Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Anniversary of the death of Poe

Today is the 166th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore from — in our opinion — a blow to the back of his head. Poe was a committed opponent of Freemasonry and two of his best stories, "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" and in particular, “The Cask of Amontillado,” had anti-masonic themes. We offer a CD of this writer reading “Cask” and “The Raven,” and offering a biography of Poe’s life. See here (scroll toward the bottom of the page).  

I have felt Poe's spirit in my life ever since my late mother began, for some unaccountable reason, to read to me from Tales of Mystery and Imagination, starting when I was age five. Many years later when I queried her as to why she undertook this, not being a Poe enthusiast herself, she said she had no idea. 

The authentic Edgar A. Poe (he did not spell out his middle name in life as has been the custom after his death of his editors), is largely unknown today, even to people who imagine they are familiar with his biography. This is due in large part to Hollywood schlock as well as the teaching-stupid profession, which presents him in the context of a Halloween fright night, as if “The Pit and the Pendulum” were his signature writing. Few would have an inkling that's Poe’s aversion to Judaism materialized as a cruel prank (or “diddle” as he would say), on the night when he and his boon companion, the actor Edwin Booth, hung a certain Chosenite by his coat from the spikes of an iron fence. The only religious poem he ever penned, “Hymn," has a Catholic theme, and though Poe struggled with alcohol and sometimes abused it, he could not be termed an alcoholic. He had duties to his young wife and her mother which he fulfilled assiduously. 

In his firefly-brief life life of forty years (he was an almost an exact contemporary of Frederick Chopin, who was born a year later and died a year younger), he composed an oeuvre that constitutes a veritable shelf-long encyclopedia of books and articles, which would be almost impossible for a degenerate alcoholic to produce. In view of his accomplishment, I will borrow a line from Lincoln who, when his cabinet suggested during the War Between the States that Grant should be relieved of command due to his drinking, Lincoln replied, “Find out what type of whiskey Gen. Grant drinks and distribute it to my other generals.”


By Edgar A. Poe

At morn — at noon — at twilight dim —
Maria thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe — in good and ill —
Mother of God, be with me still.

When the hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;

Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!



Ron Jay said...

What do you think of Poe's alchemical tale "The Gold Bug"? I refer you and others here for analysis:

This article was published in "Poe Studies" in June of 1971.

Michael Hoffman said...

I recall encountering this thought-provoking essay, which is well worth reading, in 1971 in the little magazine, Poe Studies.

I’m not sure that Poe’s “Gold Bug” can sustain the load of symbolism that the magazine author projects on to it, however. Poe truly despised occultism and poked sarcastic (and lethal) fun at it in The Cask of Amontillado when his protagonist Montessori, waves the trowel with which he will forever wall-up his masonic nemesis Fortunato, as a pun on masonry.

But then again, as an experiment or literary prank, I would not put it past Poe to have invested the Gold Bug with sub-rosa symbolism, though not necessarily to the extent posited in Poe Studies.

The Gold Bug is of course controversial today primarily for its depiction of the black man, Jupiter.

Poe did not believe in democracy and regrettably, like Charles Dickens, had a dim view of the capacities and prospects for the black race.