Friday, October 21, 2011
Swan Songs VIII--E.A. Poe
There's no one like him, really, in American literature. He's an anomaly. If you follow the traditional stream of America's literature, a stream that begins with the Massachusetts Puritans, with Bradford and Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards, Poe is just, well, "out there," a madman who unlike so many of his Romantic peers has no bone to pick with Calvinism and nothing substantial to say about God and providence and sin or any matters of this world, for that matter. He's just simply a guy with a blood-red dreams and a penchant for scaring the willies out of people.
I'm not up to snuff on movies, but just about every late October Hollywood spins out a half dozen new horror flicks, prime for the season. Halloween ain't what it used to be, of course, but that doesn't mean that American audiences don't get a good hanker to get the beejeebees scared out of them right about the time they see a harvest moon.
Paranormal Activity III--saw the trailer last night as a matter of fact. It didn't seem particularly compelling, at least to me, but it's here or will be just about ghost-and-goblins night. Friday the 13th, anything by Stephen King, the Twilight Zone--the whole boatload of America's shuddering horror shows begin with Edgar Allen Poe.
Not only that, but Sherlock, the Brit TV series of high acclaim, itself built on Arthur Canon Doyle's most famous detective, is also a Poe descendant because he's the grandpapa of murder mysteries too, with his brilliant Dupin--"The Murders in Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." We have Poe to thank for horror and mystery. It's just lucky he never really grabbed a horse and went west or he'd have done the OK Corral long before there was one.
And then there's his sad bio--another brilliant artist somehow unfit for this world. Poe people are still trying to determine just how it was he died. What we know is that it wasn't pretty because by the end he was a wasted soul. He drank, did drugs, played with his life and health as if they were little more than a pittance. When he died, he was a no one, despite everything he'd done, everything he'd written.
American lit wouldn't be the same without him, even though there's no one else like him.
Last time through him today. Last time with his jingling poetry, his harrowing tales, his madman narrators. Last bizarre trip into his freaky horrors. The man thought he'd done his job if he lifted the poor reader out of the miseries of this life and into an imagined nether world where the dead walked and hearts dug from human chests wouldn't stop their infernal beating.
I've often wondered why self-righteous evangelicals don't go to war with Edgar Allen Poe like they did with J. K. Rowling or, before her, Madeline L'Engle--get Poe out of our lit books, for pete's sake, because he's corrupting our youth with his evil dispensations. All he wants to do is welcome us to his infernal nightmares. He wants us all as crazy as he was--get him out!
Besides, so what? Everything he ever penned is little more than an elaborate, Rube Goldberg haunted house, a bizarre musical that really is nothing more than a fancy way to say "boo."
But he's Poe. Where would be without him? All we'd have is the transcendentalists, mid 19th century, a bunch of yahoos holier than thou. Think of it--Emerson, Thoreau--and their dark alter-egos Hawthorne and Melville. Thank goodness there's Poe to keep you awake.
But we only need one of 'em. Another would be too much.
Today, for the last time, in class we'll talk about Edgar Allen Poe, bless his madman's soul.
One of the people I'd like to read when I retire is Emily Dickenson. Everything. All the poems, all the biographies. I'd love to read everything there is to know about "the belle of Amherst."
Poe?--nope. I'll never read him again.
But just the same. I'll always know he's there, ready to pop out of bad dreams, ready with a fiendish laugh, and a creaking door, bad hinges on an ancient coffin. He'll always be there to drive me mad.
What a hoot.