Text: Anonymous, “The New School of Poetry,” Literary Union (Syracuse, NY), vol. I, no. 4, April 1850, pp. 181-195


[page 181, unnumbered:]



SUCH is the term which has been employed to indicate a variation in poetical style, introduced by the lately deceased author of “THE RAVEN;” “that extraordinary poem, which,” in the words of N. P. Willis, “electrified the world of imaginative readers, and has become the type of a school of poetry of its own.”

While we question the entire truthfulness of this view, doubting that Poe will find sufficient imitators to entitle him to the honor thus awarded, we still so nearly believe it as to adopt its idea as the title of a few remarks on his poetry and his style.

No one can be familiar with his poems, and doubt that Mr. Poe possessed the rare attribute of genius, manifesting itself in an originality which excites the more pride and pleasure in that it forms so novel a feature in the poetry of America. It has ever been the taunt of the Old World that our literature is but a reflex of its own; and however much we may chafe at the partial injustice of the sneer, we must still confess that it is not without foundation. Especially in our poetry, since the brilliant success of Cooper and Prescott and Irving, has the charge seemed true; our greatest minstrels having produced nothing which may not be classed [page 182:] with similar English productions. Deservedly high as the efforts of Whittier and Bryant and Longfellow and Lowell rank, not only in America, but the whole world, they contain no especial characteristics of sufficient prominence to distinguish them from all others.

But with regard to Poe, the case stands vastly different.. He has deliberately, powerfully, broken loose from conventional shackles, and proved his independence by a series of poems, the like whereof, we venture to say, has never before been known. Not content with launching forth into strains of weird and unearthly grandeur, he has bid defiance to the dull pedantry of antiquated prosodists, and created for himself a measure and a style not at all in accordance with their dicta, and yet rich in melody and all-potent in strength. For this achievement, if nothing more, he is entitled to the gratitude of his countrymen. It is worth every thing to witness an occasional escape from the monotonous formalism of the schools, and feel the presence among us of a divinely quickened spirit.

It is not probable that the evil we complain of will ever cease to exist, as long as all men are tempted to perpetrate verses, any more than holiness will reign throughout the earth while men are tempted to sin. But as, in the one case, we cease not to discourage evil and excite emulation for good, so must we not, in the other, fold our hands in despair, as the insipid waves of the great ocean of Magazine and newspaper poetry roll over us, yielding up our hope and our energy without a struggle for salvation.

When we speak of Mr. Poe as having set at naught the dull pedantries of the grammarians, we mean precisely what we say; not that he has violated any rules founded in good sense and good taste, but that he has disregarded the stereotyped absurdities which have been transmitted from generation to generation, based on. error and perpetuated by ignorance. He has studied language and mastered its capabilities; made himself familiar with the laws of melody and the philosophy of effect. The practice of such a mind — the executing of any work by one so skilled — must of necessity combine all that is valuable in rules. But this makes him out only a superior artist; a critical analyzer of an artificial mode of transmitting thought. We shall presently see him in another light.

It is this analytical power, we apprehend, that has given Poe his reputation for originality. He has studied carefully [page 183:] and critically, every style under heaven; he has taken them all in pieces and become familiar with their ultimate elements; and from these elements he ‘has constructed one which differs as much from all the rest, as they do from each other. It is a recombination of qualities found in totally different things; a sort of literary chemistry, in which the operator learns the processes of decomposition and the laws of affinity, and proceeds scientifically — even mechanically — to construct novel and wonderful forms from the most common materials. This species of alchemy may evidence the scholar — the man of science and art — but it will hardly prove the genius already awarded to him by criticism and popular acclamation. Nor shall we attempt any such proof; believing it as impossible to prove the existence of genius as to demonstrate an axiom, both being at once and unmistakably evident to the perception. Our object, then, will be to show that the poems which have been characterised as -originating the “New School” are, in as far as their “ New School” character is concerned, merely works of art; and to express our belief that nothing merely artistical can deserve the importance they have received.

Our positions then, briefly, are:

1. That Mr. Poe possessed genius, which genius makes itself manifest to our sympathies in every thing he has written, and which statement becomes, with us, rather an acknowledgment than a logical proposition.

2. That he was gifted with a power of analysis most subtle and searching in its character, and which enabled him to understand the peculiarities of all the schools.

3. That his power of analysis was accompanied by ability of reconstruction which enabled him to use the materials under his hand in new combinations.

Under these heads we shall separately remark; premising generally, that we wish to be understood to believe that the most peculiar and original of his powers are so from possessing greater evidences, not of genius, but of Art.

If any one shall doubt for an instant the truth of our first proposition, we commend him to the following Sonnet, which, for holy purity of sentiment and intense beauty of conception, we consider unequaled.


BECAUSE I feel that, in the Heavens above,

The angels, whispering to one another,

Can find, among their burning terms of love,

None so devotional as that of “Mother,” [page 184:]

Therefore by that dear name I long have called you —

You who are more than mother unto me,

And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you

In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.

My mother — my own mother, who died early,

Was but the mother of myself; but you

Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,

And thus aro dearer than the mother I know

By that infinity with which my wife

Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.

We shall also give a few isolated passages, just as useful as more connected ones for the present purpose.

The following lines occur in “Lenore.”

AH! broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!

Let the bell toll! — a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river;

And, Guy Do Vore, hast thou no tear? — weep now or never more!

See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!

Come! let the burial rite be read — the funeral song be sung! —

An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young —

A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.

* * * * * * * * * *

The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes.

We quote a stanza from “Al Aaraaf,” one of his youthful poems:

LIGEIA! Ligeia!

My beautiful one!

Whose harshest idea

Will to melody run,

O! is it thy will

On the breezes to toss?

Or, capriciously still,

Like the lone Albatross,

Incumbent on night

(As she on the air)

To keep watch with delight

On the harmony there

One more example:


TAKE this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar

Of a serf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep [page 185:]

O God I can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God I can I not save

One from the pitiless wave!

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

We think these extracts will prove to every reader, without any comment from us, that their author, apart from the possession of the rarest talent, was gifted with that rarer attribute which all men worship with a sinless reverence, under the name of genius.

To the full understanding of our second proposition, a thorough knowledge of his critical writing seems almost indispensable. This, we regret to say, cannot be gained from the volumes before us; these comprising simply his tales and poems, and two or three miscellaneous essays. And we will here remark, that it is unfortunate that an edition of what purports to be his “Works,” should have been brought out in such hot haste as to render it so very incomplete; a haste also evidenced by the typographical and other errors discoverable in its pages. In the absence of these criticisms, written from time to time for various journals, and as yet, to our knowledge, uncollected, we shall be under the necessity of discussing the second and third of our positions in connection, bringing in, as evidence, two essays in the second volume; illustrating with extracts.

In the article entitled “The Rationale of Verse,” our author has entered into the subject with an air of a man thoroughly appreciative of all its difficulties. He commences with a severe stricture upon modern prosodists, whom he charges with being mostly copyists of the ancients, perpetuating all the blunders of a crude age and augmenting these blunders by an ignorance of, or indifference to, the radical incompatibilities of Greek and Roman rules with English structure. In this connection he says:

“So general and so total a failure can be referred only to radical misconception. In fact, the English Prosodists have blindly followed the pedants. These latter, like les moutons de Panurge, have been occupied in incessant tumbling into ditches, for the excellent reason that their leaders have so tumbled before. The Iliad, being taken as a starting point, was made to stand in stead of Nature and common sense. Upon this poem, in place of facts and deduction from fact, or from natural law, were built systems of feet, meters, rhythms, rules, — rules that contradict each other every five minutes, and for nearly all of which there may be found twice as many exceptions as examples. If any one has a fancy to be thoroughly confounded — to see how far the infatuation of what is [page 186:] termed classical scholarship’ can lead a book-worm in the manufacture of darkness out of sunshine, let him turn over, for a few moments, any of the German Greek Prosodies. The only thing clearly made out in them is a very magnificent contempt for Liebnitz’s principle of ‘a sufficient reason.’

“To divert attention from the real matter in hand by any farther reference to these works, is unnecessary, and would be weak. I cannot call to mind, at this moment, one essential particular of information that is to be gleaned from them; and I will drop them here with merely this one observation: that, employing from among the numerous, ‘ancient’ feet, the spondee, the trochee, the iambus, the anapaest, the dactyl, and the caesura alone, I will engage to scan correctly any of the Horatian rhythms, or any true rhythm that human ingenuity can conceive. And this excess of chimerical feet is, perhaps, the very least of the scholastic supererogations. Ex uno disce omnia The fact is that Quantity is a point in whose investigation the lumber of mere learning may be dispensed with, if ever in any. Its appreciation is universal. It appertains to no region, nor race, nor mra in especial. To melody and to harmony the Greeks hearkened with ears precisely similar to those which we employ for similar purposes at present; and I should not be condemned for heresy in asserting that a pendulum at Athens would have vibrated much after the same fashion as does a pendulum in the city of Penn.”

He then goes on to speak of “Verse” as originating in “the human enjoyment of equality, fitness;” assuming that to this enjoyment are to be referred all the moods of verse — “rhythm, meter, stanza, rhyme, alliteration, the refrain, and other analogous effects;” — each of which “moods” he proceeds to discuss.

It will not do for us to copy more than a mere specimen of his fine perceptive talent, and that specimen is the following:

“I SHALL now best proceed in quoting the initial lines of Byron’s’ Bride of Abydos:’

‘Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle

Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime —

Where the rage of the vulture, the lovo of the turtle

Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime’?

Know ye the land of the cedar and vine,

Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine,

And the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed with perfume,

Wax faint o’er the gardens of Gul in their bloom?

Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit

And the voice of the nightingale never is mute —

Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,

And all save the spirit of man is divine?

’T is the land of the East — ’t is the clime of the Sun —

Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done?

O, wild as the accents of lovers’ farewell

Are the hearts that they bear and the tales that they tell’ [page 187:]

“Now the flow of these lines, (as times go,) is very sweet and musical. They have been often admired, and justly — as times go — that is to say, it is a rare thing to find better versification of its kind. And where verse is pleasant to the ear, it is silly to find fault with it because it refuses to be scanned. Yet I have heard men, professing to be scholars, who made no scruple of abusing these lines of Byron’s on the ground that they were musical in spite of all law. Other gentlemen, not scholars, abused ‘all law’ for the same reason: — and it occurred neither to the one party nor to the other that the law’ about which they were disputing might possibly be no law at all — an ass of a law in the skin of a lion.

“The Grammars said something about dactylic lines, and it was easily seen that these lines were at least meant for dactylic. The first one was, therefore, thus divided:

Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle. |

The concluding foot was a mystery; but the Prosodies said something about the dactylic measure’ calling now and then for a double rhyme; and the court of inquiry were content to rest in the double rhyme, without exactly perceiving what a double rhyme had to do with the question of an irregular foot. Quitting the first line, the second was thus scanned:

Are emblems | of deeds that | are done in | their clime. |

It was immediately seen, however, that this would not do: — it was at war with the whole emphasis of the reading. It could not be supposed that Byron, or any one in his senses, intended to place stress upon such monosyllables as are,” of, ‘and their,’ nor could their clime,’ collated with to crime,’ in the corresponding line below, be fairly twisted into anything like a double rhyme,’ so as to bring everything within the category of the Grammars. But farther these Grammars spoke not. The inquirers, therefore, in spite of their sense of harmony in their lines, when considered without reference to scansion, fell back upon the idea that the ‘Are’ was a blunder — an excess for which the poet should be sent to Coventry — and, striking it out, they scanned the remainder of the line as follows:

—— emblems of | deeds that are | done in their clime. |

This answered pretty well; but the Grammars admitted no such foot as a foot of one syllable; and besides the rhythm was dactylic. In despair, the books are well searched, however, and at ‘Ott the investigators are gratified by a full solution of the riddle in the profound ‘Observation’ quoted in the beginning of this article: — ‘When a syllable is wanting, the verse is said to be catalectic; when the measure is exact, the line is acatalectie; when there is a redundant syllable it forms hypermeter.’ This is enough. The anomalous line is pronounced to be catalectic at the head and to form hypermeter at the tail: — and so on, and so on; it being soon discovered that nearly all the remaining lines are in a similar predicament, and that what flows so smoothly to the ear, although so roughly to the eye, is, after all, a mere jumble of catalecticism, acatalecticism, and hypermeter — not to say worse. [page 188:]

“Now, had this court of inquiry been in possession of even the shadow of the philosophy of Verse, they would have had no trouble in reconciling this oil and water of the eye and ear, by merely scanning the passage without reference to lines, and, continuously, thus:

Know ye the | land where the | cypress and | myrtle Are | emblems of | deeds that are | done in their | clime Where the | rage of the | vulture the | love of the | turtle Now | melt into | softness now | madden to | crime | Know ye the land of the | cedar and | vine Where the | flowers ever | blossom the | beams ever | shine Where the | light wings of | Zephyr op | pressed by per | fume Wax | faint o’er the | gardens of | Gul in their | bloom Where the | citron and | olive are | fairest of | fruit And the | voice of the I nightingale | never is | mute Where the | virgins are | soft as the | roses they | twine And | all save the | spirit of | man is di | vine ‘T is the | land of the | East ‘t is the | clime of the | Sun Can he | smile on such | deeds as his | children have | done O | wild as the | accents oft lovers’ fare | well Are the | hearts that they | bear and the | tales that they | tell.

Here ‘crime’ and tell’ (italicised) are emsuras, each having the value of a dactyl, four short syllables; while fume Wax,’ ‘twine and,’ and done 0,’ are spondees which, of course, being composed of two long syllables, are also equal to four short, and are the dactyl’s natural equivalent. The nicety of Byron’s ear has led him into a succession of feet which, with two trivial exceptions as regards melody, are absolutely accurate — a very rare occurrence this in dactylic or anapestic rhythms.”

In discussing the other “moods” he is equally happy.

We shall now examine “The Philosophy of Composition;” a paper consisting mostly of a minute history of “The Raven.” He here lays down, as essential to the art of literary composition, several principles which we shall briefly mention. First,

“Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénoument before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénoument constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points,.tend to the development of the intention.”

* * * * * * * *

“I prefer commerelkg with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view — for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest — I say to myself, in the first place, ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select r Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within me) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.” [page 189:]

Having selected “The Raven” as the best known of his works, he proceeds in his general analysis, using it as an illustration.

His considerations were

1st. Extent. The work should be about long enough to be read at a single sitting; • about a hundred lines being the chosen limit.

2d. The choice of an effect. Beauty, he considers the “sole, legitimate province of the Poem,” and adds,

“A FEW words, however, in elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced a disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect — they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soulnot of intellect, or of heart — upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating the beautiful. Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes — that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment — no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation alluded to, is most readily attained in the poem. Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul. It by no means follows from any timing here said, that passion, or even truth, may not be introduced, and even profitably introduced, into a poem — for they may serve in elucidation, or aid the general effect, as do discords in music, by contrast — but the true artist will always contrive, first, to tone them into proper subservience to the predominant aim, and, secondly, to enveil them; as far as possible, in that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the essence of the poem.”

3d. Tone. The highest manifestation of Beauty he considers a tone of sadness.

“BEAUTY of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.”

“The length, the province and the tone, being thus determined,” he adds, “I betook myself to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic piquancy which might serve me as a key-note in the construction of the poem — some [page 190:] pivot upon which the whole structure might turn.” — For this pivot, he selected the refrain, giving it increased effect by varying its application.

The nature of the refrain was next considered, and a single word chosen as the most eligible.

The character of that word was then reflected upon; the result being the choice of one at once sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis. The vocal sound best adapted to this effect, he found to be the long o; the consonant, in connection with it, r.

The word most completely uniting these requisites with the pre-determined melancholy character of the poem, he judged to be “Nevermore.”

Some pretext being necessary for the continuous use of the word, he decided to place it in the mouth of a bird, rather than a reasoning being; and the raven was more in keeping with the tune of the projected poem than the parrot.

To secure this tone, the topic of Death was selected; and, to unite the idea with that of Beauty, the death of a beautiful woman was made the subject, as being the most poetical idea in the world. The lips most suited for it, of course, were those of a bereaved lover.

“I HAD now to combine the two ideas, of a lover lamenting his deceased mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word ‘Nevermore.’ — I had to combine these, bearing in mind my design of varying, at every turn, the application of the word repeated; but the only intelligible mode of such combination is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in answer to the queries of the lover. And here it was that r saw at once the opportunity afforded for the effect on which I had been depending — that is to say, the effect of the variation of application. I saw that I could make the first query propounded by the lover — the first query to which the Raven should reply Nevermore’ — that I could make this first query a commonplace one — the second less so — the third still loss, and so on — until at length the lover, startled from his original nonchalance by the melancholy character of the word itself — by its frequent repetition — and by a consideration of the ominous reputation of the fowl that uttered it — is at length excited to superstition, and wildly propounds queries of a far different character — queries whose solution he has passionately at heart — Propounds them half in superstition and half in that species of despair which delights in self-torture — propounds them not altogether because ho believes in the prophetic or demoniac character of the bird (which, reason assures him, is merely repeating a lesson learned by rote) but because he experiences a frenzied pleasure in so modeling his questions as to receive from the expected ‘Nevermore’ the most delicious because the most intolerable of sorrow. Perceiving the opportunity thus afforded me — or, more [page 191:] strictly, thus forced upon me in the progress of the construction — I first established in mind the climax, or concluding query — that query to which ‘Nevermore’ should be in the last place an answer — that query in reply to which this word Nevermore’ should involve the utmost conceivable amount of sorrow and despair.

“Here then the poem may be said to have its beginning — at the end, where all works of art should begin — for it was here, at this point of my preconsiderations, that I first put pen to paper in the composition of the stanza:

“ ‘Prophet,’ said thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil!

By that heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore,

Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.’

Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’

“I composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness and importance, the preceding queries of the lover — and, secondly, that I might definitely settle the rhythm, the meter, and the length and general arrangement of the stanza — as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this in rhythmical effect. Had I been able, in the subsequent composition, to construct more vigorous stanzas, I should, without scruple, have purposely enfeebled them, so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.

“And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected, in versification, is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of meter and stanza are absolutely infinite — and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse, has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing. The fact is, that originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse Or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.”

This done

“THE next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover and the Raven — and the first branch of this consideration was the locale. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the fields — but it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident: — it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place.

“I determined, then, to place the lover in his chamber — in a chamber rendered sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The room is represented as richly furnished — this in mere pursuance of the [page 192:] ideas I have already explained on the subject of Beauty, as the solo true poetical thesis.

“The locale being thus determined, I had now to introduce the bird — and the thought of introducing him through the window, was inevitable. The idea of making the lover suppose, in the first instance, that the flapping of the wings of the bird against the shutter, is a ‘tapping’ at the door, originated in a wish to increase, by prolonging, the reader’s curiosity, and in a desire to admit the incidental effect arising from the lover’s throwing open the door, finding all dark, and thence adopting the half-fancy that it was the spirit of his mistress that knocked.

“I made the night tempestuous, first, to account for the Raven’s seeking admission, and secondly, for the effect of contrast with the (physical) serenity within the chamber.”

So he proceeds to the denoument, in which the lover’s passionate demand if he shall be permitted to meet his mistress in another world, is answered with the unfailing and unmerciful “Nevermore,” and he falls into a trance of despair, ever haunted by the terrible presence which his emotion has invoked.

As a final extract in this connection, we give the author’s closing remarks:

“BUT in subjects so handled, however skilfully, or with however vivid an array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness, which repels the artistic eye. Two things are invariably required — first, some amount of complexity, or more properly, adaptation; and, secondly, some amount of suggestiveness — seine under current, however indefinite, of meaning. It is this latter, in especial, which imparts to a work of art so much of that richness (to borrow from colloquy a forcible term) which we are too fond of confounding with the ideal. 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 into prose (and that of the very flattest kind) the so called poetry of the so called transcendentalists.

“Holding these opinions, I added the two concluding stanzas of the poem — their suggestiveness being thus made to pervade all the narrative which has preceded them. The under-current of meaning is rendered first apparent in the lines —

‘Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’

Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore!’

“It will be observed that the words, from out my heart,’ involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, Nevermore,’ dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical — but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen: [page 193:]

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted — nevermore.

This, then, is an analysis of “The Raven” — the poem which is thought to he at.the foundation of the “New School;” an analysis made by its author, and proving it, as a work of art, the most extraordinary of which we have a history. That it is instinct with genius, too, every one will readily admit; — all Poe’s writings are so; — but the genius is not developed in those features which render it so different from every thing else. These are the offspring of a high order of talent; the talent of whose workings he has given us this account, itself proving his genius equally with any thing else he ever wrote. If talent, merely, can found a school, it has, assuredly been done; otherwise, we must look for peculiarities other than those here described, to accomplish that work.

It is noteworthy, also, that Poe has had few imitators. Parodists, he finds, in abundance, but not sincere disciples.

There is something of error, too, we apprehend, in the Popular notion of new schools and their founders. Examination will show us that a certain style of composition usually has its rise, culmination, and decline; all depending greatly on the tendencies of the age. Some man, of genius consonant with this style, brings to perfection what others have striven at, and is forthwith deified as its founder; while a host of mere imitators, fired by his eloquence, attach themselves to his “school” and break the abruptness of its decline with their clever nothings. Poe’s style seems to us not so founded in any natural necessity, or originating in such causes as we mentioned; not heralded by outriders or to be followed by a suite. It is a phenomenon; a comet shooting aside from the ordinary orbits of literary development, and pursuing a path eminently new, but a path in which nothing follows.

We must, however, bring to a close this article; already too long for one so desultory in its character. We cannot, however, deny ourselves the pleasure of a few further extracts.

Next to “The Raven,” the most remarkable of these is “The Bells;” a poem published about the time of his death. It is too well known to need more than a reference.

Next in order we should place “Ulalume;” a most striking and characteristic picture, which no one can read and forget. [page 194:] “Annabel Lee,” “The Haunted Palace,” “To Helen.” “Eulalie,” and “For Annie,” we regard as peculiarly original and poetical.

The following are probably not designed as imitations, but strongly resemble, in the features of tone, flow and fire, their elder brethren of the Byronic family, to which we think they belong. These are from “Tamerlane:”

KIND solace in a dying hour!

Such, father, is not (now) my theme —

I will not madly deem that power

Of Earth may shrive me of the sin

Unearthly pride bath revell’d in —

I have no time to dote or dream:

You call it hope — that fire of tire!

It is but agony of desire:

If I can hope — O God! I can —

Its fount is holier — more divine —

I would not call thee fool, old man,

But such is not a gift of thine.

* * * * *

I wrapp’d myself in grandeur then

And donn’d a visionary crown ——

Yet it was not that Fantasy

Had thrown her mantle over me —

But that, among the rabble — men,

Lion ambition is chain’d down —

And crouches to a keeper’s hand —

Not so in deserts where the grand —

The wild — the terrible conspire

With their own breath to fan his lire.

Look ‘round thee now on Samarcand! —

Is she not queen of Earth? her pride

Above all cities? in her hand

Their destinies? in all beside

Of glory which the world bath known

Stands she not nobly and alone?

Falling — her veriest stepping-stone

Shall form the pedestal of a throne —

And who her sovereign? Timour — he

Whom the astonished people saw

Striding o’er empires haughtily

A diadem’d outlaw!

In “The Coliseum,” we find these stanzas:

VASTNESS! and Age! and Memories of Eld!

Silence! and Desolation! and dim Night!

I feel ye now — I feel ye in your strength

O spells more sure than e’er Judaean king

Taught in the gardens of Gethsemane!

O charms more potent than the rapt Chaldee

Ever drew down from out the quiet stars!

Here, where a hero fell, a column falls!

Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold,

A midnight vigil holds the swarthy bat!

Here, where the dames of Rome their gilded hair

Wav’d to the wind, now wave the reed and thistle! [page 195:]

Here, where on golden throne the monarch lolled,

Glides, specter-like, unto his marble home,

Lit by the wan light of the hornéd moon,

The swift and silent lizard of the stones!

With the volume containing the most of his Tales, we have not meddled, as it did not come within the bounds we had fixed for our investigations. We may discuss it at another time; for the whole range of Literature cannot furnish their equal in wild ideality, classic elegance, and subtle probing of the deeper and less often developed, though most powerful and untamable passions of the human soul. In these, he is generally supposed to have only described his own nature; revealing to the eyes of his fellow men for their wonderment and his own amusement, gleams of passionate desire, and spiritual yearnings and half-seen glimpses of the inner life, in which all humanity recognize types of their own natures, though the type be developed in a degree of intensity which startles them into admiration and fear.


[A footnote at the bottom of page 181 cites the work being reviewed:]

The Works of the late EDGAR A. POE: with notices of his Life and Genius, by N. P. Willis, J. R. Lowell, and R. W. GRISWOLD. 2 vols.12mo. New York; J. S. Redfield.



The text for this article was taken from a scan provided by the American Antiquarian Society, which has original issues of this scarce newspaper.

The editors of the journal were James Manning Winchell (1823-1877) and James Johonnot (1823-1888). Winchell was also the proprietor. One of these gentleman may well have been the author of the present article.


[S:0 - QC (AAS), 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe (Anonymous, 1850)