"The mind is a compact, multiply connected thought mass with internal connections of the most intimate kind. It grows continuously as new thought masses enter it, and this is the means by which it continues to develop."

Bernhard Riemann On Psychology and Metaphysics ca. 1860

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

The World of Edgar Allan Poe: The Poetic Principle

The World of Edgar Allan Poe: The Poetic Principle

Poe's stance on the poetic principle needs to be set up in contrast (almost in one's preconscious or out of the corner of the eye, so to speak) with the writings of two of his most poetic contemporaries. I refer to Shelley and Keats. While I totally disagree with the opinion of Empson's nasty and dismissive, assertion as to Poe's poetry providing evidence of his smoking peyote, he is certainly correct in his evaluation of Shelley and Keats. (Sadly, Empson seemed to be inflicted with the intellectual virus of kowtowing to existential modern muck. This is to be seen clearly in his adulation of T.S Eliot and echoing of Henry James.)

Shelley's ideal that poets are the true legislators of the world might, one supposes, stand as an instance of what Poe derides as didacticism. However, Shelley's poems have no tarnish of the dogmatic about them. Contrast them in your mind's eye, if you will, with those rather blistering and truly didactic verses of John Donne.

Keats' usage of the writings on melancholy of Burton, on the other hand do comport with Poe's principle of poetic sentiment. None other than the towering figure of Ibn Sina wrote as much centuries earlier when he wrote of the soul's metaphorical condition as a forlorn wish to be able to soar as a bird. This thought if properly teased out inexorably leads us to Leonardo's quest and today's extra terrestrial imperative as much as Shelley's skylark.

Which is to agree with Edgar that for the common prosaic soul (or should I have ventured to say commoner here, dear reader?) the didactic 'sdeath, so to speak. But the exceptions (and most ironically Mr. Poe is one of them) are the soul of true poesy, as Keats would have it in his ode to a Grecian urn.

To explain, Poe was and always will be himself most thoroughly a patriotic American scientist willy-nilly. As was Shelley. But not of the sort of the proverbial Yankee ingenuity lampooned by Twain. In fact, Poe's war with the Boston Brahmin "frogpondians" is instructive and to the point here.

Poe is a scientific detective into the political motives of such as Disraeli, Young America's Margaret Fuller, and the bilge of poetaster Pre-pre-Raphaelite Thomas Carlyle. Which is to say, there is a moral hazard in taking the politics out of Poe. For instance, the correspondence and quite uncharming embrace of Margaret Fuller with Mazzini's Young Europe gets us rather immediately to the kernel of Poe's patriotic detective work. (And let it not go unsaid that it is most unfortunate that Paulding seemed to have been turned against Poe.) The overriding point being that the same Young American political outfit were supporters of the confederacy, i.e. pawns of Lord Palmerston's unholy political zoo of movements and isms.

While Poe is absolutely correct in his aspersions cast against the quite evil Francis Bacon, Martin Van Buren, and Andrew Jackson, he was nonetheless unfortunately taken in by the hoax of Sir Isaac Newton. One does wonder if he had lived would he have come to know the ageless genius of Leibniz and have realized his error, similarly to Shelley's conversion via Raphael Sanzio.

If you understand the foregoing, dear reader then it should not shock you that Poe was vilified for his potential that he threatened in his modus of debunking the politics of America's literati and their desire to return us to mother (as in MI5) England. This is the apparatus that carried out the hatchet job against both Keats and Poe.

P.S. I ran into a rather nasty patch of this type of skulduggery while investigation the literary association of an ancestor of mine: John Curtis Chamberlain. Poe's satire of the Folio Club is instructive here. For it turns out that he was a Harvard educated lawyer in a certain literary circle headed by an obscure Harvard publisher by the name of Joseph Dennie. In particular, Dennie's dismissal of Leibniz in one of letters while attending Harvard, stuck in my craw. For my experience at the University of Buffalo when introduced to Leibniz' Monadology was rather like Keats' metaphor of wild surmise. That is, I was as if thunderstruck by Leibniz thoroughly principled use of the Socratic absolute negation in his irrefutable theodicy. How the anglophilic Dennie could wave Leibniz off as stuffy and boring evinces a clear instance of what Schiller might have referred to as the soul of a mere bread learner masquerading as a lover of the arts. But the issue of Leibniz versus Newton was a sort of intellectual puntum saliens of the those days. (Dennie appears later to have somewhat come to his senses via his publishing association with John Quincy Adams in Philadelphia.) The cult of Newton worship is a more powerful weapon in a certain sense in the hands of MI5's Bertrand Lord Russell than was his openly evil avowed desideratum to bomb the Russians previous to their having developed the hydrogen bomb.


  1. Curiously enough, some years after Poe's death, George W. Eveleth made the same comment about Leibniz. He believed that had Poe lived longer, he would have turned against Newton and revised certain sections of "Eureka" as a result.

  2. A thousand thanks for this comment! But it is quite lawful that infinities (or one might venture universalities) do meet in this our non Euclidean projective finite sphere of dialog. The Poe West Point connection with Ecole Polytechnique's secret weapon Jacob Steiner here is instructive.

  3. Thingumbom,

    Love your blog!

    I think you'd like mine: scarriet@wordpress.com

    See my exploration of Poe's death---which doesn't get into the politics---but should be instructive, nonetheless.




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