J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Complete Stories and Poems

The Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
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May 26, 2007

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bookshelves: short-story, horror, mystery, reviewed, gothic, poetry, america
Read in January, 2006

Not many people outside of literary study or detective fiction fandom realize that the character of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Poe's Dupin. Dupin was the brilliant and insightful idle noble who occasionally aided the authorities in particularly difficult cases. However, unlike Holmes, Dupin took it up merely as a hobby, mimicking Holmes' brother Mycroft.

I'm not fond of Poe's poetry. Emerson's leveling of 'Jingle Man' is appropriate. Poe puts sounds together, but usually says very little with them. It is unusual that his prose was so varied while his poetry tended to obsessive repetition. Poe presents an example of the turning point when poetry ceased to represent the most complex and dense literary form (as in Milton and Eliot) and became the most frivolous and unrefined (the beat poets), while prose moved contrarily from the light-hearted to the serious.

When divorced from his single-minded prosody, Poe's mastery of the language elegantly serves the needs of mood, characterization, and action. This is not always the case: his Ligeia retains his poetic narrowness, but his detective stories have a gentleness and wit found nowhere else in his oeuvre.

The three Dupin stories helped to inspire detective fiction, using suspense and convoluted mystery to tantalize and challenge the reader. He may not have been as influential or innovative as Wilkie Collins, but his contribution still stands.

Any book of Poe's is worth purchasing simply for these three stories. They are studies in the careful use of language to develop mood, character, and drive--even in a sparse plot. They are not quite the equals of Ambrose Bierce's short fiction, but they are solid enough.
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05/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Jesse (new)

Jesse I agree with your review, Keely, especially regarding Poe's poetry. It seems I am the only person in the world who feels absolutely nothing after reading "The Raven" or "Lenore." Even the verse incorporated into his tales left me wanting. In addition to the usual suspects of anthologized favorites, I am impressed by "William Wilson," particularly in how, in my view, the house acts as a double of Wilson's own mind.

J.G. Keely Ah, I skipped around in this collection and I missed that story. I'll have to go back and peruse it. Thanks for the suggestion.

message 3: by Labhaoise (new)

Labhaoise Seoighe I can see similarities between Dupin and Poroit

J.G. Keely I have not read Christie, but I am familiar with the David Suchet series. Dupin and Poirot are both native speakers of French . . .

message 5: by n. sadel (last edited May 18, 2016 10:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

n. sadel Poe's greatest poem is "For Annie." Unfortunately, it's been overlooked. Read my interpretation. I don't know if you can click on my name and read it. If you can't, then type in For Annie and read my review. It should be the first one. Enjoy!

J.G. Keely n. sadel said: "Poe's greatest poem is "For Annie." Unfortunately, it's been overlooked. Read my interpretation."

That poem is somewhat different from Poe's others, but I still find it rather repetitive. Your review isn't bad, but a bit superficial and I feel you're sometimes grasping at straws. I'd suggest a study of opium use by artists of the period beyond Coleridge to place the work and Poe's word choices into context. The development and popularization of opium in the Victorian influenced an entire generation of poets, painters, and thinkers, changing their approach and imagery.

Look into the works of De Quincey, Geza Csath, Crabbe, Hector France, Byron, Keats, and Shelley--as well as the entire Orientalist obsession of the period, where the Orient was made into a sort of fantastical land of European imagination, a land that was literally the source of dreams, since opium was imported from the East. Coleridge's Kublai Khan and Richard Francis Burton's translation of The Thousand and One Nights are good examples--and of course Said's Orientalism gives many more.

There are also some neat parallels to works like Browning's Porphyria's Lover and Rossetti's Jenny, and I would say both are superior opioid visions of eros, obsession, and living death embodied in an idealized female form.

I also think the Phlegethon may be a bit of a stretch for Poe's river--I would have leapt right to the Lethe, a very common image in opiate poetry, as it is the river of peace and forgetting. Likewise, I would have tied more into the Theosophical pagan imagery of herbs like rue and their ability to open the mind to cthonic visions.

Thank you for the comment, and for giving me something to think about.

message 7: by n. sadel (last edited May 11, 2016 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

n. sadel I know what you mean about the Lethe. I thought of adding that, but I never did for some reason. Ha! Ha!

I mention Coleridge because a lot of Poe's poems seem to be influenced by him. "The Sleeper" and "Dream-Land" are two I can think of now.

I understand when you say it's a bit superficial. I'm dumber than a stick stuck in the dirt.

Well, I'm glad I at least gave you something to think about. And I have to say that I like Poe's poetry because he doesn't say much. Does that make sense? Ha! Ha!

J.G. Keely n. sadel said: "I understand when you say it's a bit superficial. I'm dumber than a stick stuck in the dirt."

Eh, you're doing alright--feels like you just need more depth of experience to draw on. The beginning is always grasping at straws, because that's how you feel your way around and see what works, seeing how your own voice and sense of things develops through that exploration.

It's a quite subtle thing, figuring out how far to push, what works and what doesn't, and finally, how to tie it all together in the end to something more profound. It only comes with experience. Poe can be good practice for this, in part because, as you say, he doesn't necessarily say much. There are a lot of images and references to take note of, but they don't require you to puzzle them out and discover a more entangled and profound meaning, like with some other poets.

You can take a single poem by Petrarch, or Donne, and find inside it commentaries on life, philosophy, theology, and morality, all hidden just beneath the careful structure of reference upon which the poem is built--but that's a very difficult thing to undertake, requiring years of study and reams of knowledge (a good professor helps, too).

"Sorry! Paradise Lost DOES mention Phlegethon."

Yeah, I saw that in your analysis--the naptha connection is good, but I'd need to see a more thorough analysis of how the possible Paradise Lost reference plays out across the entire poem in order to find it convincing. I'd need to see that Poe is deliberately invoking that and then building upon that invocation--otherwise, even if it is deliberate, it amounts to little more than a throwaway line, a nod for educated readers.

message 9: by n. sadel (last edited May 08, 2016 06:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

n. sadel Book one describes man's fall from grace. Annie means grace. That's why I think they're related.

J.G. Keely n. sadel said: "Book one describes man's fall from grace. Annie means grace. That's why I think they're related."

Well, Annie was a real lady who was a friend of Poe's and he stayed at her house while overcoming an illness, which is what is described in the poem--the 'fever called living' is actually pretty literal, and the drugs he was taking were probably prescribed by a doctor, as various opioids were common in medicine at the time (even something as simple as cough medicine would have them). Annie was actually his friend's wife, and people have speculated over the years on her relationship to Poe.

Certainly, there are poets who would make a big deal out of the meaning of a woman's name--Petrarch, who I mentioned above, wrote his most famous poetic cycle about a woman named Laura, and often played with the fact that her name could be read as the laurel plant, which was awarded to great poets, and also the Italian 'l'aura', meaning 'the light' (she was also a friend's wife, coincidentally).

So it's definitely something poets do, but I'm not convinced Poe's references go that deep--I don't see the same kind of consistent structural support throughout the poem that I've seen with other poets.

n. sadel No! Don't fall into that. Poe NEVER called her Annie. She lied. She didn't produce those letters until the 1870s. And she wouldn't even allow anyone to SEE the originals. To this day they've never been found. She wanted to seem more important in Poe's life than she really was, so she tried associating herself with "For Annie" and "Annabel Lee."

n. sadel Don't read Wikipedia!

J.G. Keely n. sadel said: "Poe NEVER called her Annie. She lied. She didn't produce those letters until the 1870s. And she wouldn't even allow anyone to SEE the originals."

Curious, there seem to be various different accounts around the internet of just what happened, and whether the letters are trustworthy or not--even outside of Wikipedia, they are presented by the Poe Society of Baltimore and Boston college as legitimate. I do see others who doubt them, and I'd be quite interested to know what source you are drawing on to discredit them. Is it mainly the Amos Heywood letters unearthed in '42? Some of the content of those letters has also been called into question, apparently.

n. sadel Eapoe.org says the originals have never been found. Now, I can't remember where I read that a few other people don't believe he ever called her Annie. It was just a random website I found, to be honest. But supposedly, she didn't change her name legally to Annie until after her husband's death. I think Poe did write to her, but I think she changed parts of the letters when she made the copies. There's something strange about the whole thing. That's why I wanted to make an interpretation that has nothing to do with her. I think I did an okay job. I just think the poem needs to be looked at differently.

n. sadel You might find this interesting. I'm not the only one who thinks the narrator is high.

Edgar Allen Poe's stance in his macabre love poem For Annie is so mad as to have the touch of genius in its eccentricity. In this poetic pose Poe has no equal, antecedent, or descendant in the annals of world literature, for he takes the grossest imagery and endues it with the quality of the Romantic. The reader is taunted with the simplistic sing-song rhyme of the first verse and jabbed with the concept that life is a fever. Obviously the parallel is that a warm body is alive and one that is cool is not alive, so if life is like a fever symptomized by hot blood then Poe's protagonist is speaking from the dead. However, as all three fates would have it, there is a twist to Poe's syllabic string, and that makes for a transcendent level of imagery.

It is a not obscurely written clue in Poe's verse that we find as we continue. His reference to a "naphthalene" river is absolutely fantastic in that there are no rivers of such substance, which is an expensively refined chemical solvent such as we find in many products that are considered toxic if inhaled. Poe has said elsewhere that his device was to focus on words leading up to even ONE word for maximum effect. As a writer he was and remains a writer's writer. His invention of the detective story was a direct result of his fascination with details and what details say and do to the observer. In this case his poem has the ephemeral quality of an ether-soaked handkerchief, which is wet one instant and dry in seconds. He commences by saying "sadly" he laments the loss of physical strength, as when the ether is but beginning to take its potentially deadly effect. The mad rush of living seems as far away to him as when the addict looks back on his frustration after his dose, after his fix, which is a totally different world by virtue of the drug than when he can only feel his need for the same. Instantly Poe hypnotizes (or to coin a phrase, hypno-anesthetizes) the unaware reader by suggesting that he is resting "composedly", a suddenly more neutral state than the sadness of a moment ago. It takes longer to write it than to read it, but the time flow is close enough to synchronize.

Poe seems to relish in his deadpan recital that he could pass as if dead to anyone seeing him in his trance. The cue for the reader to follow Poe's stream of consciousness up his ethereal stairway to heaven is found in his invitation to think at more than one level. When he says "no muscle I move as I lie at length" he makes reference to his physical space by the word "length" but in the following line he says "But no matter!-I feel / I am better at length". Here Poe is almost but for the punctuation saying that he feels no matter, but even if it is not a metaphysical statement he clearly says he is better at "length", a reference to time. Better at length, but in looking back in the short term he refers to the horrors of his being without his fix, to the "moaning and groaning, the sighing the sobbing ... the sickness, the nausea, the pitiless pain ... ", all of which sound like the torture of the addict's withdrawal symptoms. It is said that the intoxicating love of or for some women can be compared to a drug and its addiction, but I suspect Poe may be doing the reverse in his piece overall. At any rate, he declares that for the moment he has "drunk of a water that quenches all thirst", a water that flows with a lullaby sound. It is in the preceding lines that he says the thirst has been for the "naphthaline river" [nowadays we spell it "naphthalene"] of Passion accurst. It is not the passion of the wolf but that of the monk that he seems to invoke though, since he goes on to speak of how his "tantalized spirit" remembers former material attachments, that passion which is an attachment to material things (things made of matter). Those are the "old agitations" that his spirt refuses to regret, and there is no repentance found in Poe's protagonist.

But he can forget the former passion as he now perceives what he calls a holier odor. He has gone from past roses to present rosemary and pansy, quite a sniffing journey. He cites his spirit as lying "blandly", blandly now--- no longer in ecstasy--- but upon perception of the holier odor it "lies happily [bold type mine ] in many a dream of the truth and the beauty of Annie". About thirty years ago there was an entire generation speaking of truth found in the mists of the mind when under the influence of LSD or other psychoactive substances. Drugs may or may not have contributed to Poe's demise, certainly they have contributed to the demise of many. One modern day singer, Neil Young, has even sung about heroin, saying that he has seen "the needle and the damage done ... but every junkie is like a setting sun". It is the nature of the human mind to be egocentric, so when a drugged brain perceives itself in the center of the universe it can find wonderful truth in believing the universe revolves around it.

Let us note that Poe has only just now in the poem's chronological development mentioned Annie as either a woman or as a pseudonym for his intoxicated bliss. Instantly, like Alice through the looking glass, it is another image that comes to mind. The reader's consciousness is already firmly planted in the body of a man who is lying like one dead (but no matter, he can still feel even if he cannot move). Now he says he is bathing in dreams of truth and beauty, but he is drowning in a bath of the tresses of Annie. This image makes sense if Annie is a lover with long hair, whose embrace of this apparently dead man is effected by her leaning over him. It can seem to a man that his woman's long hair is like a gentle rain on him. Yet this image is not accurate nor literal, for it is a device used by Poe to speak of momentary contact with the beloved. He says he FALLS asleep ON her breast (and deeply to sleep) FROM the heaven of her breast. It is a very quick touch. And it is over. Like when someone leans over a coffin to gaze upon the departing one.

From this point on the poet is just cleaning up. His poem has reached its climax, now he says he lies "composedly ... in [his] bed (knowing her love)". He rests contentedly now, he says, with her love at his breast. Is it a white death flower? I can only imagine a very dry handkerchief fallen from the hand of a sleeping man in some narrow cot somewhere. His dismal surroundings are worlds away from where his mind lies. He could be in a cheap hotel room but his thoughts are in heavenly chambers. The final verse of the poem seems stilted and patched on, as if added the morning after. The same heart that was earlier the source of "horrible throbbing" is now rather described as "brighter than all of the many stars in the sky". It glows, says Poe, it sparkles with Annie. It glows with the light of the love of his Annie, with the thought of the light of the eyes of Annie. The necromantic imagery of the dead and the living in love is but a pallid backdrop for Poe's brush of horror. In a departing flash of wit Poe thus says that the glow was here--- but it is now gone! Now we are only left with the THOUGHT of that light in the eyes of his Annie. It is a delicious contrast, for the light in Annie's eyes is perceived as bright as a golden pinpoint of a star on the black velvet heavens. It is not the sleepy mind of Poe thus represented, but the opposite, the alert Poe. That light is to Poe's current state of consciousness like mountain peaks are to the depths of a valley. By reverse deduction, using Poe's famed technique, we can only conclude that his highs must be as extreme as his lows. It is known that the effects of certain substances have a defined effect on the pupils. I think of Poe's Annie and I feel chills and a subtle desire to vomit. It is the endearing quality of the mad genius, especially one whose desperation and dissolution are immortalized by the inglorious halo of death, that the inspirational source of his works will be forever locked from the world. Poe took the secret of his genius with him into the vault of death and the key is nowhere to be found. Maybe that is why we look so hard.

November 30, 1998

Vicente Reyes

J.G. Keely n. sadel said: "It was just a random website I found, to be honest."

Random website vs. Wikipedia--guess we don't have very much to go on. Of course, one runs into that sort of problem when trying to reconstruct the life of a man who lived a hundred fifty years ago from letters written by friends and acquaintances, we can't really know what actually happened with so sparse a body of sources.

"I wanted to make an interpretation that has nothing to do with her"

Yeah, I think that's an admirable goal, especially when her version has definitely been called into question.

"I'm not the only one who thinks the narrator is high."

Oh, that's certainly a reasonable interpretation--even if you take the references to fever, nausea, and overcoming sickness literally, it's very likely that any doctor at the time would have given him a powerful mixture of opiates and alcohol to numb the pain. I just think it's worthwhile to look at the differing drug culture at the time, if you are going to go with that interpretation--that opposed to recreational use, he would have been high on legal, prescribed medications that were commonplace at the time.

Indeed, the fact that one cannot really tell the difference between the suffering of an habitue and the suffering of a sick person in the poem could be deliberate, that he is trying to play with the idea that one mingles with the other, especially when the drugs the doctor gives you for one pain just end up leading to another pain, that of addiction and withdrawal. At that point, it's hard to know which is better: the cure, or the disease.

Likewise, you can tie in a third parallel of the horrid feeling of being without someone you love, that sickness of the heart, in which case the real drug, the real nepenthe is Annie herself, that she is like an opiate, since to be without her is to suffer sleepless nights of pain, while to be with her is to experience the heights of joy, however fleetingly. There is some reference to that in Mr. Reyes analysis that you've quoted.

If I were to make a thorough analysis of this poem, I would probably concentrate on the confluence of those three physically similar but socially very different states, and how each comments on the other.

n. sadel "Random website vs. Wikipedia--guess we don't have very much to go on."

Yeah, that's actually really funny.

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