Text: Lucius Alonzo Hine, “Edgar A. Poe,” Quarterly Journal and Review (Cincinnati, OH), vol. I, no. 1, January 1846, pp. 92-96


[page 92, continued:]


EDGAR A. POE occupies a conspicuous position in the literary world. He has attained considerable, reputation as a prose and poetical writer. He is — what can be said of few — sin generis, stamped with his own originality. It seems to have been his aim to do and be something different from anyone else. In this, we think, he has rather strained himself, and overdone the thing. He has presumed largely on his own reputation to give credit to anything he might write, on the one hand, and largely on the gullibility of the people, on the other, to swallow his imaginings for realities. How far he has succeeded, his reputation answers. He has done many things well. His peculiar characteristic is wildness — etheriality, — though his celestial journies are not in circles, as are the flights of most other heavenly bodies; but in tangents — so that it is difficult, at all times, to find him. His mind is peculiarly nervous by nature. We never saw him, but can conceive him to be, in height about five feet nine, — in weight, about one hundred and thirty, — in age about forty-pale, cadaverous and Cassius looking, — with a large black eye, overhung with prominent perceptive faculties, and black, heavy eyebrows, — in demeanor, rather cold and unsocial, arising from his inattention to externals, and constant musings and dreamings with himself. His sleep is, doubtless, anything but quiet, owing to the chimeras, hobgoblins and spectres that dance in his visions.

Mr. Poe has high claims to a substantial reputation as a critic. He has served in this capacity faithfully, as many an aspirant for fame can testify. He has clapped up more poetry than all the other critics of the land put together, and many a worshipper of the muse has shivered and shuddered before his words, as though they were a shower of brickbats. [page 93:]

On the whole, we regard him as no ordinary genius. He is a man of genius rather than talents, - though were his genius less, and his talents greater, he would do more for the good of the world, and his own reputation.

Now for the poems before us. Some of them are excellent. The author says in his preface, that his poems are collected chiefly to “redeem them from the improvements to which they have been subjected in going the rounds of the press.” He confessess that they are of little value to the public, or credit to himself. He also says that poetry has been, with him, a passion, “and the passions must be held in reverence; they must not-they cannot at will, be excited,” &c. This is modest enough, but not a very fair apology for discreditable and valueless poetry, for if he possesses the “passion,” and writes only when it impels, his effusions ought to be nothing else than good and soul-stirring.

The leading poem is “The Raven,” from which title few would conjecture its nature. It is a perfect original, and will live longer than its author.

The scene of “The Raven” is his study, on a dreary midnight in bleak December. The author, weak and weary, pondered over the volumes of forgotten lore, until, beginning to nod, he heard a tapping at his door. Then follow ghosts, dancing on the floor — rustling of the purple curtains, as though they concealed some direful shape. He was thrilled, and trembled with fantastic terrors. He sorrowed for his radiant maiden, the lost Lenore. At length he summoned courage enough to peer into the darkness, though with much shivering, quivering, and dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. But all was silent and dark, save the whispered word “Lenore.” He turned back into his chamber, but still the tapping was louder than before. He then threw up the window-shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, stepped in a “stately raven of the saintly days of yore,” which perched upon the bust of Pallas, above his chamber door.

“ ‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!’

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

This reply, of course, occasions surprise, as no mortal had ever been known to be blessed with a talking-bird, sitting above his chamber door, named “Nevermore.” The thought arises that he will leave him on the morrow, as ‘other friends have flown before’ — but the bird said “Nevermore.”

“Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never — nevermore.’ ” [page 94:]

Then began an earnest thinking what this ghastly ominous bird “meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’” After guessing, and fancying, and thinking awhile, —

“Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

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

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —

On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —

Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

‘Prophet!’ said I, “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.’

‘Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting —

‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!

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

Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

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 lamp-light 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!”

One objection we have to its general tenor, is that it associates the author with people of ancient times, when the fate of man was seen by the perverted imagination in the flight and song of ominous birds, or in the appearance of the intestines of the beasts sacrificed to the gods; and with those old women of the days of witchcraft, who were haunted, night and day, by horrid shapes and ghastly spectres. Only think, Edgar A. Poe — a thinker of the nineteenth century — the scourge of all who aspire to poesy — Edgar A. Poe frightened at the approach of a witch on a broomstick! See him tremble with affright, and quiver like an aspen leaf! See each “particular hair stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porcupine.” If he had personified in this piece one of those curious beings who are startled at every rustling — afraid in the dark — unable to pass a graveyard, between sunset and dark, without fainting, and whose disordered brain reels with spectral delusions, he would have written more sensibly. However, we may be in error, — for perhaps he has represented himself with more truth than fiction, and the whole matter is natural. [page 95:]

With a word or two we dismiss “The Raven.” In the fifth stanza

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

We ask the reader to fancy Poe all shrivelled up, glaring wildly, and reaching forward to peer into the darkness to see what “scared him;” ready, with hand on bolt, to dodge back and bolt the door, should he make a discovery in the “darkness.” “Dream no mortal ever dared to dream before,” — we thought dreams were involuntary, and those we would least dare to dream, we are most apt to dream. Again, in the seventh verse, he flung up the shutter, and in there stepped a stately raven. Now, considering the chills that had crawled over him, while hearing the tapping at the door, the rustling of the curtains, and peering into the darkness, we should naturally expect a perfect congelation on the advent of the raven; but, on the contrary

“Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.”

Ah, Poe! this won’t do; — let us have the whole thing, and not a jumbled up inconsistency. In another stanza his sad soul is beguiled into smiling by the same object ‘whose fiery eyes burned into his bosoms core,” and further on he represents himself as being haunted with horror, all of which will hardly sing on the same key with smiling. In the last stanzas quoted above, it has been asked where the lamp could have stood to stream its light over the raven sitting above his chamber door, and throw its “shadow on the floor?”

The Valley of Unrest,” the second piece in this volume, is destitute of every mark of poetry, except its rhyme, which is very imperfect and the capitals that commence each line. The “Bridal Ballad,” is passable. “The Sleeper” is imperfect in harmony, and we protest against the lines quoted below:

“My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,

As it is lasting, so be deep!

Soft may the worms about her creep.”

Wretched must be the taste that relishes the last line in connection with the other two. Oh, Edgar!

The Coliseum” is excellent. It carries us back to the ruins of Eld, and makes us feel the

“Vastness and Age! and memories of Eld!

Silence! and Desolation! and dim Night!”

that surround them.

The poem “Israfel,” is unworthy the talents of E. A. Poe. “Dream-Land,” “To One in Paradise,” and “The Conqueror [page 96:] Worm,” are of a high order for short poems. There are many other pieces in this volume, but none particularly striking except “Scenes from Politian,” an unpublished drama. The part given forces a desire to see the whole; which we hope Mr. Poe will not be backward in handing over to the printer. In passing we must quote the following address of Lalange to a mirror in scene second:

“Ha! here at least's a friend — too much a friend

In earlier days — a friend will not deceive thee.

Fair mirror and true! now tell me (for thou canst)

A tale — a pretty tale — and heed thou not

Though it be rife with woe. It answers me.

It speaks of sunken eyes, and wasted cheeks,

And Beauty long deceased — remembers me

Of Joy departed — Hope, the Seraph Hope,

Inurned and entombed! — now, in a tone

Low, sad, and solemn, but most audible,

Whispers of early grave untimely yawning

For ruined maid. Fair mirror and true! — thou liest not!

Thou hast no end to gain — no heart to break —

Castiglione lied who said he loved ——

Thou true — he false! — false! — false!”

We had prepared an extended notice of this drama, but it proved too long for insertion in this number. It is, indeed, a readable production — but it is questionable whether it is adapted to the stage. As to this, however, we cannot judge until the whole be published. We close by asking Mr. Poe's pardon for the liberty we have taken with his poems, and assuring him that a more careful examination would have enabled us to speak of them more justly.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 92:]

*“THE RAVEN AND OTHER POEMS,” by Edgar A. Poe. Wiley & Putnam, N. Y.







[S:0 - CQJR, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of The Raven and Other Poems (L. A. Hine, 1845)