Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Ulalume" Published 1847

by Edgar Allan Poe

The final stanza was only included in its initial publication in the American Review in December 1847. Subsequent reprints, including those authorized by the author, removed it.

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere--
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir--
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul--
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll--
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole--
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere--
Our memories were treacherous and sere,--
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)--
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here)--
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn--
As the star-dials hinted of morn--
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn--
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said: "She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs--
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies--
To the Lethean peace of the skies--
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes--
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: "Sadly this star I mistrust--
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Ah, hasten! -ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! -let us fly! -for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust--
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust--
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied: "This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight!--
See! -it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright--
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom--
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb--
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: "What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied: "Ulalume -Ulalume--
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere--
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: "It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed -I journeyed down here!--
That I brought a dread burden down here--
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber--
This misty mid region of Weir--
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

{Said we, then — the two, then —" Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds —
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls ?")

"Ulalume" is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1847. Much like a few of Poe's other poems (such as "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "Lenore"), "Ulalume" focuses on the narrator's loss of a beautiful woman due to her death. Poe originally wrote the poem as an elocution piece and, as such, the poem is known for its focus on sound. Additionally, it makes many allusions, especially to mythology, and the identity of Ulalume herself, if a real person, has been questioned.


The poem takes place on a night in the "lonesome October" with a gray sky as the leaves are withering for the autumn season. In the region of Weir, by the lake of Auber, the narrator roams with a "volcanic" heart. He has a "serious and sober" talk with his soul, though he does not realize it is October or where his roaming is leading him. He remarks on the stars as night falls, remarking on the brightest one, and wonders if it knows that the tears on his cheeks have not yet dried. His soul, however, mistrusts the star and where it is leading them. Just as the narrator calms his soul, he realizes he unconsciously has walked to the vault of his "lost Ulalume" on the very night he had buried her one year before.


Unlike Poe's poem "Annabel Lee", this poem presents a narrator who is not conscious of his return to the grave of his lost love.[1] This reveals the speaker's dependence on Ulalume and her love; his losing her leaves him not only sad but absolutely devastated and, by visiting her grave, he unconsciously subjects himself to further self-inflicted anguish.[2] The poem has a heavy focus on decay and deterioration: the leaves are "withering" and the narrator's thoughts are "palsied".[3] Like many of Poe's later poems, "Ulalume" has a strong sense or rhythm and musicality.[4] The verses are purposefully sonorous, built around sound to create feelings of sadness and anguish.[5] The poem employs Poe's typical theme of the "death of a beautiful woman", which he considered "the most poetical topic in the world".[6] Biographers and critics have often suggested that Poe's obsession with this theme stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother Eliza Poe, his wife, and his foster mother Frances Allan.[7]

The identity of Ulalume in the poem is questionable. Poe scholar and distant relative Harry Lee Poe says it is autobiographical and shows Poe's grief over the recent death of his wife Virginia.[8] Scholar Scott Peeples notes that "Ulalume" serves as a sequel to "The Raven".[9] Poetically, the name Ulalume emphasizes the letter L, a frequent device in Poe's female characters such as "Annabel Lee", "Eulalie", and "Lenore".[10] If it really stands for a deceased love, Poe's choosing to refer to Ulalume as "the thing" and "the secret" do not seem endearing terms.[11] In one possible view, Ulalume may be representative of death itself.[11]


The "dim lake of Auber" may be a reference to composer Daniel François Esprit Auber.Much work has been done by scholars to identify all of Poe's allusions, most notably by Thomas Ollive Mabbott, though other scholars suggest that the names throughout the poem should be valued only because of their poetic sounds.[12] The title itself suggests wailing (from the Latin ululare).[13] The name may also allude to the Latin lumen, a light symbolizing sorrow.[14] The narrator personifies his soul as the ancient Greek Psyche, representing the irrational but careful part of his subconsciousness. It is Psyche who first feels concerned about where they are walking and makes the first recognition that they have reached Ulalume's vault.

The bright star they see is Astarte, a goddess associated with Venus[3] and connected with fertility and sexuality. The "sinfully scintillant planet" in the original final verse is another reference to Venus.[1] Astarte may represent a sexual temptress or a vision of the ideal.[15] Mount Yaanek, with its "sulphurous currents" in the "ultimate climes of the pole", has been associated with Mount Erebus, a volcano in Antarctica first sighted in 1841,[13] although Yaanek's location is specified as being in "the realms of the boreal pole", indicating an Arctic location rather than an Antarctic one for the fictional counterpart. The Auber and Weir references in the poem may be to two contemporaries of Poe: Daniel François Esprit Auber, a composer of sad operatic tunes,[16] and Robert Walter Weir, a painter of the Hudson River School famous for his landscapes.[17]

Publication history

"Ulalume" as it first appeared in the "American Review" in 1847.Poe wrote the poem on the request of Reverend Cotesworth Bronson, who had asked Poe for a poem he could read at one of his lectures on public speaking. He asked Poe for something with "vocal variety and expression". Bronson decided not to use the poem Poe sent him, "Ulalume." Poe then submitted the poem to Sartain's Union Magazine, which rejected it as too dense.[18] Poe probably saw Bronson's request as a personal challenge as well as an opportunity to enhance his renown, especially after his previous poem "The Raven" had also been demonstrated for its elocution style.[19]

"Ulalume - A Ballad" was finally published, albeit anonymously, in the American Whig Review in December, 1847. Originally, Poe had sold his essay "The Rationale of Verse", then unpublished, to the Review's editor George Hooker Colton. Colton did not immediately print the manuscript, so Poe exchanged it for "Ulalume".[20]

It was reprinted by Nathaniel Parker Willis, still anonymously, in the Home Journal with a note asking who the author was, on Poe's request, to stir up interest. Some, including Evert Augustus Duyckinck, presumed that the poem's author was Willis.[21] The initial publication had 10 stanzas. Poe's literary executor Rufus Wilmot Griswold was the first to print "Ulalume" without its final stanza, now the standard version.[22] Poe himself once recited the poem with the final stanza, but admitted it was not intelligible and that it was scarcely clear to himself.[23]

Critical response

Aldous Huxley, in his essay "Vulgarity in Literature", calls "Ulalume" "a carapace of jewelled sound", implying it lacks substance.[24] Huxley uses the poem as an example of Poe's poetry being "too poetical", equivalent to wearing a diamond ring on every finger.[25] Poet Daniel Hoffman says the reader must "surrender his own will" to the "hypnotic spell" of the poem and its "meter of mechanical precision". "Reading 'Ulalume' is like making a meal of marzipan", he says. "There may be nourishment in it but the senses are deadened by the taste, and the aftertaste gives one a pain in the stomach".[26]

The poem did, however, receive some praise. An early 20th century edition of Encyclopædia Britannica referred to noted how the sound in "Ulalume" was successful. It said the "monotonous reiterations [of] 'Ulalume' properly intoned would produce something like the same effect upon a listener knowing no word of English that it produces on us."[4] George Gilfillan remarked in the London Critic:

These, to many, will appear only words; but what wondrous words! What a spell they wield! What a weird unity is in them! The instant they are uttered, a misty picture, with a tarn, dark as a murderer's eye, below, and the thin yellow leaves of October fluttering above, exponents of a misery which scorns the name of sorrow, is hung up in the chambers of your soul forever.[27]

After Poe's death, Thomas Holley Chivers claimed "Ulalume" was plagiarized from one of his poems. Chivers made several similar unfounded accusations against Poe.[28] Even so, he said the poem was "nector mixed with ambrosia".[29] Another friend of Poe, Henry B. Hirst, suggested in the January 22, 1848, issue of the Saturday Courier that Poe had found the "leading idea" of the poem in a work by Thomas Buchanan Read.[30]
Bret Harte composed a parody of the poem entitled "The Willows" featuring the narrator, in the company of a woman called Mary, running out of credit at a bar:

And I said 'What is written, sweet sister,
At the opposite side of the room?'
She sobbed, as she answered, 'All liquors
Must be paid for ere leaving the room.[31]

In other media

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's debut novel This Side of Paradise, the protagonist Amory Blaine recites "Ulalume" while wandering through the countryside. Another character, Eleanor Savage, calls Blaine "the auburn-haired boy who likes 'Ulalume.'" When the two are caught in a thunderstorm, Savage volunteers to play the role of Psyche while Blaine recites the poem.[32]

In H. P. Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness, a character refers to the poem. While looking at a mountain, a character suggests "this mountain, discovered in 1840, had undoubtedly been the source of Poe's image when he wrote seven years later", followed by a few lines of "Ulalume".

Roger Zelazny's 1993 novel, A Night in the Lonesome October, gets its title from this poem, though the book seems to draw little else from Poe.

In the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire the character Blanche DuBois likens the residence of her sister Stella to the "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir", a reference to "Ulalume".

In Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962), Humbert Humbert (James Mason) reads a fragment of the poem to Lolita (Sue Lyon).

In his history of the Union Army, This Hallowed Ground, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Bruce Catton places the American Civil War Battle of Chickamauga as occurring in a dark and frightening place evocative of Poe's "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir".

The singer Jeff Buckley recorded a reading of this poem.


1.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Poe, 'Ligeia,' and the Problem of Dying Women" collected in New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, edited by Kenneth Silverman. Cambridge University Press, 1993: 116. ISBN 0521422434
2.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Poe, 'Ligeia,' and the Problem of Dying Women" collected in New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, edited by Kenneth Silverman. Cambridge University Press, 1993: 117. ISBN 0521422434
3.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992: 336. ISBN 0050923318
4.^ Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998: 168. ISBN 0-8057-4572-6
5.^ Jannaccone, Pasquale (translated by Peter Mitilineos). "The Aesthetics of Edgar Poe", collected in Poe Studies, vol. VII, no. 1, June 1974: 7.
6.^ Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846).
7.^ Weekes, Karen. "Poe's feminine ideal", collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge University Press, 2002: 149. ISBN 0521797276
8.^ Poe, Harry Lee. Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories. New York: Metro Books, 2008: 126. ISBN 978-1-4351-0469-3
9.^ Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998: 169. ISBN 0-8057-4572-6
10.^ Kopley, Richard and Kevin J. Hayes "Two verse masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume'", as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge University Press, 2002: 200. ISBN 0521797276
11.^ Kagle, Steven E. "The Corpse Within Us", as collected in Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV, ed. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1990: 110. ISBN 0961644923
12.^ Kopley, Richard and Kevin J. Hayes. "Two verse masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume'", collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002: 197–198. ISBN 0521797276
13.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992: 211. ISBN 0815410387
14.^ Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998: 170. ISBN 0-8057-4572-6
15.^ Robinson, David. "'Ulalume' - The Ghouls and the Critics", collected in Poe Studies. Volume VIII, Number 1 (June 1975): 9.
16.^ Wolosky, Shira. Poetry and Public Discourse 1820 - 1910 collected in The Cambridge History of American Literature Vol.4, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch, p. 260, Online version of the book (ret: 15 April 2008)
17.^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 185. ISBN 086576008X
18.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 335. ISBN 0060923318
19.^ Kopley, Richard and Kevin J. Hayes. "Two verse masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume'", collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002: 198. ISBN 0521797276
20.^ The Essays, Sketches and Lectures of Edgar Allan Poe, from the Poe Society online
21.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1987: 792. ISBN 0816187347.
22.^ Robinson, David. "'Ulalume' - The Ghouls and the Critics", collected in Poe Studies. Volume VIII, Number 1 (June 1975). p. 8.
23.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 630. ISBN 0801857309
24.^ Kopley, Richard and Kevin J. Hayes. "Two verse masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume'", collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002: 197. ISBN 0521797276
25.^ Huxley, Aldous. "Vulgarity in Literature", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, Robert Regan, editor. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1967: 32.
26.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972: 69. ISBN 0807123218
27.^ Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe: The Man. Volume II. Chicago: The John C. Winston Co., 1926: 1248.
28.^ Moss, Sidney P. Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Milieu. Southern Illinois University Press, 1969: 101.
29.^ Chivers, Thomas Holley. Chivers' Life of Poe, edited by Richard Beale Davis. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1952: 78.
30.^ Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe", The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1962: 147.
31.^ Walter Jerrold and R.M. Leonard (1913) A Century of Parody and Imitation. Oxford University Press: 344-6
32.^ Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. James L. W. West III, editor. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995: 206–209

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Bon-Bon" Published 1832

"Bon-Bon" is a comedic short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in December 1832 in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. Originally called "The Bargain Lost," the story follows a man named Pierre Bon-Bon, who believes himself a profound philosopher, and his encounter with the devil. The humor of the story is based on the verbal interchange between the two, which satirizes classical philosophers including Plato and Aristotle. The devil reveals he has eaten the souls of many of these philosophers, intriguing Bon-Bon.

The story, which received moderate praise, was originally submitted by Poe as "The Bargain Lost," and was his entry to a writing contest. Though none of the five stories he submitted won the prize, the Courier printed them all, possibly without paying Poe for them. This early version of the story has many differences from later versions, which Poe first published as "Bon-Bon" in 1835.

Plot summary

Pierre Bon-Bon is a well-known French restaurant owner and chef, known both for his omelettes and for his metaphysical philosophies. The narrator describes him as profound and a man of genius, as even the man's cat knew. Bon-Bon, who has "an inclination for the bottle", is drinking on a snowy winter night around midnight when he hears a voice. He recognizes it as the devil himself, appearing in a black suit in the style of the previous century, though it was a bit too small for him. He wore green spectacles, had a stylus behind one ear, and a large black book in his breast-pocket. Bon-Bon shook his hand and offered him a seat.

The two engage in conversation, Bon-Bon pressing the devil for a philosophical exchange. He hoped to "elicit some important ethical ideas" which Bon-Bon could publish and make himself famous. Bon-Bon learns that the devil has never had eyes but the devil is convinced his vision is better and "more penetrating" than Bon-Bon's. In fact, the devil reveals he can see the thoughts of others and, as he puts it, "my vision is the soul."
The two share several bottles of wine until Bon-Bon cannot speak without hiccuping. The devil explains how he eats souls and gives a long list of famous philosophers he has "eaten" as well as his assessment of how each tasted. When Bon-Bon suggests that his own soul is qualified for a stew or soufflé, Bon-Bon offers it to his visitor. The devil refusing, says he could not take advantage of the man's "disgusting and ungentlemanly" drunken state. As the devil leaves, Bon-Bon in his disappointment tries to throw a bottle at him. Before he can, however, the lamp above his head comes loose and hits him on the head, knocking him out.

Themes and analysis

Like many of Poe's early tales, "Bon-Bon" was, as Poe wrote, "intended for half banter, half satire"[1] and explores attempts at surviving death.[2] Poe pokes fun at the pretentiousness of scholars by having his character make references to classic Greek and Latin authors, only to hear their souls have been eaten.[3] The comedy in the story is verbal, based on turns of phrase, funny euphemisms, and absurd names.[2]

The phrase "Bonbon" stems from the French word "bon," literally meaning "good," and is often used to describe sweet eatables. Poe examines the Greek tradition of the soul as Pneuma, an internal flame which converts food into a substance that passes into the blood.[4] As the narrator of "Bon-Bon" says, "I am not sure, indeed, that Bon-Bon greatly disagreed with the Chinese, who held that the soul lies in the abdomen. The Greeks at all events were right, he thought, who employed the same words for the mind and the diaphragm."

Among the devil's list of victims are the souls of Plato, Aristophanes, Catullus, Hippocrates, Quintilian[5] and "François Marie Arouet," the real name of Voltaire.[3] As Bon-Bon is offering his own soul, the devil sneezes, referring to a prior moment when the devil says that men dispel bad ideas by sneezing.[6]

Critical response

An editorial in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier thanked Poe for submitting the stories. The writer, presumably editor Lambert A. Wilmer, said that "we have read these tales every syllable, with the greatest pleasure, and for originality, richness of imagery and purity of the style, few American authors in our opinion have produced any thing superior."[7] A reviewer in the Winchester Republication wrote that "Mr. Poe's Bon-Bon is quite a unique and racy affair." William Gwynn, editor of the Baltimore Gazette, wrote that the story "sustains the well established reputation of the author as a writer possessing a rich imaginative genius, and a free, flowing and very happy style."[8]

Publication history

First publication under the title "Bon-Bon—A Tale," Southern Literary Messenger, August 1835Poe originally submitted "Bon-Bon" to the Philadelphia Saturday Courier under the title "The Bargain Lost" as an entry to a writing contest. Poe also submitted four other tales: "Metzengerstein," "The Duke de L'Omelette," "A Tale of Jerusalem," and "A Decided Loss."[9] Though none of his entries won the $100 prize, the editors of the Courier were impressed enough that they published all of Poe's stories over the next few months.[1] "The Bargain Lost" was published on December 1, 1831, though it is unclear if Poe was paid for its publication.[10] There were several differences between this version and later versions: originally, the main character was named Pedro Garcia, his encounter was not with the devil himself but with one of his messengers, and the story takes place in Venice rather than France.[11] Poe retitled the story "Bon-Bon—A Tale" when it was republished in the Southern Literary Messenger in August 1835.[12] It was later published as part of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1845.[13]

The original epigraph preceding the story was from William Shakespeare's As You Like It: "The heathen philosopher, when he had a mind to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put it into his mouth, meaning thereby that grapes were made to eat and lips to open." Poe's final version of the story had a longer epigraph in verse from Les Premiers Traits de l'erudition universelle (The Most Important Characteristics of Universal Wisdom) by Baron Bielfeld.[14]


"Bon-Bon" has not been adapted for the screen but a rewritten version was performed off Broadway in 1920.[11]


1.^ Meyers, Jeffrey (1992). Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press. pp. 64. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7.
2.^ Silverman, Kenneth (1991). Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 89. ISBN 0-06-092331-8.
3.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998) [1941]. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 194. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9.
4.^ Jones, Ernest (1951). Essays in Applied Psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth. pp. 297. OCLC 220544756.
5.^ Silverman, Kenneth (1991). Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 90. ISBN 0-06-092331-8.
6.^ Leverenz, David (2001). "Spanking the Master: Mind-Body Crossings in Poe's Sensationalism". In J. Gerald Kennedy (ed.). A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 103. ISBN 0-195-12150-3.
7.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998) [1941]. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9.
8.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson (1987). The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall. pp. 174. ISBN 0-8161-8734-7.
9.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998) [1941]. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 191–192. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9.
10.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998) [1941]. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 195. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9.
11.^ Sova, Dawn B. (2001). Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books. pp. 31. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X.
12.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log, p. 168.
13.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998) [1941]. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 457. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9.
14.^ Sova, Dawn B. (2001). Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deathday: Poet & Poe Friend Thomas Holley Chivers1858

Thomas Holley Chivers (October 18, 1809 – December 18, 1858) was an American doctor-turned-poet from the state of Georgia. He is best known for his friendship with Edgar Allan Poe and his controversial defense of the poet after his death.

Born into a wealthy Georgia family, Chivers became interested in poetry at a young age. After he and his first wife separated, he received a medical degree from Transylvania University but focused his energy on publishing rather than medicine. In addition to submitting poems to various magazines and journals, Chivers published several volumes of poetry, including The Lost Pleiad in 1845, as well as plays. Edgar Allan Poe showed an interest in the young poet and encouraged his work. Chivers spent the last few years of his life defending the reputation of Poe, who had died in 1849, though he also thought Poe had been heavily influenced by his own poetry. Chivers died in Georgia in 1858.

As a literary theorist, Chivers believed in divine inspiration. He encouraged the development of a distinctive American style of literature and especially promoted young writers. His poems were known for religious overtones with an emphasis on death and reunions with lost loved ones in the afterlife. Though he built up a mild reputation in his day, he was soon forgotten after his death.

Life and work

Chivers was born on October 18, 1809,[1] at Digby Manor, his father's plantation near Washington, Georgia.[2] At age seven, he was introduced to poetry when he read William Cowper's "The Rose".[3] In 1827, Chivers married his 16-year old cousin Frances Elizabeth Chivers. The two soon separated due to alleged meddling by Frances Chivers Albert, the wife of the poet's uncle, prior to the birth of their daughter in 1828.[4] It has also been suggested their separation was due to abuse, though these rumors originated from the same uncle.[5] After this incident, Chivers compared himself to Lord Byron, whose wife had also left him.[6] Chivers went on to receive a degree in medicine in 1830 from Transylvania University in Kentucky. His thesis was titled "Intermittent and Remittent Fevers".[5]

Chivers wandered throughout the West and North of the United States, publishing poetry in various places before returning to Georgia.[6] In 1832, Chivers published The Path of Sorrow, a collection of poetry based on the events of his troubled first marriage. Two years later, he published Conrad and Eudora; or, The Death of Alonzo, the first fictionalized account of the actual 1825 murder case nicknamed the "Kentucky Tragedy". The work was later renamed Leoni, The Orphan of Venice.[7] On November 21, 1834, Chivers married Harriet Hunt of Springfield, Massachusetts and the couple had four children, though all died young.[8] Chivers and his first wife never legally divorced—one such suit was dismissed in court in 1835—but Georgia law invalidated marriage after a spouse's absence of five years or more.[9] Though Chivers contributed to various newspapers and magazines, his poetry was turned down for publication by the Southern Literary Messenger in March 1835, which suggested he return to medicine and the "lancet and pill-box".[6] Though the poems were not printed, unsigned commentary on them was presented in an editorial, referring to verses submitted by "T. H. C., M. D."[10] The Lost Pleiad was self-published in New York in 1845 to initial success, though sales rapidly declined.[11] In 1837, Chivers self-published Nacoochee; or, the Beautiful Star, With Other Poems. The volume was dedicated to his mother, who died a year later.[12]

Relationship with Edgar Allan Poe

Chivers is best known for his association with Edgar Allan Poe and, in fact, it is through this relationship that Chivers and his work was rediscovered in the 20th century.[13] The first interaction between the two was in 1840 though they did not meet until 1845 in New York.[14] The two became friends and Chivers was willing to give Poe lifetime financial support if he moved to the South.[15] Chivers appreciated Poe's ability and wrote that George Rex Graham was seriously underpaying Poe for his work on Graham's Magazine. "He ought to give you ten thousand dollars a year... It is richly worth it... [Graham] is greatly indebted to you. It is not my opinion that you have ever been, or ever will be, paid for your intellectual labours. You need never expect it, until you establish a Magazine of your own", he wrote, referring to Poe's plans to begin The Stylus.[16] Even so, Chivers was concerned about Poe's reputation as a severe literary critic, cautioning him about "when you tomahawk people".[17] Poe, in fact, had been hoping Chivers would lend his wealth as a financial backer for The Stylus and possibly even serve as a co-editor in its early planning stages.[18] Chivers considered Poe's proposal but was not able to accept because of the death of his three-year-old daughter just over a week later.[19]

Poe had written about Chivers in the second part of his "Autography" series, published in Graham's Magazine in December of 1841. Poe said:

"His productions affect one as a wild dream — strange, incongruous, full of images of more than arabesque monstrosity, and snatches of sweet unsustained song. Even his worst nonsense (and some of it is horrible) has an indefinite charm of sentiment and melody. We can never be sure that there is any meaning in his words — neither is there any meaning in many of our finest musical airs — but the effect is very similar in both. His figures of speech are metaphor run mad, and his grammar is often none at all. Yet there are as fine individual passages to be found in the poems of Dr. Chivers, as in those of any poet whatsoever."[20]

The two had corresponded through letters but finally met in June or July 1845. Chivers visited Poe when Poe was sick and bedridden and when Poe's wife Virginia was in an especially difficult period of her struggle with tuberculosis. Chivers later recalled that Poe's voice was "like the soft tones of an Aeolian Harp when the music that has been sleeping in the strings is awakened by the Breezes of Eden laden with sweet Spices from the mountains of the Lord".[21]

By September 1845, however, Chivers was lecturing Poe on the dangers of alcohol. A Prohibitionist, he said Poe was wasting his God-given talents by indulging in drink. "Why should a Man whom God, by nature, has endowed with such transcendent abilities, so degrade himself into the veriest automaton as to be moved only by the poisonous steam of Hell-fire?" he said. While Poe's wife Virginia was sick, Chivers had to carry Poe home after a night of excess.[17]

Moreover, as attested to in an 1848 pamphlet titled Search After Truth, Chivers disagreed with Poe regarding aesthetics. This small booklet presents a series of dialogues between the Seer [Chivers] and Politian [Poe]. For Chivers, a poet should be a Shelleyan or Swedenborgian visionary intent on capturing mystic realms of experience in language. For Poe, the poet is merely a superior wordsmith. The wise Seer ultimately leads Politan to the truth.[22]

After Poe's death

After Poe's death, Chivers accused Poe of plagiarizing both "The Raven" and "Ulalume" from his own work[23] though other critics suggested Chivers's Eonchs of Ruby were a "mediocre restatement" of Poe's poems.[24] The first poem of the collection, "The Vigil of Aiden", was an homage to Poe, using names like "Lenore" and the refrain "forever more!"[25] On July 30, 1854, Chivers published an essay called "Origin of Poe's Raven" under the pseudonym Fiat Justitia, claiming that he inspired Poe to use trochaic octameter and the word "nevermore" in "The Raven".[26] Chivers also suggested in the Georgia Citizen that Poe learned to write poetry from him. As literary scholar Randy Nelson wrote: "anybody who's read both Poe and Thomas Holley Chivers can see that one of them 'influenced' the other, but just who took what from whom isn't clear."[27]

Even so, Chivers continued to praise and admire Poe (albeit careful to point out Poe's literary debt to him) and was one of the first to present a picture of the "real Poe" in the face of the sustained attacks on Poe's reputation by the Reverend Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the poet's literary executor. This correction took the form of a memoir now titled Chivers' Life of Poe, not published until 1952.[14] Chivers said of Griswold that he "is not only incompetent to Edit any of [Poe's] works, but totally unconscious of the duties which he and every man who sets himself up as a Literary Executor, owe the dead."[28] Chivers continued to defend Poe's reputation until the end of his life.

Final years and death

From 1845 to 1850, Chivers had been living with his wife in Georgia, then spent the next five years in the North. His poetry collection Eonchs of Ruby, A Gift of Love was published in 1851 with a subtitle meant to capitalize on the gift book trend. Chivers explained the title: "The Word Eonch is the same as Concha Marina—Shell of the Sea. Eonch is used... merely for its euphony."[29] Throughout the collection, Chivers experiments with the sonic effects of words rather than their literal meaning.[30] Atlanta: or the True Blessed Island of Poesy: A Paul Epic in Three Lustra was first published in three installments in the Georgia Citizen beginning in January 1853.[31] Later that year, Memoralia; or, Philas of Amber Full of the Tears of Love was printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and generally received unfavorably.[32] Very shortly after, the same publisher brought out Virginalia; or, Songs of My Summer Nights, a collection made up of poems that were generally under 200 lines each, about half of which had previously been published in magazines.[33]

By 1855, Chivers and his wife had moved back to Georgia and he predicted that the slavery issue would soon force his home state to break from the United States.[34] A slaveholder himself, Chivers did not believe that slaves should be abused, though he still defended the institution against abolitionists.[35] Struck with sudden illness, Chivers wrote his will before dying on December 18, 1858, in Decatur, Georgia.[36] His last words were, "All is perfect peace with me."[37] His last published work, a drama titled The Sons of Usna, had been published earlier that year.[34] At the time of his death, Chivers had prepared several manuscripts of his literary theory with the intention of publishing them in several volumes of books and as part of a lecture series.[38] In his will, he left one dollar for his first wife and their daughter.[5]

Poetic theory and literary reputation

In his poetry, Chivers made use of legends and themes from Native American culture, particularly the Cherokee, though often with Christian overtones.[39] He was also heavily influenced by the work of François-René de Chateaubriand[40] and Emanuel Swedenborg.[41] Many of Chivers's poems included themes of death and sorrow, often using images of shrouds, coffins, angels, and reunions with lost loves in the afterlife.[21] Religious conventions at the time made discussion of death popular, as was reflected in poetry. Because of his background as a doctor, Chivers was able to graphically depict the last moments before someone's death.[5]

Chivers believed in a close connection between poetry and God and that true poetry could only be written through divine inspiration. He once wrote: "Poets are the apostles of divine thought, who are clothed with an authority from the Most High, to work miracles in the minds of men".[42] He also wrote: "Poetry is the power given by God to man of manifesting... the wise relations that subsist between him and God", and it "is that crystal river of the soul which runs through all the avenues of life, and after purifying the affections of the heart, empties itself into the Sea of God".[43] In Nacoochee, the preface states: "Poetry is that crystal river of the soul which runs thorugh all the avenues of life, and after purifying the affections of the heart, empties itself into the Sea of God."[12] In his introduction to Atlanta, written in 1842 but not published until 1853, Chivers gives a lengthy discussion of his poetic theory, pre-dating many ideas Poe would suggest in "The Poetic Principle" (1850). Chivers, for example, suggests that poems should be short to be successful: "No poem of any considerable length... can be pleasing to any well-educated person for any length of time".[44] He also experimented with blank verse as early as 1832 and his 1853 collection, Virginalia, included mostly poems using blank verse.[45]

At least for a time, he considered Elizabeth Barrett Browning the best contemporary English poet.[46] Like many from his time, Chivers called for the development of a distinctive American literature and he especially encouraged young writers.[47] Poe called the 1845 poetry collection The Lost Pleiad "the honest and fervent utterance of an exquisitely sensitive heart."[21] Overall, he called Chivers "one of the best and one of the worst poets in America".[48] William Gilmore Simms offered conditional praise of Chivers's poetry as well: "He possesses a poetic ardor sufficiently fervid, and a singularly marked command of language. But he should have been caught young, and well-bitted, and subjected to the severest training... As an artist, Dr. Chivers is yet in his accidence."[6] Simms also commented that his works were too gloomy and melancholy.[11]

Though Chivers built up a mild reputation during his lifetime, counting Algernon Charles Swinburne among his admirers,[36] his fame faded away quickly after his death. Other writers that acknowledged his influence included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Rudyard Kipling.[49] Others, however, were more critical. One anonymous reviewer, possibly Evert Augustus Duyckinck, joked that Chivers was formulaic and suggested the formula included 30% Percy Bysshe Shelley, 20% Poe, 20% "mild idiocy", 10% "gibbering idiocy", 10% "raving mania" and 10% "sweetness and originality".[50] Literary scholar S. Foster Damon wrote that Chivers would have had a stronger reputation if he were born in the North and "the literary coteries there would surely have pruned and preserved him... But the time and space were against him."[13]

List of works

Eonchs of Ruby (1851)
The Path of Sorrow; or, the Lament of Youth (1832)
Conrad and Eudora; or, the Death of Alonzo (1834)
Nacoochee; or, the Beautiful Star With Other Poems (1837)
The Lost Pleiad, and Other Poems (1845)
Search After Truth; or, A New Revelation of the Psycho-Physiological Nature of Man. (1848)
Eonchs of Ruby: a Gift of Love (1851)
The Death of the Devil, A Serio-Ludicro, Tragico-Comico, Nigero-Whiteman Extravaganza (1852)
Atlanta; or, the True Blessed Island of Poesy, a Paul Epic (1853) [1]
Memoralia; or, Phials of Amber Full of the Tears of Love (1853)
Virginalia; or, Songs of My Summer Nights (1853)
The Sons of Usna: a Tragic Apotheosis in Five Acts (1858)

Further reading

Bell, Landon C. Poe and Chivers.Columbus: Charles A. Trowbridge Co., 1931.
Brown, Ellen Firsching. "The Genius and Tragedy of Georgia's Lost Poet". Georgia Backroads, Vol. 8 No. 3, Autumn 2009.
Damon, S. Foster. Thomas Holley Chivers, Friend of Poe. New York, 1930
Davis, Richard Beale, editor. Chivers' Life of Poe. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1952.


1.^ Nelson, 47
2.^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 260. ISBN 0195031865
3.^ Parks, 166
4.^ Watts, 113-114
5.^ Lombard, 13
6.^ Hubbell, 551
7.^ Whited, 404–405
8.^ Lombard, 14–15
9.^ Lombard, 12
10.^ Lombard, 14
11.^ Lombard, 46
12.^ Lombard, 38
13.^ Hubbell, 550
14.^ Lombard, 99
15.^ Kennedy, 54
16.^ Thomas and Jackson, 465
17.^ Meyers, 140
18.^ Silverman, 189-190
19.^ Silverman, 190
20.^ Poe, Edgar Allan (December 1841). "A Chapter on Autography (Part II)". Graham's Magazine. pp. 273–286.
21.^ aSilverman, 259
22.^ Chivers, Thomas Holley. Search After Truth. New York: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1976.
23.^ Moss, 101
24.^ Lombard, 17
25.^ Lombard, 62–63
26.^ Parks, 182.
27.^ Nelson, 212
28.^ Chivers, 70
29.^ Lombard, 61
30.^ Lombard, 76
31.^ Lombard, 77
32.^ Lombard, 85
33.^ Lombard, 89
34.^ Lombard, 97
35.^ Lombard, 114
36.^ Lombard, 18
37.^ Hubbell, 552
38.^ Parks, 183
39.^ Lombard, 28
40.^ Lombard, 24
41.^ Lombard, 29
42.^ Parks, 158
43.^ Hubbell, 553
44.^ Lombard, 78
45.^ Lombard, 121
46.^ Parks, 169
47.^ Parks, 174
48.^ Thomas & Jackson. 353
49.^ Lombard, 132
50.^ Moore, Rayburn S. "A New Look at Thomas Holley Chivers", The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 13, no. 1. Fall 1980: University of North Carolina Press: 131.


Chivers, Thomas Holley. Chivers' Life of Poe, Richard Beale Davis (editor). New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1952.
Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. "A Brief Biography", A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0195121503
Lombard, Charles M. Thomas Holley Chivers. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0805772588
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. ISBN 0815410387
Moss, Sidney P. Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.
Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981. ISBN 086576008X
Parks, Edd Winfield. Ante-Bellum Southern Literary Critics. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1962.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. ISBN 0060923318
Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849. New York: G. K. Hall and Co., 1987. ISBN 0783814011
Watts, Charles Henry. Thomas Holley Chivers; His Literary Career and His Poetry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1956.
Whited, Stephen R. "Kentucky Tragedy", The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People, Joseph M. Flora and Lucinda Hardwick MacKethan (editors). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. ISBN 0807126926. Accessed January 24, 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Deathday: Poet and Poe Historian Lizette Woodworth Reese 1935

Lizette Woodworth Reese
Lizette Woodworth Reese (January 9, 1856 – December 17, 1935) was an American poet. Born in the Waverly section of Baltimore, Maryland, she was a school teacher from 1873 to 1918. During the 1920s, she became a prominent literary figure, receiving critical praise and recognition, in particular from H. L. Mencken, himself from Baltimore. She has been cited as an influence on younger women poets and has been compared to Emily Dickinson.

-- wiki

Lizette Woodworth Reese was born and raised in Waverly, Maryland, just off the road that ran between Baltimore and York, Pennsylvania. She began her teaching career at age 17 at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church's parish school and in 1901, moved to Baltimore's Western High School, where she taught English until she retired in 1921.

Johns Hopkins University professor and long-time acquaintance David M. Robinson described her this way: "With her sound-minded simplicity, [she] seemed to me like a charming child. But she had a genial humanism equal to that of the ancient Greeks… She was a lovely little lady with a staccato touch in her voice and sometimes a lively, lilting lisp. But she had a wonderful, strong, and fearless personality."

Poet Amy Lowell said that Reese's poem "Tears" was "as fine a sonnet as any by Elizabeth Barrett Browning." That poem was first published in Scribner's magazine. Reese said that the check from Scribner's arrived just a few hours after her father's death, "as the crape was being hung from the door."

Reese lived in her childhood home until her mother died, lived the last 20 years of her life with her sister's family, and died at Church Home and Infirmary (as did Edgar Allan Poe 90 years earlier). She's buried in her old neighborhood—now in the heart of Baltimore—in the graveyard next to St. John's Church.

-- The Baltimore Literary Heritage Project

Lizette Woodworth Reese
Lizette Woodworth Reese

American poet, prose writer, and short story writer


Although relatively unknown today, Reese was a popular American poet during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Praised for her concise style, her emotional yet never sentimental voice, and her nostalgic subjects, Reese earned a devoted following among critics and the public throughout her life. However, with the advent of modern poetic styles and her death, Reese faded into relative obscurity. Today she is known primarily as a transitional writer, bridging the gap between the Victorian and modern poets. In addition to her poetry, Reese published three books of recollections of late nineteenth-century small town life.

Biographical Information

Reese was born in the small Maryland town of Waverly, then known as Huntingdon, on January 9, 1856. One of four sisters, Reese remained in the Baltimore area throughout her lifetime. After attending public schools, which Reese supplemented with a voracious appetite for classic English literature, she secured a position as a teacher at Saint John's Parish School in 1873. In June 1874, she published her first poem “The Deserted House,” in Southern Magazine. Although the poem lacked the skill of her later work, Reese established the themes and style for which she would be known: a solemn tone, the theme of eternal nature juxtaposed against the decay of society, the personification of nature, the simple and efficient use of language, and a brevity of description. During the next thirteen years Reese continued to write and publish in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Monthly and Scribner's. In 1887 Reese used her own funds to publish her first collection of poems, A Branch of May. She sent copies of the work to such noted critics as Thomas Wentworth Higginson, William Dean Howells, and Edmund Clarence Stedman, who would become an influential figure in her career. Critics responded enthusiastically to her short, straightforward poetry which differed from the heavy, grandiose verse of the Victorians. Reese was able to publish her second volume of poetry with Houghton Mifflin in 1891. Upon the publication of her third collection in 1896, Reese had established herself as a noteworthy poet in America and England. After teaching in the Baltimore public schools for forty-five years while concurrently pursuing a writing career, Reese retired in 1921 and devoted more of her time to writing. Before her death in 1935 she published five more collections of poetry and wrote two works of childhood recollections. After her death a final volume of poetry, The Old House in the Country, was published in 1936.

Major Works

Reese published eleven works of poetry, spanning from her first self-published collection A Branch of May in 1887 to her posthumously published The Old House in the Country in 1936. Although she acquired greater skill throughout her career and experimented somewhat with form, her work is generally uniform in style, voice, tone, and content. Reese rejected social commentary and observations on modernity and industrialization, instead focusing on aspects of nature and life which she had witnessed in her quiet rural surroundings in Waverly. She chose such subjects as death, religion, and pastoral scenes. In 1909 she published A Wayside Lute, which contained her best known and most highly regarded poem, the sonnet “Tears.” Reese primarily wrote short, rhymed, metered verse, often employing the sonnet form. She was known and admired for her concise voice and unsentimental tone which differed from the earlier Victorian poets and gave her poetry a distinctly modern air. In 1927 she published Little Henrietta, a collection of thirty-nine short poems that narrate the story of her cousin Henrietta Matilda. This work constitutes her only unrhymed poetry.

Critical Reception

During her lifetime Reese enjoyed popularity from critics and the public alike, encountering little difficulty publishing her poetry. Although critics agreed that she was among the minor poets of her age, the publication of each of her volumes was met with favorable reviews. However, Reese's popularity did not sustain past her death. Although her works are still included in anthologies and scholars, have conceded her role as a transitional figure in American poetry, little new critical scholarship has been written about Reese in the second half of the twentieth century. During her lifetime such reviewers as Genevieve Taggard, Louis Untermeyer, and Carlin T. Kindilien compared Reese's writing to Emily Dickinson's poetry, although each noted that Reese failed to achieve the sharpness and skill of Dickinson. Kindilien observed, “Like Emily Dickinson, Lizette Reese turned from the American scene and wrote a personal poetry that analyzed universals, but, unlike the Amherst poet, she was not to receive the critical attention that would have made known her achievement.” Other critics have compared her writing with that of Robert Herrick and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Reviewers have praised her brevity, concision, phrasing, and restraint. Though her tone was nostalgic and her subject matter often somber, commentators have noted that through her sincerity and simplicity Reese's poetry never sounded sentimental. However, Mark Van Doren has argued that her poetry “lack[ed] original salt” and Louise Bogan has despaired the absence of intellectuality and range in Reese's work.

-- enotes

Lizette Reese Visiting Poe's Grave

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Man of the Crowd" Published 1840

"The Man of the Crowd" is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe about a nameless narrator following a man through a crowded London, first published in 1840.

Plot summary

The story is introduced with the epigraph, "Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul"—a quote taken from The Characters of Man by Jean de la Bruyère. It translates to Such a great misfortune, not to be able to be alone. This same quote is used in Poe's earliest tale, "Metzengerstein."[1]

After an unnamed illness, the unnamed narrator sits in an unnamed coffee shop in London. Fascinated by the crowd outside the window, he considers how isolated people think they are, despite "the very denseness of the company around." He takes time to categorize the different types of people he sees. As evening falls, the narrator focuses on "a decrepit old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age," whose face has a peculiar idiosyncrasy, and whose body "was short in stature, very thin, and apparently very feeble" wearing filthy, ragged clothes of a "beautiful texture." The narrator dashes out of the coffee shop to follow the man from afar. The man leads the narrator through bazaars and shops, buying nothing, and into a poorer part of the city, then back into "the heart of the mighty London." This chase lasts through the evening and into the next day. Finally, exhausted, the narrator stands in front of the man, who still does not notice him. The narrator concludes the man is "the type and genius of deep crime" due to his inscrutability and inability to leave the crowds of London.[2]


According to the text of the tale, the reason for the narrator's monomaniacal obsession with the man stems from "the absolute idiosyncrasy of [the man's] expression." He is the only person walking down the street the narrator can't categorize.[2] Why the narrator is so haunted by him is not entirely clear, though it is implied that the two men are two sides of the same person, with the old man representing a secret side of the narrator,[3] though the narrator is unable to see this.[4] The old man may be wandering through the crowd in search of a lost friend or to escape the memory of a crime.[5] The possible evil nature of the man is implied by the dagger that is possibly seen under his cloak[4] - whatever crime he has committed condemns him to wander.[1] This lack of disclosure has been compared to similar vague motivations in "The Cask of Amontillado."[6] Poe purposely presents the story as a sort of mystification, inviting readers to surmise the old man's secret themselves.[4]

At the beginning of the tale, the narrator surveys and categorizes the people around him in a similar way as Walt Whitman in "Song of Myself." Poe's narrator, however, lacks Whitman's celebratory spirit.[7] While viewing these people, the narrator is able to ascertain a great deal of information about them based on their appearance and by noting small details. For example, he notices that a man's ear sticks out a small amount, indicating he must be a clerk who stores his pen behind his ear. Poe would later incorporate this ability to observe small details in his character C. Auguste Dupin.[8]

The setting of London, one of the few specific details revealed in the tale, is important. By 1840, London was the largest city in the world with a population of 750,000.[9] Poe would have known London from the time he spent there as a boy with his foster family, the Allans,[1] although he may have relied on the writings of Charles Dickens for details of London's streets.[2] In this story and others, Poe associates modern cities with the growth of impersonal crime.[10]

Publication history

The story was first published simultaneously in the December 1840 issues of Atkinson's Casket and Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. The latter was the final issue of that periodical.[1] It was later included in Wiley and Putnam's collection simply titled Tales by Edgar A. Poe.[11]


1.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York City: Checkmark Books, 2001: 147. ISBN 081604161X
2.^ Sweeney, Susan Elizabeth (2003). "The Magnifying Glass: Spectacular Distance in Poe's "Man of the Crowd" and Beyond". Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism 36 (1-2): 3.
3.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York City: Checkmark Books, 2001: 148. ISBN 081604161X
4.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. Yale University Press, 1987: 118. ISBN 0300037732
5.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 310. ISBN 0801857309
6.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Louisiana State University Press, 1972: 245. ISBN 0807123218
7.^ Person, Leland S. "Poe and Nineteenth-Century Gender Constructions," collected in A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by J. Gerald Kennedy. Oxford University Press, 2001: 158. ISBN 0195121503
8.^ Stashower, Daniel. The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. New York: Dutton, 2006: 113. ISBN 052594981X
9.^ Meyers, Jeffrey: Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000: 115. ISBN 0815410387
10.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Introduction: Poe in Our Time" collected in A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. Oxford University Press, 2001: 9. ISBN 0195121503
11.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 464–466. ISBN 0801857309