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January 31, 2009

Review -- Poe: A Life Cut Short

Review -- Poe: A Life Cut ShortSunday in the Sun, get a review of Poe: A Life Cut Short, a new biography by Peter Ackroyd. Here are excerpts from Allen Barra's review:

Every life and reputation could use some buffing up now and then, and Edgar Allan Poe, his influence obscured by legions of bad imitators, more than most. Peter Ackroyd, in this short, sharp and immensely readable little biography, is just the man to do it. ...

One of the few biographers with equal standing as a critic, Ackroyd is the first writer in decades to bring Poe’s life and work into sharp focus and impress urgency on an appreciation of his oeuvre. (He also profiled Chaucer and the painter J.M.W. Turner in his Brief Lives series and has splendidly dealt with, among others, Shakespeare, Dickens and T.S. Eliot at greater length.)

Relying heavily on Edgar Allan Poe, Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, and Kenneth Silverman’s 1991 Edgar A. Poe, Ackroyd rescues Poe from the layers of cliches and misinterpretations built up over generations. For instance, Poe did not invent Gothic literature; he "reinvigorated the Gothic tradition of horror and morbid sensationalism by centering it upon the human frame," Ackroyd writes. ... Poe was "the most calculating of authors, never to be confused with his disturbed and even psychotic narrators. Poe the writer arrived carefully after the most extreme effects."

"Anxiety," though, "was his childhood bedfellow," Ackroyd says. Born in Boston in 1809 to Southern parents — traveling actors "whose status was just a little higher than that of vagabonds" — Edgar was orphaned at age 2 when his father abandoned the family and his mother died of consumption; he was taken in and raised by friends of his mother. As a youth, he was described by some as having "a very sweet disposition ... always cheerful." It did not last long: "Young Poe harbored a grudge against the world," Ackroyd says. ...

Though he was considered in his lifetime to be one of America’s most important writers ... — "The most controversial, and most widely discussed, literary journalist in the country," as Ackroyd describes him — he alienated nearly every influential writer and editor in the country. Combined with his "unerring ability to choose frail, or in some way damaged, women, thus revisiting the experience of his fading mother," Poe practically ensured himself a life of poverty and deprivation. He died in 1849 in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances, possibly delirium tremens or tuberculosis or even a brain tumor ... .

He has become, in our time, "the image of the poete maudit, the blasted soul, the wanderer. His fate was heavy, his life all but unsupportable," Ackroyd says. Never accepted by his contemporaries, he was, in what would have been his old age, lionized by European writers such as Baudelaire and Tennyson (who thought him "the most original genius that America has produced") and later, by such diverse writers and poets as Nietzsche, Kafka, Yeats and Joyce. It’s hard to believe that Poe wouldn’t have considered such praise fair payment for a life quenched in misery.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Edgar Allan Poe


i draw readers attention to baltimore poet Mike Fallon's essay on Poe in the recent- Loch Raven Review

Chopin's friend- Fontana, who visited America, told Chopin that Poe reminded him of Chopin- a factoid passed to me on the Piano Forum

i'm not sure there's been a good translation of it yet-i tried one i'm going to have to try to find for you- of French poet, Mallarme's curious tribute- "At the Tomb of Poe"-

it was translated into English by Mallarme himself- poorly: (i've made some changes which don't help much- i think it has some great lines- i guess you have to read it in the French!!)

"Such as into himself at last Eternity changes him
The Poet arouses with a naked hymn;
His century was overawed not to have known
That death extolled itself in this strange voice.

But, in vile Hydra voices, (they) (de note- the critics) once hearing the Angel
Giving too pure a meaning to the words of the tribe,
hearing the poet,
They charged him as always drowned in alcohol!

O clouds, o soil- eternal enemies, o struggle-
I want my words to carve a bas-relief
With which to adorn his tomb!

On that stern basaltic block that falls
From a mysterious and ancient disaster-
A warning against false charges that poets are drunkards
Now and forever after."

of course, poets are often boozers-

i would imagine Poe was-best, dave e

"Just as eternity had changed him

i need to add- yes, i took liberties w the mallarme poem on poe:

here's Daisy Aldan's translation:

Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe

"Just as eternity transforms him at last into Himself,
The Poet rouses with a naked sword
His age terrified at not having discerned
That death was triumphant in his strange voice.

They, like vile Hydra's on hearing this angel
Give a purer meaning to the words of the tribe,
Loudly proclaimed sorcery drunk
In the dishonest flow of some dark brew.

From hostile soil and cloud, o grief!
If our imagination does not carve a bas relief
With which to adorn the shining tomb of Poe,

Silent block of fallen granite here below
From some dim old disaster, let it be a boundary
To foul flights of blasphemy in the future!"

of course, I've taken liberties w her version- too- i can't help it- i'm a poet also

Baudelaire also translated Poe altho I'm not sure abt the poetry- the greatest tribute to his poetry is Rachmaninoff's "The Bells"

I find "The Raven" kind of schlocky- but- its rhythm alone proclaims a very great poem- a thudding funeral march-

Go stand in front of the tomb with its corny raven bas relief and ponder the words of Mallarme:

"Calme bloc ici-bas chu d'un disastre obscur
Que ce granit du moins montre a jamais sa borne
Aux noirs vols du Blaspheme epars dans le futur"


Tel qu'en Lui-meme enfin l'eternite le change
Que la mort triomphait dans cetter voix etrange"

o yes- much more better- and from me:

His tomb is not granite but it might as well be-
Or basalt, or green marble, the strange color of absinthe...

The green fairy once walked among us....
Even down Central Avenue towards the old hospital
Now torn down- Church Home- where he died!

His death imagined so often by himself
That he knew h'd be buried alive!
Mumuring "Helen, Lenore, cousin, lost love!

The way back home- the tunnel to light now obscured
By shovelfuls- thud thuddings, the Baltimore crows
Caws growing fainter, and finally all blurred.

"Nevermore, nevermore- now the legend begins!
Poe, master of death, the gold bug who descends
Thru an eye of the skull into maelstoms. THE END.

Here is my review of the latest book on Edgar Allan Poe, published online on Jan. 29th. As you will see, it has a heavy accent on Poe's many Baltimore connections and underscores the fact that both his parents were actors.

Nice essay- Hugeh- I know u- u spell yr. name Hughes. You identified w Poe, didn't you- you old Irishman you!

i thot Poe died at Church Home- but' i'm sure you're more correct

to read st. readers- Poe keeps grabbing me-thrusting his arm up out of the ground like in the movie "Carrie". we baltimore poets owe him- i say- have an extra wonderful drink tonite in honor of the lad!

thank u Read St. for a nice site- and agin- let me draw yr. readers' attention to the Poetry in Baltimore site- it's a real community and they may wish to join just as in joining your own site- tell us more about the site- if you would.

At the Tomb of Poe- david eberhardt

He sinks beneath the surface like a stone,

Sidling crab wise down ‘til buried in mud,

A gold bug thread wise through vacant skull eye down

Into maelstroms of stars. Less and less the thud,

Of shovelfuls above him .... into sidereal time, the tunnel back to light obscured.....

Buried alive as he thought ! As if to keep him down, the green

Block from some ancient , obscure disaster - Vermont marble dug ,b

Ripton quarried, dark green, not jadeite green, an intenser, darker green -

As absinthe, but blacker, still, like “Nevermore” , its dense sheen

Like shiny hair : black hair, Ligea's, Virginia's, Helen's or Lenore's.

Bury the critics alive, I say, Poe careens

Down corridors of light, more drunk than before!!

Upon the stone a raven carved, the words blur, but it's not the end.

Buried alive in our imaginations , he rises eerily, again!

Who said, "Edgar Allan Poe is the greatest writer of the 19th century"?

don't mean to hog the blog- but- others? join in- why am i obsessed w Edgar?

overlooking the James River, Richmond, Va.
city of Poe, endlessly burning

Past China St., Pine, on Oregon Hill,
(It's not California, but it might as well be),
Ospreys fly up out of cypress like redwoods,
Pure white wisteria against violet porches,
Louisiana, Gulf cities, and porches forever...
The confederacy's gone down, defeat again,
Beyond Belle Island the city's still burning.
My actress mother * buried in disgrace;
Theatre burns, they replace it: a church,
Church burns, back comes the theatre;
All of them burn and all the people in them.
Still the river flows by Belle Island
In its marcel waves and ash brown braids
At the foot of the cemetary where "famous" have markers;
The river licks burning, towers never stop rising
Then falling back in the flames of the theatre.
Funerals wind into tighter, tighter spaces.
"I had not thought death unravelled so many faces." **
Until the stones start repeating themselves.
"A star sets, rises on the other shore",
Like to see you again, babe, but it's nevermore,
"At rest until resurrection and reunion",
"`Til the dawn breaks and the shadows flee,"
May the woman I loved so remember me.


• *Edgar Allen Poe’s
• ** Dante quoted by Eliot

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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