Text: John Sullivan Dwight, “[Review of The Raven and Other Poems],” Harbinger (New York, NY), vol. I, no. 26, December 6, 1845, pp. 410-411


[page 410, column 2, continued:]

The Raven and Other Poems. By EDGAR A. POE. New York and London: Wiley and Putnam, 161 Broadway; 6 Waterloo Place. pp. 91.

Mr. Poe has earned some fame by various tales and poems, which of late has become notoriety through a certain blackguard warfare which he has been waging against the poets and newspaper critics of New England, and which it would be most charitable to impute to insanity. Judging from the tone of his late articles in the Broadway Journal, he seems to think that the whole literary South and West are doing anxious battle in his person against the old time-honored tyrant of the North. But what have North or South to do with affairs only apropos to Poe! He shows himself a poet in this, at least, in this magnifying mirror of his own importance. To him facts lose their barren literality; to him a primrose is more than a primrose; and Edgar Poe, acting the constabulary part of a spy in detecting plagiarisms in favorite authors, insulting a Boston audience, inditing coarse editorials against respectable editresses, and getting singed himself the meanwhile, is nothing less than the hero of a grand mystic conflict of the elements.

The present volume is not entirely pure of this controversy, else we should ignore the late scandalous courses of the man, and speak only of the ‘Poems’. The motive of the publication is too apparent; it contains the famous Boston poem, together with other juvenilities, which, he says, private reasons’ — some of which have reference to the sin of plagiarism, and others to the date of Tennyson's first poems — have induced him to republish. Does he mean to intimate that he [page 411:] is suspected of copying Tennyson! In vain have we searched the poems for a shadow of resemblance. Does he think to convict Tennyson of copying him? Another of those self-exaggerations which prove, we suppose, his poetic imagination.

In a sober attempt to get at the meaning and worth of these poems as poetry, we have been not a little puzzled. We must confess they have a great deal of power, a great deal of beauty, (of thought frequently, and always of rhythm and diction,) originality, and dramatic effect. But they have more of effect, than of expression, to adopt a distinction from musical criticism; and if they attract you to a certain length, it is only to repulse you the more coldly at last. There is a wild unearthliness, and unheavenliness, in the tone of all his pictures, a strange unreality in all his thoughts; they seem to stand shivering, begging admission to our hearts in vain, because they look not as if they came from the heart. That ill-boding Raven, which you meet at the threshold of his edifice, is a fit warning of the hospitality you will find inside. And yet ‘The Raven’ has great beauty, and has won the author some renown; we were fascinated till we read it through; we hated to look at it, or think of it again: why was that? There is something in it of the true grief of a lover, an imagination of a broken-heartedness enough to prove a lover in earnest, a power of strange, sad melody, which there is no resisting. So there is in all his poems. Mr Poe has made a critical study of the matter of versification, and succeeded in the art rather at the expense of nature. Indeed the impression of a very studied effect is always uppermost after reading him. And you have to study him to understand him. This you would count no loss, if, when you had followed the man through his studies, you could find anything in them beyond the man and his most motiveless moods, which lead you no where; if you could find anything better at bottom than the pride of originality. What is the fancy which is merely fancy, the beauty which springs from no feeling, which neither illustrates nor promotes the great truths and purposes of life, which glimmers strangely only because it is aside from the path of human destiny? Edgar Poe does not write for Humanity; he has more of the art than the soul of poetry. He affects to despise the world while he writes for it. He certainly has struck out a remarkable course: the style and imagery of his earliest poems mark a very singular culture, a judgement most severe for a young writer, and a familiarity with the less hacknied portions of classic lore and nomenclature. He seems to have had an idea of working out his [column 2:] forms from pure white marble. But the poet's humility is wanting; a morbid egotism repels you. He can affect you with wonder, but rarely with the thrill of any passion, except perhaps of pride, which might be dignity, and which therefore always is interesting. We fear this writer even courts the state described by Tennyson:

“A glorious devil, large in heart and brain,

That did love beauty only, (beauty seen

In all varieties of mould and mind.)

And knowledge for its beauty; or if good,

Good only for its beauty, seeing not

That Beauty, Good, and Knowledge, are three sisters

That dost upon each other, friends to man,

Living together under the same roof,

And never can be sundered without tears;

And he that shuts Love out, in turn shall be

Shut out by Love, and on her threshold lie

Howling in utter darkness.”





[S:0 - HBRG, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review The Raven and Other Poems (J. S. Dwight, 1845)