Today's Elites

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why The Muse Eludes Even The Well Intentioned

William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity displays a rare talent for ferreting out metaphorical irony in Keats, Shakespeare, and especially Shelley, who he fully "got." It is a downright shame though that he swallows whole hog the poppycock that Poe was some sort of peyote eating lunatic a la Aleister Crowley. In fact, Poe spent his literary life exposing just such charlatans. The idea that his verse is mere surface and just so much pretty (or noxious) noise (here Empson cynically shoves The Bells at us as proof) is fallacious.

Poe realized that the Boston Brahmin "frogpondians" were engaged in a mission to betray the purpose of America's founding. This he stated over and again in a myriad of ways throughout his works. (Empson's praise for T.S. Elliot is significant in this regard.) The mystical and mellifluous babble of these would be transcendentalists is nowhere exhibited more perfectly than from the prose of one Amos Bronson Alcott. To wit:

"Nature is quick with spirit. In eternal systole and diastole, the living tides course gladly along, incarnating organ and vessel in their mystic flow. Let her pulsations for a moment pause on their errands, and creation's self ebbs instantly into chaos and invisibility again. The visible world is the extremist wave of that spiritual flood, whose flux is life, whose reflux death, efflux thought, and conflux light. Organization is the confine of incarnation,—body the atomy of God."

Alcott's, like his admirer Thoreau's, Utopian fiascoes were part and parcel of the British sponsored anti-science irrationality imported by way of Calcutta, among other haunts of their opium trade. (Of which the Boston blue blood merchant vessels of the Lowells, et al. enjoyed their fair share as Tory sympathizers.) It is this inane type of twaddle that Poe so artfully excoriates in "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," for instance. Poe's criticism is continually aimed at routing out and ridiculing this very sort of non sense for the American reading public. This is the same sort of behaviorist and deconstructionist rot that the American Psychological Association's style book of symbolic mysticism imposes on our woe betid students today.

So what was the "hidden metaphor" in poems like Annabelle Lee, that Empson, and his ilk, couldn't appreciate? What but the very soul of beauty under attack here upon these American shores...


  1. Yes! Very interesting indeed; it spells out much of what I've tried for years to express about Poe. (Judging by my blog's hit count, the effort hasn't been too successful, but, well, one keeps trying.)

  2. As he of the melancholy elixir noted when the printing press came to be all on a sudden there were swarms of drivelers. So today the blogosphere is riddled. But the truth will out, even though many men and women of genius make all sorts of hasty business thereat.


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