Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


A year of morning thanks

Edgar Allen Poe

I'm aware of the fact that other people were scribbling things down in this country before the Civil War, but the annals of American literature are wall-to-wall Puritans--either those who prayerfully fell in line with New England's austere pieties or those who fought like hell against them. Emily Dickinson, some say, is the quintessential Calvinist poet; I can't help but think she'd shed whatever white dress she was buried with and run naked in the streets of Amherst if she knew people were saying such things.

But what to do with Poe? Born and reared in Virginia, he shared none of his counterparts' pieties. He married his 14-year-old cousin, never saw a bottle he didn't drink, regularly savaged his literary peers, lied like an adulterer, and wrote bizarre stories and pathetic poems that featured narrators who seemed to want to wallow in the anguished beauty of profound grief. Horror--'twas his life and his trade. He hated sermons, just hated them--from pulpit or magazine page.

But, no matter how you cut it, American literature is a better for place for his being there, a mad Virginian among the New Englanders. And all our towns and villages--no matter how small or sprawling--are far better places because of our eccentrics and eccentricities.

I'm a Calvinist and a Christian, but I don't think on this earth I'd want to live in a world where everyone was, or is.

So this morning, the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe, I'm thankful, really, for all of those around us who don't fit in. Long may they live. They give our lives texture and context--not to mention something to talk about, even those who seemingly can't get enough of premature burials.

But wait--what is that I hear? Lo, a gentle tapping, sweetly rapping, at my basement's ancient door. . .

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