Monday, January 24, 2011

Try Poe's Poetry

Last week marked the 211th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, but the Poe Toaster failed to show once again. In a tradition that stretches back to the 1940's, a mysterious figure dressed in black with a white scarf and a wide-brimmed black hat would sneak into Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore; laying three roses and a half-full bottle of cognac at the foot of the marker of Poe's original grave. It has become a tradition among fans of Poe to watch out for this remarkable visitor, but when the traditional offering failed to take place this year for the second year in a row, the Poe pilgrims fear that the tradition is no more. But they are not certain.

It is fitting that this inscrutable enigma is associated with Edgar Allan Poe, a man who was found in the streets of 1849 Baltimore in delirious condition two days before he died, wearing clothes that were not his own. To this day, no one is even sure of the exact reason of his death. For a man whose very death is clouded in mystery, I believe that he himself would be pleased with the bizarre ritual visits to his grave marker.

This master of suspense and virtuoso of terror, creator of so many stories exploring the themes of regret, self-doubt, death, and fear (not to mention being the great-grandfather of the modern detective novel) also had a passion for words and a pen tuned to meter and rhyme. Poe produced soaring poetry that has always reverberated throughout the undercurrents of literature in the last century and a half. It was his poetry that made up the first two books he ever published and it was his poetry that inspired the French Symbolist movement of the late 19th century. Some of Poe's best work occurred when his tragic, horror-ridden side connected with his supreme control of words and meter, such as in the Raven, the first stanza of which follows:

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
''Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.'"

The rest of this magnum opus as well as all of his other stories and poetry can be found here at DPPL. In closing, I'd like to remind you of what they say in the old country: without Poe, poetry would just be ___try.


Linda K said...

I love "The Raven" and "Annabelle Lee" because dark and dreary is my kind of poetry. I think it was before you joined our staff Joel, but once upon a time we had a staff day - Camp Happy River was the theme - where Readers' Services (our totem was the raven) read a poem (with apologies to Poe) written by Jeanne with input from some of the staff. Instead of "Nevermore" we said things like "you must go to the 4th floor." Lots of fun.

Karen said...

I hadn't heard that the Poe Toaster had vanished! My BA in English mostly focused on poetry so I've read my share of EAP. Not my favorite but certainly very enjoyable - he knew how to conjure up a good scare!

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