Text: Edward J. Piacentino, “Petrachian Echoes and Petrarchanism in Poe’s ‘Ligeia’,” Masques, Mysteries and Mastodons: A Poe Miscellany (2006), pp. 102-114 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 102, unnumbered:]

PETRARCHAN ECHOES AND PETRARCHANISM IN POE’S “LIGEIA”

Edward J. Piacentino

“Ligeia,” which Edgar Allan Poe considered his consummate tale, assimilated many literary influences. Echoes of works by Sir Walter Scott, D’Israeli, Byron, and Dickens have been previously noted; however, one influence that heretofore has remained unnoticed is that of Francesco Petrarch’s Rime or Canzoniere, his sonnet sequence idealizing a beautiful woman through elaborate and exaggerated conceits.(1) Petrarch’s legacy to the development of the sonnet form in English is, of course, undeniable. Moreover, the Canzoniere, Jefferson Butler Fletcher notes, “is a veritable handbook for lovers, a storehouse of amatory stage properties, — and all exquisitely fashioned.”(2)

Poe must have been familiar with Petrarch’s poetry, especially his idealization of Laura, the lady Petrarch describes so eloquently and effusively in his sonnets; nor does it seem likely that he could have been oblivious to Petrarchanism, as evidenced by the widespread use of Petrarchan conventions by some of his poet contemporaries prior to his publication of “Ligeia” in 1838. In fact, several references appear in Poe’s works which demonstrate his familiarity with the Italian sonneteer. The earliest is found in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1836, two years before the publication of “Ligeia.” In his laudatory review of Edward Bulwer Lytton’s historical romance, Rienzi: The Last of the Tribunes, in the February 1836 number of the Messenger, Poe erroneously cites Petrarch as one of the novel’s characters.(3) While Petrarch in the novel not actually a character, as Poe claims, still several of the characters seem infatuated with the Italian’s poetry. In a scene in Volume II of Rienzi, when Adrian di Castello, a dejected young nobleman and forlorn lover, cloisters himself in a secluded manor in northern Italy, he has visions of his lost love, visions which seem to anticipate the similar heightened impressions of Poe’s narrator for the lost lady Ligeia. Adrian, Bulwer writes, whose youth had been “coloured by the influence of Petrarch, had in his manhood dreamed of a happier Vancluse not untenanted by a Laura.”(4) “The visions,” Bulwer goes on to say, “which had connected the scene with the image of Irene (Adrian’s lost love), made the place still haunted by her shade: and time and absence only ministering to his impassioned meditations, deeped his melancholy and increased his love” (Rienzi 2: 52). It is [page 103:] conceivable that such as character as Adrian may have suggested to Poe a usable model upon which to base the narrator of “Ligeia.” In addition, Poe’s “Pinakidia” jottings, copied from various sources and published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1836, contain two references to Petrarch.(5) Yet they are of negligibleimportance since neither discloses anything substantive concerning Poe’s attitude toward Petrarch or his poetry.

A far more accurate indicator of Poe’s interest in Petrarch, in particular his disdain for the Petrarchan mode, cannot be found until the 1840s, first in his contemporary review of Thomas Campbell’s Life of Petrarch in Graham’s Magazine in September of 1841, and later in his poem, “An Enigma,” simply titled “Sonnet” when it initially appeared in Union Magazine in March of 1848. In his review of Campbell, Poe frankly admits he is “not among those who regard the genius of Petrarch as asubject for enthusiastic admiration,”(6) nor does he consider his amatory sonnets to Laura as exhibiting high literary merit. In fact, he observes: “The characteristics of his poetry are not traits of the highest, or even of a high order . . . . Grace and tenderness we grant him — but these qualities are surely insufficient to establish his poetic apotheosis” (p. 143). While recognizing Petrarch as a “pertinacious sonnetteer” [sic], one who enjoyed transitional status as an important trailblazer in reviving interest in classical literature in the fourteenth century, a figure displaying “ardent zeal in recovering and transcribing the lost treasures of antique lore” (p. 143), Poe, in this review, principally lauds the Italian poet for his extra-literary accomplishments: his patriotism, his “republican principles,” and his being “nobly and disinterestedly zealous for the welfare of his country” (p. 143). Poe also discloses that he was personally knowledgeable of some earlier biographies of Petrarch, especially Abbe de Sade’s Mémoires pour la vie de François Petrarque (1764-67), a book he regarded as “the best biography of Petrarch” before Campbell’s (a work he may have read in translation), and Archdeacon Coxe’s life of Petrarch, an unpublishedmanuscript housed in theBritish Museum (p. 143). On the whole, Poe’s review of Campbell’s Life of Petrarch is disparaging, though he does concede that his book is the best biography of Petrarch yet to appear.

Another clue to Poe’s attitude toward Petrarch and his poetry is found in “An Enigma.” In this poem Poe again holds Petrarch in low repute, ridiculing practitioners of the Petrarchan form. Adopting as his persona, Solomon Don Dunce, Poe caustically condemns those who [page 104:] employ the artifices of Petrarchanism to lavish overly eloquent, artificially contrived praise on women:

‘Seldom we find,’ says Solomon Don Dunce,

‘Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.

Through all the flimsy things we see at once

As easily as through a Naples bonnet —

Trash of all trash! — how can a lady don it?

Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff —

Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff

Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.’ (M 1: 425)

In the sestet Poe blatanly voices agreement with Solomon Don Dunce’s disparaging assessment of the sonnet form: “And veritably, Sol is right enough./The general tuckermanities are arrant/Bubbles — ephemeral and so transparent — “

Significantly, in the original version of “An Enigma” in Union Magazine of Literature and Art, Poe used the more general and non-libelous coinage, “Petrarchanities,” rather than “tuckermanities,” the latter appearing initially in the copy of the poem he sent to Sarah Anna Lewis, a minor Brooklyn poetess and patron of Poe, several days after the magazine publication, probably the same manuscript copy Rufus W. Griswold followed in preparing volume two of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe.(7) Still the reference to “tuckermanities” is of some importance, for it derives from the surname of Henry Theodore Tuckerman, a minor critic, historian, and poet, who, in the 1830s and 1840s was contributing essays and Petrarchan sonnets to various periodicals, including the Democratic Review, and who in 1845 wrote an appreciative essay on Petrarch for the American Review, works Poe may have read (M 1: 426). Poe also regarded Tuckerman’s poetry as “dull,” according to Thomas Ollive Mabbott (M 1:426), perhaps another suggestive indication of his unfavorable opinion about Petrarchan conventions. In addition to Tuckerman, other poets, such as Thomas Holley Chivers and Philip Pendleton Cooke (whose work Poe knew), were penning lyrics in the 1830s and 1840s with elaborate Petrarchan conceits to celebrate the charm and beauty of lovely ladies. In all probability these and all users of Petrarchan elements were among the targets of Poe’s caustic assault in “An Enigma.”

A few tenuous speculations can also be advanced concerning other sources of Petrarchan material Poe could have read. Several [page 105:] articles and reviews relating to Petrarch appeared in British and American magazines in the 1820s and 1830s. One such notice, an unsigned, mainly negative review of Ugo Foscolo’s Essay on the Love, Poetry, and Character of Petrarch, appearedin Blackwood’s Magazine inMay 1823, and G. W. Greene’s laudatory essay,surveying Petrarch’s life and art, appeared in the North American Review in January 1835. Of these two articles, however, the review of Foscolo’s book on Petrarch in the North American Review seems the more likely choice for Poe’s reading and assimilation, if for no other reason than this magazine enjoyed a respected and preeminent position as “the most powerful critical voice” in American periodical journalism in the middle of the 1830s.(8)

Yet in turning to “Ligeia,” one must depend exclusively on internal evidence, which lends credence to Poe’s having Petrarchanism in mind while composing his tale. Moreover, his achieved intention in “Ligeia” seems in part parodic, what I view as skillfully crafted burlesque of both general Petrarchan subject matter and stylistics. A different view has been advanced by Clark Griffith, who regarded some of the language in “Ligeia” as inappropriate and who asserted that the tale was “partly burlesque,” an amalgam of “Gothic overplot with satiric underside.” Griffith further noted that “Ligeia” parodies various aspects of romanticism, including transcendentalism and Sir Walter Scott’s “scenic effects.”(9) Yet as we will see, some of the tale’s subject matter and especially its style suggest that Poe’s parodic intention may have been directed elsewhere.(10 ) In adopting what clearly seems an anti-Petrarchan stance in “Ligeia,” Poe uses his narrator as a medium for carrying out his underlying parodic purpose: to satirize the affected, effete features of Petrarchanism. Poe’s unnamed narrator is antiheroic. He is forgetful; he was, and apparently still is at the time he recounts the story, infatuated with a nonexistent, unattainable ideal, becoming himself, if we na├»vely accept his unreliable retrospective confession, a drug addict, wholly out of sync with and oblivious to life as it exists in the real world. Furthermore, he had become so obsessed with thoughts of his lost Ligeia that consequently he could not show passionate affection for his second wife, Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine. And there is even a suggestion that he may even be responsible for Rowena’s death. Finally, and most significantly for our purposes, the narrator’s language and tone, especially his descriptions of the person of Ligeia, seem too self-consciously overwrought, too consistently [page 106:] overelegant, and too allusively rarified to be regarded as anything other than a burlesque. In this context the narrator’s word choice as well as his tone reflect some of the worse excesses of Petrarchanism, most notably the popular language conventions for treating the theme of rarified love. Indeed, the narrator’s quest for ideality may even be, as James W. Gargano has noted, “the delusion of a lunatic.”(11)

Though the anti-Petrarchan aspect of “Ligeia” has previously gone unnoticed by Poe’s critics, James M. Cox has claimed that the story “defines the relation between two empty traditions Poe inherited and burlesqued: the gothic world of vampires and the romantic world of maidens.”(12) Though Cox does not say so, the second of these traditions — “the romantic world of maidens” — bears a discernible relationship to the Renaissance mode of courtly love, which was widely popularized in Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura and assimilated subsequently by Petrarch’s successors in their own love poetry.

In examining this possible Petrarchan connection, it is my not my purpose to attempt to prove that Petrarch was a direct influence on “Ligeia,” for there exists neither specific external proof nor close textual affinities with Petrarch’s sonnets. Instead, by focusing on general thematic connections, motifs, relationships between characters, general plot parallels, andstylistic affinities between “Ligeia” and Petrarch’s sonnets, I hope to show the link between Poe’s tale and Petrarchanism, the latter manifested in the conventions of love poetry popularized by the Petrarchan tradition Poe was attacking. On the most obvious level, both “Ligeia” and Petrarch’s sonnets focus on extraordinary women, Ligeia and Laura, who are exalted to such ridiculous proportions by the men enamored of them, that neither seems real or credible in a human sense.(13) Both the poet-persona of Petrarch’s sonnets and the narrator of “Ligeia” become victims of unfulfilled love, a type of rarified relationship not founded on mere physical possession, but on the union of the minds and hearts of the lovers. When the deaths of Ligeia and Laura occur, both lovers predictably bewail the anguish and pain resulting from their losses. For both men life becomes a meaningless void until they manage to neutralize their sorrow and restless longing by mentally rekindling their visions of consummate love, visions of obsessive and passionate adoration from afar since the possibility for earthly union has been destroyed. Whereas Petrarch’s poet-persona imaginatively transforms Laura into a veritable goddess, the apotheosis of womanhood, Poe’s [page 107:] narrator deludes himself into believing he can effect a reincarnation of Ligeia, recovering what James Gargano calls “his lost ecstasy.”(14) “Ligeia,” it is important to note, was not Poe’s first literary venture exploiting this pattern. In one of his earlier tales,“The Visionary” in its initial appearance in Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1834 (retitled “The Assignation” in its final printing in the Broadway Journal in June of 1845). Poe employed a method of emotionally overcharged and stunning grandiloquent descriptions for treating the death-of-a-beautiful-woman theme that bears a close resemblance to the language conventions he would later use in “Ligeia.” In both tales the love is so idealized that it cannot be sustained in the real, practical world. As Benjamin Fisher has pointed out, “the theme of passionate love or of the intense attraction of a strong feminine character for a susceptible male [that is introduced in ‘The Visionary’] appears more intensely in later works” like “Ligeia,” “Usher,” and “Ulalume.”) 15) Finally, both Poe’s narrator and Petrarch’s speaker ultimately seem to regain, if only in the private recesses of their own minds, a semblance of the former rapture the deaths of their beloved ladies had forced them to relinquish.

More tenable proof for the Petrarchan connection in “Ligeia” than these general similarities in plot, theme, and characterization can be found in the narrator’s contrived idealization of Ligeia after her death, a contrivance chiefly manifested in his elaborate and overdone comparisons he uses to delineate her physical attributes. Such descriptions provide the most s ubstantiveevidence that Poe seems to have assumed an anti-Petrarchan stance to parody his narrator’s irrationally excessive adulation of Ligeia. Interestingly, the narrator amplifies Ligeia’s physical features to the extent that they become superlative, almost divinely endowed, through his embellishment. And it is his consistent and recurring use of this strategy that provides the most emphatic indication of Poe’s parodic thrust. In portraying the person of Ligeia, the narrator portrays her as an exalted being, using one of the most familiar conventions of Petrarchanism: the “elevation of the beloved to a place of superiority above the lover.”) 16) The narrator accomplishes this idolization of Ligeia, using a series of conceits generally echoing Petrarch’s in his idealization of Laura in the sonnets.

In recalling Ligeia’s voice, for example, the narrator says: “I was never made aware of her entrance into my close study save by the dear music of her low sweet voice” (M 2:311). This choice of a musical [page 108:] image to convey his rapture with the sensuous quality of Ligeia’s voice closely echoes Petrarch’s own metaphorical description of the sound of Laura’s voice in the sonnets. In Sonnet LXXXIV, the poet writes: “Permit the music of her voice to roll/Heavenward like a soft angelic bell”;(17) and then again in Sonnet CLX he speaks of the “silver music” of Laura’s voice (p. 160). In choosing to employ a trite and hackneyed musical reference, a stock device to describe his impression of the impassioned, enthralling quality he associates with Ligeia’s voice, Poe’s narrator is debunking a convention common to the Petrarchan tradition of love poetry. And in apparently echoing Petrarchanism here, he, in effect, mocks himself, whether he is cognizant of it or not.

In detailing his heightened impressions of the unparalleled beauty of Ligeia’s facial features, the narrator — again serving as an instrument for as well as and object of Poe’s parody — opts to employ a series of enticingly sensuous, lyrically prolix comparisons, several of which closely reverberate conceits likewise found in Petrarch’s amatory arsenal:

In beauty of face no maiden ever equalled her. It was the radiance of an opium dream — an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos. . . . I examined the contour of the lofty and pale forehead — it was faultless-how cold indeed that word when applied to a majesty so divine! — the skin rivalling the purest ivory, the commanding extent and repose, the gentle prominence of the region above the temples, and then the raven-black, the glossy, the luxuriant and naturally curling tresses, setting forth the full force of the Homeric epithet, “hyacinthine”’ I looked at the delicate outlines of the nose — and nowhere but in the graceful medallions of the Hebrews had I beheld a similar perfection. There were the same luxurious smoothness of surface, the same scarcely perceptible tendency to the aquiline, the same harmoniously curved nostrils speaking the free spirit. I regarded the sweet mouth. Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly — the magnificent turn of the short upper lip — the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under — the dimples which sported, and the colour which spoke — the teeth glancing back, with a brilliancy almost startling, every ray of holy light which fell upon them in her serene and placid yet most exultingly radiant of all smiles. I scrutinized the formation of the chin — and, here too, I found the gentleness of breadth, the softness and majesty, the fullness and the spirituality, of the [page 109:] Greek — the contour which the god Apollo revealed but in a dream, to Cleomenes, the son of the Athenian (M 2: 311-312):

This catalog, strained by affectation, illustrates the familiar Petrarchan strategy of individualizing the features of the lady’s physical appearance and then graphically highlighting them through hyperbolic analogies. The lavish stylized descriptions the narrator uses in the passage to accentuate Ligeia’s forehead, skin, hair, nose, mouth, teeth, and chin are all meticulously garnished in dazzling and ponderously pretentious rhetoric, rhetoric so ridiculously exaggerated that Poe’s parodic emphasis should appear obvious.

Petrarch follows generally this same practice in some of his own sonnets eulogizing Laura’s physical beauty. To illustrate, in Sonnet CXXIV, he employs a stylized description adorned with elaborate comparisons to convey his own enhanced impressions of Laura:

Gold glowed her hair, her face flowed sun on snow,

Eyebrow and lash gleamed black, her eyes blazed stars

Whence the young bowman plied his deadly bow;

Her teeth, her lips — but rose-pearled metaphors

Fail at those gates from which her sadness came —

Crystal her tears, her sights a breath of flame! (p. 124)

And in Sonnet LXXVII, in reflecting on Laura’s absence after her death, the poetagain magnifies some of her physical qualities through resplendent conceits, this time, however, deifying Laura as he envisions her among the heavenly hosts:

The incandescent skin, the loveliest eyes

That ever flamed, and that incredible hair

Whereto no gold, no sun’s gold could compare;

That smile — like light; that voice whoserich surprise

Ambushed the listener with silver cries;

White hands and little moon-stained feet that were

Softer than silence; body woven of air

Conceived under the ribs of Paradise-These fed my soul . . . . (p. 305)

For Petrarch’s poet-persona, as for Poe’s narrator, such rhapsodic moments when he becomes enraptured in the worship of his lady’s physical loveliness and charm, provide him temporary access to a plane approaching transcendent ideality. Both the Petrarchan persona and [page 110:] the narrator of “Ligeia” manage to obliterate their rational capacities and to fall victim to a passionate ecstasy they themselves have fabricated in their own charged imaginations. And they attempt to communicate their sense of euphoria through sentimentalized, flamboyant effusions. The chief difference between Poe’s stylized hyperboles and Petrarch’s is that some of Poe’s are structured around exotic and esoteric allusions, overly sensitized exaggerations which rather than accentuating Ligeia’s exquisite beauty in a serious manner conversely make a mockery of it. In short, the reader needs to be aware of what may not appear so readily obvious: Poe masterfully executes an unexpected reversal, having his narrator assume several roles — the teller of the tale, the frustrated lover, and the vehicle for satire. In this latter role he becomes a butt of self-ridicule as well, piling up extravagant superlatives to mystify further his already bizarre impressions of Ligeia. Such a practice, of course, serves to enhance Poe’s ulterior burlesque motives, providing still another angle of the story’s parodic dimension. In other words, in employing his narrator in this dual capacity — both as a medium for satire and as an object of ridicule — Poe seems to be targeting for his criticism the romantic penchant for self-induced, irrational passion, the same subject that Petrarch seriously celebrates in his sonnets and that his successors in the Petrarchan tradition also continued to exploit.

But an even better indication that the narrator of “Ligeia” may be following the hyperbolic manner of Petrarchanism and thereby becoming the target of Poe’s satire for overindulging is in his unrelenting fascination with Ligeia’s eyes. Her eyes obviously captivate him and are accorded expression in his retrospective narration, moreso than any of Ligeia’s other physical features. In focusing upon Ligeia’s eyes it appears quite possible of course that Poe may be parodying not only Petrarchan conventions but also the concept of idee fixe, such as he seems to have done in Egaeus’ heightened description of teeth in “Berenice.” In turning to Ligeia’s eyes, the narrator, much as he had done in his earlier description of her physiognomy, depends on sublime allusive images to transmit his charged impression. Ligeia’s eyes, the hue of which “was the most brilliant of black” were, he remarks, “far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race . . ., even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad.” Moreover, the mysterious expression of her eyes almost seems to mesmerize him. When he attempts to describe this, he cannot restrain his enthusiasm at the time [page 111:] of recollection. And in this near-euphoric state, he apostrophizes his feelings through conceits couched in esoteric and pretentious-sounding allusions to “the well of Democritus” and the “twin stars of Leda”:

The expression of the eyes of Ligeia! How for long hours have I pondered upon it! How have I, through the whole of a midsummer night, struggledto fathom it! What was it — that something more profound than the well of Democritus — which lay within the pupils of my beloved? What was it? I was possessed with a passion to discover. Those eyes! those large, those shining, those divine orbs! they became to me twin stars of Leda, and I to them devoutest of astrologers. (M 2: 313)

In his sonnets Petrarch, too, frequently makes Laura’s eyes his focal point, for, like the narrator of “Ligeia,” his lady’s eyes intrigue him; and the excitement he experiences on such occasions, he expresses through sumptuous figurative comparisons. These comparisons convey an amplitude of effect similar to Poe’s. Petrarch’s poet-persona describes Laura’s eyes variously as “the sun’s pure golden citadel” (Sonnet LIV 54); that “which burn adored/And dazzling always like a holy fire,/Singing of which my soul can never tire” (Sonnet LV 55); “blazed stars” (Sonnet CXXIV 124); and “the flame of my melodious Muse” (Sonnet XXIV 252). And having once been dazed by Laura’s unexpected arrival — possibly only a vision — he is overawed by her eyes, which again he overstates through sensuously engaging metaphors:

But hardly had I dared the thought when bright

Burst the blue fires which still confuse my sight.

As thunders coiled up in the lightning’s sphere

Flash first so was I dazzled blind and mute

By her dear splendid eyes, her sweet salute

(Sonnet LXXXVII )

The manner of Petrarch — what we have termed Petrachanism — rather than the precise content of his conceits was what apparently interested Poe. In addition, it is the Petrarchan style that Poe, through the narrator of “Ligeia,” seems to be undermining in his impassioned portrayal of a beautiful woman, a woman elevated and ennobled through inflated lyrical expression. But if Poe did not have an especially fond regard for Petrarch and his poetry or for that of some of his own contemporaries who had been attracted to the unimaginative [page 112:] conventions of Petrarchanism, how can we account for Poe’s use of key elements of the basic Petrarchan paradigm in “Ligeia?” His reason, to reiterate, was to parody, but not in the sense of heavy-handed burlesque. In other words, in adopting what appears to be the basic method of Petrarch to show the narrator’s impressions of Ligeia, particularly his impressions of her charm and physical loveliness, Poe opts for the familiar anti-Petrarchan mode; and in so doing casts his narrator, the vehicle for staging his parody, as the hackneyed descendant of the stock Petrarchan lover, an avid devotee and practicing advocate of timeworn amatory conventions. And in having his narrator use these conventions, Poe makes him the butt of his satire, thereby laying bare the anachronistic side of the romantic sensibility.

As I have attempted to demonstrate, Poe may have drawn on Petrarchanism in “Ligeia.” Admittedly not the only or even the major shaping influence on the tale, Petrarchanism was a firmly established paradigm in love poetry of the nineteenth century. Thus for Poe Petrarchanism seems to have provided a convenient whipping boy. Because of overuse, the conventions of Petrarchanism had become trite and cliched, and the theme of the excesses of idealized and unrequited love as well as the stylistic methods for treating it were, therefore, ripe for parody. What Poe seemed to be doing in “Ligeia,” then, was to emulate in a burlesque manner not only selected themes, character types, and plot scenarios of Petrarchanism but more importantly to parody the Petrarchan fashion of drawing overstated comparisons and adorning them with sometimes conspicuously ponderous, but carefully modified conceits. In possibly turning to Petrarchanism, Poe seemed to have discovered a lode of apt materials from which he could forge “Ligeia” into a parody, a work prefiguring his more blatant assaults on petrarchanism in the 1840s.

 


NOTES

1.  See especially T. O. Mabbott, ed. Selected Poetry and Prose of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1951) p. 419 for the influence of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe; Muriel West, “‘Ligeia’ and Isacc D’Israeli,” CL 16 (1964), 19-28, for the influence of D’Israeli’s Mejnoun and Leila; Burton R. Pollin Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame, Ind., 1970) p. 96, for the influence of Lord Byron; and Benjamin F. Fisher IV, “Dickens and Poe: Pickwick and ‘Ligeia’,” PoeS 6 (1973) 14-16, for the influence of Dickens’s“A Madman’s MS,” Chapter Eleven of the Pickwick Papers. [page 113:]

2.  Jefferson B. Fletcher, Literature of the Italian Renaissance (Port Washington, N.Y., 1964) p. 68

3.  H 8: 226. See Edward Piacentino, “An Error in Poe’s Review of Rienzi,” ANQ ns 1 (1988) 136-137.

4.  Edward Bulwer Lytton, Rienzi: The Last of the Tribunes (New York, 1836) 2: 52.

5.  See P 2: 53-54, 58-59. In the first of these Petrarchan references, Poe quotes a Latin verse engraved on a tomb built to Petrarch’s memory in Arqua; and in the second, he disputes the claim that Petrarch is the father of the sonnet form. The only other allusion to Petrarch in Poe’s works that I have found is in his review of Elizabeth Barrett’s The Drama of Exile and Other Poems, originally published in the Broadway Journal, 4 and 11 January 1845; in it, Poe, criticizing the unmetrical quality of Miss Barrett’s verse, quotes a passage from one of her poems containing an allusion to Petrarch’s sonnets (see Essays and Reviews 136-137).

6.  Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of New Books,” rev. of Life of Petrarch, by Thomas Campbell, Esq., Graham’s Magazine, (Septempber 1841) 143-144.

7.  See M 1: 425. According to Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, “the conventionality of his [Tuckerman’s] sonnets gave rise to the word ‘tuckermanity’” (p. 1491).

8.  Robert D. Jacobs, Poe: Journalist and Critic (Baton Rouge, 1969) p. 102. Jacobs, pp. 101-03, points out that in 1836 Poe sharply condemned the North American Review for its biased critical methods and failure in its reviews to employ textual analysis as a basis for judging the “merits and defects” of works reviewed.

9.  Clark Griffith, “Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ and the English Romantics,” UTQ 24 (1954) 17, 22-3.

10.  Donald B. Stauffer, “Style and Meaning in ‘Ligeia’ and ‘William Wilson’,” SSF 2 (1965) 316-330, while perceiving that the style of “Ligeia” is “extravagant” and exhibiting an “incantatory quality” (p. 318), attempts to justify the emotive language of the tale on entirely different grounds from Griffith. He posits that “the predominantly emotional quality of its style may be defended by its appropriateness to both the agitated mental state of the narrator and the supernatural events he relates” (p. 323). In short, Stauffer regards the style of “Ligeia” as the narrator’s attempt “to reproduce the state of mind he was in when he was in contact with Ligeia,” for he “finds himself in a state of lost happiness [page 114:] and seeks to reproduce that happiness” (pp. 329-330). In yet another view Garrison, who has attempted to account for the story’s shifting stylistics, argues that the style represents the narrator’s attempt to understand why he is so obsessed with Ligeia, an effort which, as it turns out, he cannot sustain because he lacks the capacity to truly know himself. In explaining how this works, Garrison goes on to say that the narrator, “drawing heavily upon aesthetic criteria, . . . sounds as if he were trying to summon up Ligeia, using the technique of indirection to realize a vision which at the beginning of the story he clearly knows is elusive. At times, he speaks as if he were open to whatever revelations his rhetoric would disclose. But as the story proceeds, he becomes less and less receptive; he imposes confining rational norms upon his quest, and finds himself at the end of the story in a condition of unrelieved bewilderment.” [Joseph M. Garrison, Jr., “The Irony of ‘Ligeia,’” ESQ 60 (1970), 16].

11.  James W. Gargano, “Poe’s ‘Ligeia’: Dream and Destruction”, Critical Approaches to American Literature, eds. Ray Browne and Martin Light (New York, 1965) p. 131.

12.  James M. Cox, “Edgar Poe: Style as Pose,” VQR 44 (1968) 80.

13.  Morris Bishop acknowledges that some of Petrarch’s critics contend that Laura “was merely an ideal in the poet’s mind, or she was an abstraction for poetry or philosophy.” [Petrarch and His World (Bloomington, 1963) p. 66].

14.  Gargano p. 126.

15.  Benjamin F. Fisher, “To ‘The Assignation’ from ‘The Visionary’ and Poe’s Decade of Revising: Part One,” LC 39 (1973) 89, 102.

16.  Alexander J. Donomy, The Heresy of Courtly Love (Gloucester, Mass., 1965) p. 20.

17.  Francesco Petrarch, The Sonnets of Petrarch, trans. Joseph Auslander (New York, 1931) p. 134. Subsequent quotations from Petrarch’s sonnets will be cited parenthetically in the text.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - MMM, 2006] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Masques, Mysteries and Mastodons: A Poe Miscellany (Petrachian Echoes and Petrarchanism in Poe's Ligeia)