Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

Edgar Allan Poe Statue Richmond
“Poe constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty…Poe’s supremacy in this respect has cost him his reputation. This is a phenomenon which occurs when an artist achieves such perfection as to place himself hors concours

Yet his is the first—almost the only name that the real connoisseur looks for…

…His poems always have the universe as their background…

…In his stories of mystery and imagination Poe created a world-record for the English language: perhaps for all the languages. The story of the Lady Ligeia is not merely one of the wonders of literature: it is unparalleled and unapproached. There is really nothing to be said about it: we others simply take off our hats and let Mr. Poe go first.

Poe’s limitation was his aloofness from the common people…His houses are haunted houses, his woods enchanted woods; and he makes them so real that reality itself cannot sustain the comparison. His kingdom is not of this world…

Above all, Poe is great because he is independent of cheap attractions…His verse sometimes alarms and puzzles the reader by fainting with its own beauty; but the beauty is never the beauty of the flesh. You never say to him as you have to say uneasily to so many modern artists: ‘Yes, my friend, but these are things that men and women should live and not write about. Literature is not a keyhole for people with starved affections to peep through at the banquets of the body.’

It also explains why America does not care much for him, and why he has hardly been mentioned in England these many years. America and England are wallowing in the sensuality which their immense increase of riches has placed within their reach. I do not blame them: sensuality is a very necessary and healthy and educative element in life. Unfortunately, it is ill-distributed, and our reading masses are looking on it and thinking about it and longing for it, and having precarious little holiday treats of it, instead of sharing it temperately and continuously, and ceasing to be preoccupied with it. When the distribution is better adjusted and the preoccupation ceases, there will be a noble reaction in favor of the great writers like Poe, who begin just where the world, the flesh, and the devil leave off.”

-George Bernard Shaw, “Edgar Allan Poe,” “Nation,” January 16, 1909

Although Poe is probably a larger figure in popular consciousness than when Shaw wrote this essay, I fear that in our "Fifty Shades" world, the "better adjusted distribution" and subsequent "noble reaction" he anticipated is more unlikely than ever.

(Image of Edgar Allan Poe statue, Capitol Square, Richmond Va, via Wikipedia.)