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[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "Increase of Poetical Heresy," from The Weekly Mirror (New York), February 8, 1845, p. 281.]

[page 281, column 1:]

INCREASE OF POETICAL HERESY.

It has become evident, in many of our lately-published American poems, and compilations of poetry, that, by the talk of the transcendentalists -- by its continuity rather than by any other quality it possesses -- we are in danger of being badgered into the idea that a maudlin philosophy (granting it to be worth enforcing), can be enforced by poetic imagery, and illustrated by rhythm and rhyme; or, even more unpardonably, of being bullied into the belief that a poem, or, that poetry, (of which the sole legitimate object is beauty,) can be advanced to its august end by the abstractions of a maudlin philosophy.

But the question is not even this. It is not whether it be not possible to introduce didacticism, with effect, into a poem -- or possible to to [[sic]] introduce poetical images and measures, with effect, into a didactic essay. To do either the one or the other is merely to surmount a difficulty -- is simply a feat of literary legerdemain. The true question is, whether the author who shall attempt either task, will not be laboring at a disadvantage -- will not be guilty of a fruitless and wasteful expenditure of energy.

In minor poetical efforts, indeed, we may not so imperatively demand an adherence to the true poetical thesis. We permit trifling, to some extent, in a work which we consider at best but a trifle. Although we agree, for example, with Coleridge, that poetry and passion are discordant, yet we quarrel not with Tennyson, when he brings to the intense passion which prompted his "Locksley Hall," the aid of that terseness and pungency which are derivable from verse. The effect he produces, however, is a purely passionate, and is not (unless in detached portions of that magnificent phillippic) a properly poetic effect. His "none," on the other hand, exalts that soul -- not into passion -- but into a conception of pure Beauty, which, in its elevation, its calm rapture, has in it a fore-shadowing of the spiritual life, and as far transcends earthly passion, as the holy radiance of the sun does the feeble and glimmering phosphorescence of the glow-worm. His "Morte D'Arthur" is in the same majestic vein. The "Sensitive Plant," or the "Christabel" -- does this indisputable fact prove anything more than that the majority of mankind are more susceptible of the impulses of passion, than of the impressions of beauty. Readers do exist, however, and always will exist, who, to hearts of a fervor that maddens, unite, in perfection, the sentiment of the beautiful -- that divine sixth sense, which is yet so faintly understood -- that system which Phrenology attempts to embody in its organ of ideality -- that sense which is the basis of all the dreams of Cousin -- that sense which speaks of God, through his purest, if not through his sole attribute -- that sense which demonstrates, and which alone demonstrates, His existence.

To readers such as these, and only to such as these, must be left the decision of what that true Poesy is. And these, with no hesitation, will decide that its origin lies in a thirst for a [column 2:] wilder beauty than the earth supplies -- that, in itself, it is the imperfect effort to quench this immortal thirst; and that this thirst, when even partially allayed -- this sentiment, when even faintly meeting response, produces emotion in comparison with which the most burning of all merely human emotions are pulseless and insignificant.

We shall now lie understood. If, with Coleridge -- who, however erring at times, was precisely the man to decide a question such as this -- if, with him, we reject passion from the true, from the pure poetry -- if we reject even passion -- if we discard as feeble, as unworthy of the high spirituality of the theme (which has its origin in a sense of the Godhead,) the nearly divine emotion of human love -- with how much greater reason shall we dismiss all else? And yet there are men who would mingle with this pure theme the merest questions of expediency -- the cant topics of the day -- the doggrel sthetics of the time -- who would trammel the soul in its flight to an ideal Helusion, by the quirks and quibbles of chopped logic. There are men who do this; lately there are a set of men who make a practice of doing this, and who boast of the practice, on the score of its advancement of what they suppose to be Truth. Truth is, in its own essence, sublime; but her loftiest sublimity, as derived from man's clouded and erratic reason, (a reason intended only to guide him here) is valueless -- is humble -- is utterly ineffective, when brought into comparison with that unerring sense -- that proud intuition, which has never yet misled one man -- the sense of God, and of the Beauty which God is -- the sense which is the basis of the poem. But grant this Truth to be all which its worshippers forgotten that it is not Truth per se, which they affect as a perpetual and tedious thesis -- not Truth, we say, but an argumentation, often maudlin and pedantic -- always shallow and unsatisfactory (as from the mere inadaptation of the vehicle it must be) -- and argumentation by which this phantom, Truth, in casual or indeterminate glimpses, is, or is not, rendered manifest.

Our Orphic -- our sthetic bards experience, we believe, a species of shamefacedness in not making the enforcement of some certain or uncertain dogmas or doctrines about what they call PROGRESS, the obvious or ostensible object of their poems. They conceive, in fact, that to compose a poem merely for the poem's sake, and to a acknowledge such to be the purpose, would be to subject themselves to the charge of imbecility -- of triviality -- of deficiency in the true dignity and force; but, would they listen to the dictates of their own souls, then would they not fail to perceive, at once, that, under the sun, there exists no work more intrinsically noble, than this very poem, written solely for the poem's sake.

~~~ End of Text ~~~

[S:0 - Weekly Mirror, 1845]