Thursday, October 01, 2009

Poe's Poetry: Ascension to Beauty (Part 2 of 4)

[Continued from previous post.]

Poe carefully chooses the rhythm and meter of his poems to enhance the effect he wishes to produce. When poetry is read aloud, there is a natural rhythm to the language which comes from the things and events being described. Poe capitalized on this. If music is the most direct route to the soul of man, then an incantatory flow of rhythm coupled with the images conjured by the words of the poem is the surest method for inducing in the reader that elevation of soul, almost a euphoria, so important to Poe's purpose. There is also a natural rhythm to the language resulting from the the emotions embedded in the images of the poem. Poe, however, does not permit any emotion except that "tremulous delight" which accompanies the soul's ascension to a higher level of realization. As the soul ascends to a contemplation of incorporeal Beauty, all corporeal things are left behind; in fact, Poe's effort in his poetry is to nullify any effect of emotion by his repetition of rhythm. A poem is to raise its reader out of his present state of existence into a higher state. Poe's incantatory method seems to suggest that this is best done by charming the reader into an almost hypnogogic state. When the reader reaches this hypnogogic state, he is more open to a sense of the supernal Loveliness. The skill that Poe exhibits in producing this effect is his very mark of genius. However, it is this very reaching for the most pure essence of poetry in Poe's writing that Aldous Huxley finds vulgar. He writes in protest to the French infatuation with Poe that "the substance of [his work] is refined; it is his form that is vulgar. He is, as it were, one of Nature's Gentleman, unhappily cursed with incorrigible bad taste." Huxley believes the incantation which is forced onto language is tactless and insulting; that rhythm and meter in poetry should be melodious and subtle, following the natural flow of the language and enhancing the moods produced by the poem. Poe's method, he asserts, is not appropriate to the meaning of his poem and is nothing more than a "shortcut to musicality....all he has to do is to shovel the meaning into the stream of the metre and allow the current to carry it along." However this critic feels about Poe's method, it serves Poe's purpose very well in enhancing the effect of the poem, and it is the effect that Poe primarily wishes to produce in the reader. Through this effect he attempts to create in his reader that conception of a higher reality that is the contemplation of the Divine.

Poe distinguishes between the poem and the sentiment of Poesy. This sentiment is God-given, an instinct that is capable of conceiving of a higher reality than that which he sees before him. It is a sense of the beautiful and the sublime, the mystical. "Poesy is the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness here, and the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter." The true poet is capable of perceiving here in this physical world not only the beauty of shape and form and color, but also the Beauty which exists in all things and will eventually, from Poe's vantage point, draw everything back into that original unity. The poet can recognize the seemingly different beauties in the world as belonging to each other, as being related in the sense that each beauty is descended from the same Beauty. The relationship he sees in this world's beauties awakens and renews his hope in an ultimate unity. This formless, ultimate unity of Beauty is so dazzlingly inconceivable to the ordinary mind that the poet must accept as his duty a certain indefiniteness of expression in order to truly portray it. For this reason Poe endeavors to form his images in as indefinite a manner as possible. He accepts as a first step in the creating of a poem the choosing of an original topic or an original mode of expressing that topic in order to capture the reader's attention. Once this has been accomplished, his next duty is to guide the reader to a contemplation of Beauty in as true a manner as his intuition permits. This guidance may take the form of indefinite images or indefinite circumstances. The sense of indefiniteness is important since the ultimate unity, the Divine Beauty, as Poe conceived it, is formless, having absorbed into itself all forms.

In creating a poem, or rather a true Poem which, by definition, has as its purpose the contemplation of Beauty, the poet must exclude everything that might detain his reader in his hoped for ascension. This ascension, which is an elevation of the soul, must not be hindered by excess of passion, which is an excitement of the heart, or by an excessive sense of the moral, since that necessarily involves the reader with humanity. That which is moral involves the soul in a contemplation of what is right and good for mankind. There is a place for this in prose, but it does not belong in the realm of Poetry. A poem that has as its purpose to teach a moral belies its name and betrays its true purpose. However much truth lies in morality, and however much of Poetry is to express that truth, Poe maintains that the ultimate purpose of Poetry is Beauty. He says that only that man who insists on following the theory that poetry must have as its object Truth will attempt to "reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth." Truth or Passion may be included in a Poem, but it must be made subservient to that true purpose of Poetry. The inclusion of a moral may be desirable in Poetry, but the all important question is one of the manner of handling that moral. It must not take the prime position in the Poem. Handled as a skillful undercurrent of meaning, the moral adds richness to the work. "It is the excess of the suggested meaning--it is the rendering this the upper instead of the under current of the theme which turns poetry into prose."

E. W. Parks in a lecture, "Poe on Poetry," delivered at Mercer University in 1964 defines Poe's avowed purpose of poetry:
Its first element is the thirst for supernal beauty which is not afforded the soul by any existing collocation of earth's forms--a beauty which, perhaps, no possible combination of these forms would fully produce. Its second element is the attempt to satisfy this thirst by novel combinations,....We thus clearly deduce the novelty, the originality, the invention, the imagination, or lastly the creation of the essene of all Poesy.
In his Philosophy of Composition Poe outlines his method of creating a poem. First the poet must choose the effect he wishes to produce in the reader. This choice should be original enough to attract the reader's attention and vivid enough to remain in his memory long enough to insure that the reader will be able to go beyond the surface level of the effect to a higher level of realization. If this effect is to be successful, then the poem must be short enough to read at one sitting. If more than one sitting is required, the events of the day intervene to disrupt the poet's purpose. On the other hand, a very short poem does not admit a lasting impression in the reader. "There must be the steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax."

After choosing the effect, the poet should consider how he may best achieve that effect. Poe offers four suggestions: the desired effect may be achieved by incident or tone, by combining ordinary incidents with a peculiar tone, by combining peculiar incidents with an ordinary tone, or by combining peculiar incidents with a peculiar tone. Finally he poet should consider how he wishes to construct his chosen events or tone, or combination of events or tone.

This method seems cold and detached considering its object. Poe writes that there is nothing more sublime that a poem, a creation of Beauty itself. However sublime the poem, it, nevertheless, requires the skill of a craftsman for its creation. The duty of a poet consists in "seeing into the nature of affairs a very great deal farther than anybody else" and translating his perceptions to language in the form of a poem. The poet receives his inspiration through his unconscious as intuition. It then becomes the poet's responsibility to translate this intuition into a poem. The perceptions gained by this ability to see farther than anybody else may be communicated to others by following a very practical method. In addition to the method described above, Poe advises the poet to use language in new and unusual ways and to "hint everything." The novel method of expression coupled with an undercurrent of innuendo serves Poe's purpose best.

[To be continued. Sources for this paper will be included at the end of the final post.]

1 comment:

  1. Good exposition, so far! I look forward to reading the next two installments!