Edgar Allan Poe and poetic sentiment

annabel_1850The soul of poetry and the soul of art originate from those persons who are sometimes identified, knowingly or unwittingly, as sentimental idealists. And though this label may have pinched the reader, for there are some who would not wish to be considered sentimental, it bears further scrutiny. This ‘sentiment’ is not to be confused with being soft, sappy, nor mushy, but rather a sentiment that indulges the senses and emotions excessively. Such feelings can influence our intellectual or emotional consciousness and depending upon the value we extend to it, we assign these sentiments different names: beauty, pleasure, awe, love, and the like.

As we look back through time and then proceed again forward to the present, opinions of what we believe as having artistic merit and sentiment may have changed. It is here that sets us to wonder; why some artists and authors and musicians were elevated to the highest level of admiration, why some continue to balance upon the pinnacle of fame even after so many centuries, and why those who were once considered great have been relegated to a mere footnote. How is it that our tastes have been so radically altered through the ages, for that which was considered sweet is now bitter? Such a paradox, for sugar still sweetens our tea and a lemon still puckers our lips, yet a poem that once heightened emotions of our ancestors now lies dormant upon the pages like a solemn epitaph.

Alas, there seems to be no real answer only opinions and ideas to be considered. Yet we will continue to nourish our imaginations and hope that we will be roused by those who remain timelessly sentimental…

Edgar Allan Poe 2 Today’s blog brings back America’s great author, the esteemed Edgar Allan Poe (b. Boston 1809-1849). One of the greatest and most influential poet and short story writers of the early 1800s, Poe’s literary genius crosses over into other genres of writing which include critical essays.

In his essay titled “The Poetic Principal”, Poe indulges the reader by providing his critical view and rational pertaining to contemporary poetry and fundamental elements of poetry. I now present a bit of Mr. Poe, and hope that you will take time from your busy day to enjoy his thoughts about Poetic Sentiment and the poet.

“… The Poetic Sentiment, of course, may develop itself in various modes—in Painting, in Sculpture, in Architecture, in the Dance—very especially in Music,—and very peculiarly and with a wide field, in the composition of the Landscape Garden….

We shall reach, however, more immediately a distinct conception of what the true Poetry is, by mere reference to a few of the simple elements which induce in the Poet himself the true poetical effect. He recognizes the ambrosia, which nourishes his soul, in the bright orbs that shine in Heaven, in the volutes of the flower, in the clustering of low shrubberies, in the waving of the grain-fields, in the slanting of the tall, Eastern trees, in the blue distance of mountains, in the grouping of clouds, in the twinkling of half-hidden brooks, in the gleaming of silver rivers, in the repose of sequestered lakes, in the star-mirroring depths of lonely wells. He perceives it in the songs of birds, in the harp of Aeolus, in the sighing of the night-wind, in the repining voice of the forest, in the surf that complains to the shore, in the fresh breath of the woods, in the scent of the violet, in the voluptuous perfume of the hyacinth, in the suggestive odor that comes to him at eventide from far-distant, undiscovered islands, over dim oceans, illimitable and unexplored. He owns it in all noble thoughts, in all unworldly motives, in all holy impulses, in all chivalrous, generous, and self-sacrificing deeds. He feels it in the beauty of woman, in the grace of her step, in the lustre of her eye, in the melody of her voice, in her soft laughter, in her sigh, in the harmony of the rustling of her robes. He deeply feels it in her winning endearments, in her burning enthusiasms, in her gentle charities, in her meek and devotional endurances; but above all—ah! far above all—he kneels to it, he worships it in the faith, in the purity, in the strength, in the altogether divine majesty of her love…”

First Image: The cover of the January, 1850 Sartain’s Union Magazine, Philadelphia, which contained the first publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee”.

Esteemed thinker: Edgar Allan Poe

raven Producers of creative works, may they be literary, visual, theatrical, musical, or any other artistic forms, are all open to interpretation. There are no disclaimers on their product such as those printed on food labels containing peanuts: “this product may cause allergic reactions”. Rather, the work is completed and delivered like an artist stepping out of the shower nude; for without any coverings or explanations the receiver simply accepts or rejects what is presented to them.

The hurried visitor at a museum may scan the walls as one may scan the shelves of the grocery store looking for just the right item that will satisfy their gastronomical craving. The patron of the book store may glance at the illustrations on the book covers searching for just the right image that catches their eye, and the driver in the car may select a song to listen to at the same pace they are driving. Yet regardless of how the selection was chosen, the hours spent during preparation by the artist may never be known nor revealed. For works of art often take on the persona of “a grown up” even though they were nurtured and developed like “someone’s baby”.

For those who create the element of time to arrive at the end product is the “art”. The ponderings, the self-musings, the formal course of action, the step by step workings; all these intimate processes are embedded into the work. And though not noticeable to the eye, or audible to the ear, they are invisibly woven into the piece like a soul.

edgar allen poe Today’s post invites you to join a most esteemed thinker: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849 b. Boston, Massachusetts) American short story writer, poet, and critic; a most remarkable author whose individual name alone sets our very own minds reeling with wonderment. A man who claims so much interest to readers that many of the tales about his life often rival in fascination the stories he has written. Poe earned the title of “father of detective stories,” when in late 1830s, he published “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”, a collection of stories containing several of his most sensational and macabre tales, one of which was “The Fall of the House of Usher”. In 1841 with the publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a new genre of detective story was discovered inviting the solving of crimes with the help of codes and ciphers. Poe became a literary sensation in 1845 with the publication of the poem “The Raven,” considered one of the great American literary works.

I now give you a portion of his essay snipped from his piece “The Philosophy of Composition”; a work that will neither tingle your spine nor keep you up at night, but rather tempts you to look at his ‘critical’ side. I present to you Mr. Poe, not the story teller, but rather the observer and examiner of the art he understood and created so perfectly… writing.

“…I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders and demon-traps—the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio…

I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell, are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.

For my own part, I have neither sympathy with the repugnance alluded to, nor, at any time, the least difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of an analysis, or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum, is quite independent of any real or fancied interest in the thing analyzed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus operandi by which some one of my own works was put together…”

First image: U.S. Lithograph Co., c1908.
Second image: 1896, Edgar Allan Poe, head-and-shoulders portrait by William Sartain, mezzotint

William Wordsworth and the reading of poetry

map Claudius_Ptolemy-_The_World The concept of reading poetry for some is like translating text from an ancient language. Often it is equated as a chore rather than its intended purpose of enjoyment. On a page poetry can appear rather distant and unfamiliar, like an antique map one intends to chart. The words are disjointed and phrases short of meaning, arranged before the reader like crudely drawn ports-of-call; and our eyes, though wanting to decipher the text are drawn to the unstructured form, its lack of punctuation and deficiency of capital letters.

Poetry conjures up those dreaded days of English classes, red-inked marked papers, and scowls of disapproval. How something so lovely can bring memories of scorn is much like a spring flower settled upon a stem of thorns.

And though it has been brushed aside with the same aversion as a child pushes away a plate of calf’s liver, it continues to be relished by some. Poetry has endured the scrutiny of time, manipulation, reconstruction, interpretation, and criticism. And while it may not be the favored literary genres by many, for those who have allowed its presence to fade away, it is well worth giving it another go. Think of reading poetry as taking a leisurely walk over a path that is laden with gold… only to be discovered if you observe with all your senses the journey set before you.

William Wordsworth 2 Today’s post invites back our esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth (1770-1850), one of England’s most respected writers of both prose and poetry. Much of his greatness is expressed through his belief that the ideal could be experienced in everyday life. He was at home with nature, which is effortlessly revealed through the intensity of these feelings expressed in his works.

For your reading pleasure I have extracted from The Prose Work of William Wordsworth a snippet regarding his principals of poetry (1798). I now give to you the illustrious, Mr. Wordsworth….

“… I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of re-action, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. If Nature be thus cautious to preserve in a state of enjoyment a being so employed, the Poet ought to profit by the lesson held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that, whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions, if his Reader’s mind be sound and vigorous, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of harmonious metrical language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and the blind association of pleasure which has been previously received from works of rhyme or metre of the same or similar construction, an indistinct perception perpetually renewed of language closely resembling that of real life, and yet, in the circumstance of metre, differing from it so widely—all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling always found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned poetry; while, in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader. All that it is necessary to say, however, upon this subject, may be effected by affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once…”

First image: (1482 ) Claudius Ptolemy, cartographer, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver

Esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth

landscape Landscapes are nature’s way of telling us who is really in charge; for no matter how hard one tries to encapsulate a vista the end product does not quite imitate reality. Transport yourself to any corner of the earth and you may find a vision so beautiful that it seems to take your breath away. The range of colors, shapes, and feelings wound up in such a view has been replicated by humans throughout the ages yet to really experience that “ah ha” moment, it needs what we call today, “real time”.

We live in a world where technology permits us to transport virtual images, allows us to share and receive, allows us to observe our universe in a speed that was once deemed only possible in fiction. When man first stepped on the moon and when the Mars rover frolicked upon the forbidden planet, the photos sent back to us on Earth gave us reason to be humble; it gave us a view to extend our imaginations and expand our dreams, entitling us to wonder what it would be like to see such sights for ourselves.

Landscapes, a word that once meant paintings in a museum have become part of our vernacular to mean more. We capture them, place them in our computers or on our phones and keep them as souvenirs; yet Mother Nature knows that it is through her eyes that we really see it.

NPG 104; William Wordsworth by and after Henry William Pickersgill I present to you today the esteemed thinker: William Wordsworth (1770-1850), a most gifted English poet who helped establish, with his friend and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, what we presently refer to as the Romantic period in literature. Having taken a walking tour of Europe early in his career, Wordsworth is believed to have been influenced by this experience for much of his writing explores the relationship between humans and nature. While touring Europe, Wordsworth also came into contact with the political upheaval of the French Revolution, which subsequently brought about his interest and sympathy for the life, troubles and speech of the “common man”. In 1843 Wordsworth was named poet laureate of England, though by this time he had for the most part quit composing verse. He is fondly remembered by poetry lovers for poems such as “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud”.

From the book of his collected titles, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, (1876) I have retraced the words of our famous and illustrious Mr. Wordsworth; a man who has brought to us literary greats that continue to be read, studied, and interpreted more than a century later. Take just a few moments and permit him to take you on an exploration; without a camera or an easel he will define a lovely view for your enjoyment…

“… At Lucerne, in Switzerland, is shewn a Model of the Alpine country which encompasses the Lake of the four Cantons. The Spectator ascends a little platform, and sees mountains, lakes, glaciers, rivers, woods, waterfalls, and vallies, with their cottages, and every other object contained in them, lying at his feet; all things being represented in their appropriate colours. It may be easily conceived that this exhibition affords an exquisite delight to the imagination, tempting it to wander at will from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain, through the deepest recesses of the Alps. But it supplies also a more substantial pleasure: for the sublime and beautiful region, with all its hidden treasures, and their bearings and relations to each other, is thereby comprehended and understood at once…

To begin, then, with the main outlines of the country;—- I know not how to give the reader a distinct image of these more readily, than by requesting him to place himself with me, in imagination, upon some given point; let it be the top of either of the mountains, Great Gavel, or Scawfell; or, rather, let us suppose our station to be a cloud hanging midway between those two mountains, at not more than half a mile’s distance from the summit of each, and not many yards above their highest elevation; we shall then see stretched at our feet a number of vallies, not fewer than eight, diverging from the point, on which we are supposed to stand, like spokes from the nave of a wheel… In the vale of Keswick, at the same period, the sun sets over the humbler regions of the landscape, and showers down upon them the radiance which at once veils and glorifies,—- sending forth, meanwhile, broad streams of rosy, crimson, purple, or golden light, towards the grand mountains in the south and south-east, which, thus illuminated, with all their projections and cavities, and with an intermixture of solemn shadows, are seen distinctly through a cool and clear atmosphere…”

Second image: Portrait, oil on canvas, by Henry William Pickersgill circa 1850; National Portrait Gallery, London