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

Walt Whitman and our changing language

walt whitman 2 The more we know the more we don’t know…in other words, as we amass awareness of our world, through whatever means you choose, it becomes evidently clear that there is so much more than meets the eye; and as our interests grow, then too do we realize that we understand only a fraction of what is available… or what is not available to the intellect.

And as this vast amount of knowledge continues to expand like a field of weeds in the summer, so too does the terminology and acronyms that accompany such information. There are professions that appear to thrive on such abbreviated phrases making outsiders feel less than adequate… for example: JSON – JavaScript Object Notation, or PCI-X Peripheral Component Interconnect Extended … (and I thought java was coffee; and when did an X stand for the word extended! ) As our knowledge base flourishes; interestingly, our conversational vernacular seems to be decreasing as well as becoming more abridged….until we whittle away a complete thought in a modified text…Not that this is bad; just… shall we say…it is like taking one bite out of the cake..by-passing the lemon filling that the baker so intended for you to savor.

Authors that were once widely read by the literate public can be a daunting task in the 21st century. But one would have to wonder why… after all, with all our technology and availability to access information, we would assume that discovering Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Joyce, Flaubert, and even Poe would be less of a challenge today. However, in defense of present day readers, we can also take into account that our language has changed; whereby words and their placement within the sentence have been modified since the days of yore.

And then too there is that pesky nuance that seems to plague us…attention span… many folks do not appear to find that they enjoy having to decipher material that takes time. For many “time” is precious and therefore immediacy is gratifying…hence abbreviations have become the norm.

On the other hand, language can be simple and at the same time complex in idea; it can evoke questions, push to the limits ideals, but with these abstractions comes “think time.” Whereby I would encourage the reader to dip into the workings of literary geniuses as one would take a walk in a forest rather than running like a deer into the thickets, for we would not like all things to change in response to our impatient world… (I imagine that those who like their spirits “aged” would wince at the idea of stepping up the process… I rest my case!)

walt whitman 3 And so I bring to you our esteemed thinker: Walt Whitman, a man who changed the face of poetry during his lifetime; believing that the everyday language of his fellow American was and should be celebrated. He glorified people in all walks of life, nature, and the landscape we know as the United States. His direct and matter of fact ways, his connection with manual labor and heart transformed the poetic ideals of the 19th century… a most radical innovation at the time of publication.

Here is Mr. Whitman speaking on behalf of the more “playful , vivid, and sometimes taboo jargon” we are all quite familiar with… from his prose essay, let us take a moment to ponder a bit from “Slang in America” (1892).

“ View’d freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. From this point of view, it stands for Language in the largest sense, and is really the greatest of studies. It involves so much; is indeed a sort of universal absorber, combiner, and conqueror. The scope of its etymologies is the scope not only of man and civilization, but the history of Nature in all departments, and of the organic Universe, brought up to date; for all are comprehended in words, and their backgrounds. This is when words become vitaliz’d, and stand for things, as they unerringly and soon come to do, in the mind that enters on their study with fitting spirit, grasp, and appreciation.

Slang, profoundly consider’d, is the lawless germinal element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, and proves a certain perennial rankness and protestantism in speech. As the United States inherit by far their most precious possession—the language they talk and write—from the Old World, under and out of its feudal institutes, I will allow myself to borrow a simile even of those forms farthest removed from American Democracy. Considering Language then as some mighty potentate, into the majestic audience-hall of the monarch ever enters a personage like one of Shakspere’s clowns, and takes position there, and plays a part even in the stateliest ceremonies. Such is Slang, or indirection, an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably, which in highest walks produces poets and poems, and doubtless in pre-historic times gave the start to, and perfected, the whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. For, curious as it may appear, it is strictly the same impulse-source, the same thing. Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away; though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize…

Language, be it remember’d, is not an abstract construction of the learn’d, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the Past as well as the Present, and is the grandest triumph of the human intellect…