he doesn't hide from the work at hand.
This life is finite, he says.
But there is beauty in living on earth, a beauty one can participate in. And woman, that which literally makes life and human beauty possible, as life, is sacred.
And...it’s all on it’s way out. To return...nevermore...
Bad things happen that one can’t prevent or give a reasonable reason for.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Poe can scare us. He knows the Shadow, and brings forth those things, those aspects of life that we might prefer to ignore or reject. Thankfully, he does this with the beautiful light of words, so we don't mind so much.
It’s the ephemeral quality of our lives, the same quality so central to poetry and music, that Poe is so wise to emphasize; this vulnerability to the arbitrary, to the chilling, killing winds of the world which, when perceived, makes our existence that much more ours, not in spite of the ensuing sorrow, but because of it. Acknowledging this may make one feel small, like a child. But a child also sees in a way that most no longer see.
So why waste time hiding from what you can’t escape? And for that matter, what the heck is actually going on around here anyways?
Take this kiss upon the brow!
Who knows? Maybe Poe did, maybe not. He knew many things; not that that helps you.
What we do know: there's not many more years left. So pay attention. Have fabulous evenings.
Kiss your Lenores, and appreciate your Annabel Lees. Whatever they may be.
Nathan Woods, editor/overlord