Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Be That Word Our Sign of Parting...

This is just to say that I'll be taking a hiatus from this blog. (I'm suddenly picturing all of you responding to this statement by quoting to me the words of Oliver Cromwell: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately...Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!")

I had only one reason for starting World of Poe back in 2009--to leave "on the record" (even if it's in this obscure back alley of cyberspace) some sort of counterargument to the many errors, misconceptions, deliberate lies, and, here and there, (particularly on the Internet) sheer gibbering insanity that have hopelessly befuddled any efforts to truly understand Edgar Allan Poe.

Like so many others before me, I found it very difficult to reconcile the profound idealism and deep spiritual insight of Poe's writings with the degraded, almost buffoonish person found in his biographies. It is easy to imagine that a man can be a deeply flawed person and still be a talented writer. It is impossible to imagine that such an individual can be a wise writer. And Poe was not only a wise and enlightened writer indeed--one of the very wisest I have ever encountered--but an eminently sane, even compassionate one. ("Not only do I think it paradoxical to speak of a man of genius as personally ignoble, but I confidently maintain that the highest genius is but the loftiest moral nobility.") I realized that something had to be wrong somewhere. So I began examining his history more closely, and soon discovered that nearly everything was wrong. His "accepted" life story consisted largely of one bizarre falsehood after another. Rufus Griswold's memoir was not an anomaly. It was a template. (And, if you can imagine it, I have avoided writing here about some of the more appalling crimes that have been perpetrated against Poe, simply because I knew few would believe me.)

However eccentric or inept my rebuttals may have been, well, Edgar, at least I tried. I only hope I've done my "mite" (as George W. Eveleth would say) in aiding what I have come to think of as the Poe samizdat. Let me put it this way: If I've managed to persuade just one person to look at everything said or written about the man with a certain healthy skepticism, it will all have been worth it.

I suppose my admittedly odd crusade is all thanks to "Eureka." For many years, the work was generally regarded as the ravings of a madman or megalomaniac. In recent times, the focus has been almost exclusively on Poe's cosmology, reducing his book to a mere scientific essay. What both schools of thought have largely overlooked is that "Eureka" is, as Poe himself said, "a poem"--to my mind, one of the greatest ever written. It is difficult to pull individual quotes from this work--it must be read as a whole, really, or not read at all--but there are some particular passages that I have studied so often I practically have them memorized:
"...But now comes the period at which a conventional World-Reason awakens us from the truth of our dream. ­ Doubt, Surprise and Incomprehensibility arrive at the same moment. They say:--'You live and the time was when you lived not. You have been created. An Intelligence exists greater than your own; and it is only through this Intelligence you live at all.' These things we struggle to comprehend and cannot:--cannot, because these things, being untrue, are thus, of necessity, incomprehensible.

No thinking being lives who, at some luminous point of his life of thought, has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding, or believing, that anything exists greater than his own soul. The utter impossibility of any one’s soul feeling itself inferior to another; the intense, overwhelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought;--these, with the omniprevalent aspirations at perfection, are but the spiritual, coincident with the material, struggles towards the original Unity--are, to my mind at least, a species of proof far surpassing what Man terms demonstration, that no one soul is inferior to another--that nothing is, or can be, superior to any one soul--that each soul is, in part, its own God--its own Creator:--in a word, that God--the material and spiritual God--now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of the Universe; and that the regathering of this diffused Matter and Spirit will be but the re-constitution of the purely Spiritual and Individual God.

In this view, and in this view alone, we comprehend the riddles of Divine Injustice--of Inexorable Fate. In this view alone the existence of Evil becomes intelligible; but in this view it becomes more--it becomes endurable. Our souls no longer rebel at a Sorrow which we ourselves have ­imposed upon ourselves, in furtherance of our own purposes--with a view--if even with a futile view--to the extension of our own Joy."

The close of "Eureka" contains the two finest lines he ever wrote:
"Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness--that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life--Life--Life within Life--the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine."

Strange, and to some, outrageous, though it may sound, "Eureka" has been a vital help and consolation in my long, painful struggles to make some sense of this "material and spiritual universe." For that reason alone, I will always feel love and gratitude towards Edgar Poe, and a corresponding desire to defend his name against all the dirty work--whether anyone in the world listens to me or not. I owe the man at least that much.

I hope to continue posting here from time to time, whenever I come across anything else in Poe "scholarship" that particularly annoys me. (Or if, God help us, Lenore Hart decides to lift from write another Poe novel.) I find abandoned blogs peculiarly depressing; it's like walking into a ghost town. For now, however, I'll "sling the knapsack for new fields," and focus my energies, such as they are, elsewhere.

So, as far as this space is concerned, I bid farewell--as cordially to foes as to friends.Edgar Allan Poe blog final post