Text: Gerard A. McGowan, “Afterword: Poe's Nom De Guerre,” The West Point Poems, Facsimile Edition, Louisiana State University Press, 2005, pp. 137-156 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 127:]


Poe's Nom De Guerre

You are aware of the great barrier in the path of an American writer. He is read, if at all, in preference to the combined and established wit of the world. I say established; for it is with literature as with law or empire — an established name is an estate in tenure, or a throne in possession.

— from the preface to Poems (1831)

THE FOLLOWING consideration of martial names in Poe, as well as the close readings of “Tamerlane,” “The Valley Nis,” and “To Helen,” grew from my appreciation of Major Hecker's extraordinarily suggestive introduction to this volume. Bill does much more than explode a biographical margin in Poe studies; rather, he points to a gap in the extant scholarship — and one that seems to widen as we peer into it. While I have left biography mostly alone in this afterword, I have strictly tied my readings to Poe's real and documented concern with significant martial names — most notably those of the Marquis de Lafayette and Benedict Arnold, although Tamerlane, Byron, Helen, and Odysseus also make something more than an appearance. I claim that Poe's martial experience underwrites [page 128:] his poetics in a way not immediately apparent or even biographically traceable. Readers will find that I have tied what I call Poe's nom de guerre (his failed affiliation with an abstractly figured martial force) to quite familiar subjects: democracy, landscape, time, paternal authority, women, and even the nature of the self. Because this is an omnibus list of core concerns for Poe scholarship, I should probably state outright that my intent is not to craft comprehensive revisions within any of these subjects. Neither do I claim to log every earlier engagement with these subjects. Rather, by revisiting through a new lens the places Poe scholarship has been, I hope to suggest where it might return in the new light of Poe's martial investments. My most ardent hope is that this is an afterword that might offer a new beginning to others still struggling with meaning in Poe.


While we usually consider later moments like the dark tableaus in “The Man of the Crowd” as apogee of Poe's undemocratic sentiment, we can also read his un-American face (and even a sly rhetoric of treason) in writing that comes as early as the period he spent hanging about Baltimore, begging John Allan for cash, and trying (more or less) to lobby himself into West Point. The Poe Log tells us that on June 25, 1829, Poe wrote to Allan that he had learned he was “the grandson of General Benedict Arnold.”(1) Conspicuously between names here (sergeant major [page 129:] and cadet, Perry and Poe and Allan, but especially now Lafayette and Arnold), Poe manages to unearth an outcast general officer also quite famously between camps. Here, in a strangely small repetition of history, Arnold might be thought to again give up the plans for the taking of West Point. While Major Hecker rightly remembers that the Marquis de Lafayette made a lasting and positive impression on Poe, one must add the name Benedict Arnold to any calculus aimed at approaching Poe's self-effacing, yet still oddly ambitious poetics.

The force of ambivalence, and the explosive and oppositional charge to what Freud called the “family romance,” seems to deepen when we recall the real-world details of the Arnold / Lafayette story. As it turns out, these men are as tangled in history as their abstract significance tangles in Poe's life and poetics.(2)

What is obvious in the design of Poe's Lafayette / Arnold grotesque? Surely we can see in it that Poe desired both relation and self-reliance. On the one hand, Lafayette surely represents an ideal that slipped Poe's grasp throughout his long struggle with John Allan. The Marquis, after all, was the celebrated and adopted good son to America's Great Father, George Washington. On the other hand, Lafayette was a foreigner and an aristocrat, and therefore strange (if accurate) metonymy for the United States’ homegrown revolutionary origins. Lafayette, the good son, also certainly balances the bad son in Benedict Arnold. There can be no doubt that even without invoking Freud's ever-loaded gun, Oedipus, Poe's doubled fantasy [page 130:] of identification constitutes a complex swipe at Allan, the bad father.(3)

Poe's fraught attachment to these martial names belongs to the American tradition of writers pondering the relation of individual “genius” to larger society, if it joins this tradition as our most nihilistic version. In other words, Poe's fixation is strangely like the later, terrifying, Jamesian romance of cutting cable from “the balloon” of earthly affiliation and experience. Far beyond Emerson's famous puritanism of shunning, we encounter in Poe's early poems the failed transumption of proper names, the erasure of a poetic self. Oddly, Poe's haunting of the fused, tangled patronyms of Lafayette and Arnold constitutes an even starker turning away from genealogy than does Emerson's refusal of relation in “Self-Reliance.” A decade before Emerson, Poe is willing to abstractly “shun father and mother and wife and brother [and, in a kind of metonymic flow, make it all the way to figures for the abandonment of nation] when [his] genius calls.”(4)

Through simultaneously canceling out and embracing martial names Poe brings us to the brink of understanding his masochistic poetics. Taken together, and considered through the dream-logic of condensation, the Lafayette / Arnold grotesque, this figure of light and dark, returns Poe to still another hybrid — the particularly mercurial poetic complexity of the mercenary Lord Byron. Poe's ardent and juvenile love of the Byronic model surely then carries us from name to name inside verse — from a name like Tamerlane to that of another destroyed general, Sennacharib. [page 131:] We might even wonder if trace of the cabling to Poe's juvenile hero, Byron, remains intact in the preface to Poems reprinted in this volume. Does Poe voice both personal anxiety and loss when he declares that “there are but few B —— s in the world”? Conventional dashes efface even the consciously intended proper name, Bliss, editor of the 1831 Poems, but can't we almost read a palimpsest — the unintended and Byronic excess to Bliss?

If one balks at my suggestion that a mercenary Poe links Lafayette with Arnold, that he enters meaningful interstices of martial names, we might do well to remember that the mixing of unlike tropes (and why not emblems, or emblematic men?) is what defines the figure of abuse, catachresis, and that Poe not only studied the great examples of the rhetorical figure but often declared the grotesquery of composite construction the foundation of his own poetics.(5) The more difficult question for our “blind mouths” might be to ask how conflicting proper names make sense of, and fold into, each other once they are linked. Can we, for example, see that Arnold is somehow resurrected by virtue of how darkly Poe was drawn to his sin? Does Arnold then join a long list of abstract literary/ critical figures that attract and mean through their very treason? Is Poe's Arnold kin to Friedrich Nietzsche's “superman,” Walter Benjamin's “great criminal,” or, still closer to poetry, T. S. Eliot's “free-thinking Jew”? Treason is treason, certainly, but insofar as it sidesteps the tyranny of the majority, disloyalty would be something like freedom to the Poe that reviled democracy. Benedict Arnold, like [page 132:] Byron's Sennacharib, Milton's Lucifer, or Poe's Tamerlane, retains something of the sweetness of a Lafayette not only because we are drawn to him through the drama of his fall, but also because Arnold's “throne in possession” is never completely erased as origin of that fall.(6) In other words, Benedict Arnold's former grace is not lost to memory through his treason, but rather negatively memorialized.(7) In the end, the “confusion worse confounded” of Lucifer's long plummet to the burning lake, which was itself the result of treason, still points unswervingly back to his former seat by the Father.(8) At least we cannot deny that in an American context it is the Marquis who comes to sit where Arnold sat — enthroned at the right hand of the father, General Washington. This, I think, is how Arnold comes to replace “General” David Poe and become enfolded by the good in Lafayette.(9)

Having raised up a traitor, did Poe also diminish a patriot? Is this kind of corrosiveness a hallmark of his poetics? Consider that in giving up France for America, Lafayette abandons his country. In his love of an ideal, liberty, Lafayette angles toward the mercenary. In detaching from nation and attaching to an international and extranational cause célèbre, doesn't Lafayette's patriotism become suspect? Isn't he something of a “loose fish,” in Melville's sense of that term?(10) If we can't see this, and Lafayette must stand unblemished as the clear and emblematic fountainhead of American idealism, we have at least some nice hard facts over which historicists might muse. Timelines reveal that Lafayette's singular meaning [page 133:] degrades, that the One true patriot from across the sea will lose himself in the Many tired, poor, and hungry — that a literally mercenary French Foreign Legion will be born in the same year as the 1831 Poems. And also, in March of this same year, just after Poe's court-martial at West Point and his departure for New York City, we come across suggestion that he had become just jaded (or romantic) enough to fancy joining something like that legion. “I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris,” he had the bravado to write West Point's Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer, “with the view of obtaining, thro’ the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette, an appointment (if possible) in the Polish Army.”(11) Poe wanted letters of introduction to Lafayette from Thayer, and we are lucky that he failed to get them.

The point to all this dizziness is that Poe's complex and self-effacing martial affiliations are distinct from traditional conceptions of ambivalence. It is insufficient to claim Poe has it both ways about America through his toying with the meaning in martial names — that he takes up love / hate as might some confused patriot / traitor. The notion is simply too constructed — too much like “The Raven” we encounter in “The Philosophy of Composition.” The problem with Poe's war within names, and what distinguishes it from Freud's exacting meaning for ambivalence, is that Poe never seems at home in either the camp of love or hate, but appears instead to be trying out both positions. Poe neither loves nor hates martial figures, charged as they are, charge as they do through the writings. [page 134:] There is in Poe a strange lack of commitment, a lack of affect, that empties a seductive term like ambivalence of all its old-school critical value for reading. What is left us but return to something like Poe's own term, effect — that gutted sort of commitment, that rehearsed, cold, and clinical poetics of a fragile, overtly constructed, and yet still cryptic self.(12) This appreciation winds us right back to the truly frightening proposition of taking Poe nearly at his word. Perform an experiment of abuse yourself; substitute forms of the word poem with forms of the word life in this familiar passage from “The Philosophy of Composition”:

What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones — that is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such, only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating, the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least one half of the “Paradise Lost” is essentially prose — a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with corresponding depressions — the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity, of effect.

By this point Poe has suffered a long time, and his death drive is showing. Young America, Evert Duyckinck's literary nationalist cadre, exposed this lubricity in Poe when [page 135:] it tried to enlist him as a soldier in their movement. Poe simply lacked staying power; he slipped away. It is no wonder that West Point could not get a grip on him either, worried as he was over the “briefness” and evanescence of “beautiful estates.”(13)

So ambivalence won't do, and perhaps Poe's long, incestuous career with psychoanalytic criticism has finally warned us away from snapping at easy names for hard questions.(14) Françoise Meltzer, writing in the 1980s on the “unconscious” in an essay that has influenced a generation of young critics, strikes to the heart of this matter: “Moreover, there is something in the reader-critic that would like to keep some texts uncanny, and that resists [a] claim to ‘decipher’ the ‘real’ meaning of a text. Where would Edgar Allan Poe's work stand, for example, if psychoanalysis claimed to explain the uncanniness of Poe's stories by showing them to be a neurotic symptom?”(155). Where would it stand? Exactly where Marie Bonaparte stood it. “Astounding News by Express, via Norfolk! — The Atlantic crossed in Three days!”(15) And Poe explained! It's a nice touch, Meltzer's italicizing the word keep, which is as much a crypt — or locked Rue Morgue — as a verb. Meltzer draws the battle lines, and suggests it best not to label Poe merely ambivalent to martial names. Doesn't Poe seem somehow complexly illegible — so cowed and battered by the hard facts of life as to be selfishly selfless? How hopeless, how sad (and indeed how sick) is this habit in Poe — this doubly desperate tendency in the art and life toward extinguishing the self while still entertaining ravenous ambition. [page 136:] This isn't love and hate, ego and id, Eros and Thanatos, or whatever model one would proffer hoping to get at the richly cathected stuff of ambivalence. This is instead hate and more hate, or hate of the self then twisted down with another performative turn of the screw.


If Outis was Poe, the source of this late, fascinating nom de guerre can not be traced cleanly to Poe's crafty stewardship of marketplace pragmatics. The name also recalls Poe's active self-erasure — his selfish selflessness. It is worth wondering if through Outis Poe adopted a heroic moniker and then failed to fully embody it, as was earlier the case with so many of his partial identities. Failing even to be “Noman,” Poe collapses before his Polyphemous.(16)

If, in “Some Words with a Mummy,” Count Allamis-takeo ventriloquizes something near Poe's mature opinion of America by calling democracy an “odious and insupportable despotism,” we can begin to see ironic sense in how the young Poe accessed democratic zeal only through affiliation with an emblematic, foreign, aristocratic officer — the Marquis de Lafayette.(17)

Consider again that our first record of Poe in writing is his signature on a letter requesting to keep his gun after parading before Lafayette with the Junior Morgan Riflemen. In this, Poe reveals an optative mood, a wishfulness for revolutionary self-reliance in America's ongoing democratic experiment. But this is only part of the story, for [page 137:] Lafayette also taught Poe an important lesson (just legible in the 1831 poetics) about the evanescence of the past, the inconstancy of names, the failure of heroic lineage, but, above all, about death and decay in the present.

What does it mean that the very first note we have of Poe is the mark of his desire to retain memento of his love for this emblematic man? We can certainly read youthful enthusiasm in Poe's first signature, as well as a rather selfish desire to affiliate with the old friend of his own revolutionary antecedent, “General” David Poe. Kenneth Silverman and other biographers do not speculate, but surely “the governor and [the] Council of Virginia,” to whom the letter was addressed, declined the opportunity to disburse guns from their armory to these minors. Poe's deep disappointment must have followed, and have driven home a sharp lessen about the disarming of America's revolutionary spirit, along with an embedded message about the lack of Poe's relation to his own past — an oddly negative message delivered through the largely positive spectacle of the 1824 tour. Within a crucial half-decade (loosely bracketed by the Lafayette spectacle and Poe's self-destruction at West Point), the simple hero in Lafayette came to represent for Poe more a complex and remote topos than a real persona. By the 1831 publication of his Poems Poe had fully disgorged the positive significance of the emblematic Lafayette. The aged warrior, his vigor nearly spent and his glory only revisited in empty memorial commotion, had fallen, for Poe, as out of time as the strange topos in “The Valley Nis”: [page 138:]

Far away — far away —

Far away — as far at least

Lies that valley as the day

Down within the Golden east —

All things lovely — are not they

Far away — far away?

In these lines Poe uses a poetics of space (the distanced landscape) to tell us about time (the past, present, and future). Here the origin of both some definite “day” and “all things lovely” is named “the Golden east.” This is certainly a place, but at least because the dash after “east” signals supplement as easily as interruption, we are invited to read this “day” as an era — either an era that has already dawned, or one that will yet come in some revivified future. Indeed, taken together, all Poe's 1831 poems point to his preference for either a heroic past or a distant future. Poe's portrait of “Nis” has positive value only in the extreme past or future, and it is fair to say that an extreme nostalgic vision braces an extreme farsightedness.(18) In the end, however, what is deadened and emptied out in the opening lines of “Nis” is the present. The “Now” of this poem holds no revolutionary potential, and promises no return to heroism.

The easternness of Nis is also significant in that it signals the potentially undemocratic Translatio Studii of “all things lovely” — or culture.(19) Poe, not a man likely to yearn (or even feign yearning) for present-day pilgrimage to an eastern religious seat like Jerusalem, here rather mourns [page 139:] the temporal recession of secular cultural value — a regression of the “lovely” from America, to England, and perhaps back to Greece. In this movement Poe also engages an American anxiety little remembered today — the anxiety of landscape's degenerative power.(20) In spite of a simple, dreamy, and repeating mantra that should work to remove us “far away” from the American scene (or because the repetition works too hard to displace us), prospect emerges within Poe's language that “Nis” is really quite close to home. If the poem refuses access to the positive claim that Nis is Poe's America, we can at least say that the remoteness of Nis is unstable — especially given the rush back to the present tense in the second stanza.

As with Usher's facade, there is something out of place in the particulars of this valley's design. One sees this most clearly in how horror links with joy there, and in how both poetic “effects” seem caused by the force war breathes into the vista. Notice that a distant war's unrest brings the valley its placidity: “Once it smiled a silent dell / Where the people did not dwell, / Having gone unto the wars.” In the rest of this stanza Poe paints a commotionless, unpeopled tableau. Thomas Mabbott notes only the placidity of the scene and draws a simple parallel to the Hudson River School painters. In this he clearly misreads Poe — somehow missing the anxiety Poe evokes in his yoking of beauty to dread. Silence and stillness in Nis are not enjoyed here for their own sake, but rather serve as distorted herald to the clamorous, coeval, wartime death of the valley's absent tenants: [page 140:]

... the sly mysterious stars,

With a visage full of meaning,

O’er the unguarded flowers were leaning:

Or the sun ray dripp’d all red

Thro’ the tulips overhead.

Where are we here but strangely low to the earth — or planted in it? As with Whitman's “beautiful uncut hair of graves,” we have growth “overhead.” In this case tulips top poetic notice of death, but we are as far from Whitman's homegrown, shamanistic (or his eastern) optimism as can be. Poe's “unguarded flowers” instead freeze us out, and hardly signify Whitman's upward “procreant urge of the world”; They instead “lean” down to death.(21) This is also where the stars look, and where the sun blood drips in the poem. Whitman's complex promise of positive regeneration through violence is entirely absent in Poe's vision of decay. Here the heroic has receded from the present in both space and time, and all value is “far away.” I would suggest, reaching eastward still, that it is not the Hudson River School but the Italian school of the grotesque, of the painter Salvatore Rosa, perhaps, that is closest kin to this brooding Gothic scene.

A decade earlier, however, Washington Irving's “Rip Van Winkle” does prefigure “The Valley Nis,” and this tale is the closest American analogue to Poe's cryptic poetic commentary on our failed Revolution. In Irving's plot, of course, readers find similar displacement of revolutionary clamor. When Rip wakes (after his game of ninepins [page 141:] in the Hudson Highlands) to find all changed (and yet all the same), the Revolution displaces into the region of dream. But if Irving's ninepin thunder displaces the cannon's fusillade, Rip's twenty-year-sleep is not only a figure for war's antithesis. Like the tableau of Nis in Poe's first stanza, Rip's long sleep suggests a darker meaning — that forgetfulness obviates war's “value” and renders it meaningless, rather than simply distant in space and time. Indeed, revolutionary ethos is as ungraspable in Irvi ng's damning little tale as it is in Poe's early poem. Joining Lafayette, Irving might be counted as a less cryptic influence on Poe.

From the first stanza's untenanted and “silent dell,” where the dread value of heroism only looms from afar, the second stanza immerses us in a kind of moving hell. Where the opening tableau freezes us out, where it might be thought to mourn passing of any undiminished patriotism Lafayette once represented to the young Poe, the next stanza enacts the terrible return of this loss. The stanza enters the present, and real time — an enactment that for Poe is really horrifying:

Now the unhappy shall confess

Nothing there is motionless:

Helen, like thy human eye

There th’ uneasy violets lie —

There the reedy grass doth wave

Over the old forgotten grave — [Poe's italics] [page 142:]

I will not unearth Lafayette from this “forgotten grave.” In a later version of the poem Poe will change the word “forgotten” to “nameless,” suggesting that he had no particular occupant in mind, even if some feint toward the Scottish highlands is inscribed.(22) Rather the grave represents an abstract loss, and one clearly tied to the fact that in Nis “Now ... Nothing ... is motionless.” We can't tell, but perhaps Poe means that the waving commotion of contemporary, inhabited vistas (like the remembered spectacle of Lafayette's tour, or the forced march of Poe's army and cadet life) serves as a terrible reminder that American revolutionary spirit has died — that Poe inhabits a post-heroic age, “a thirty-years peace,” and that the landscape of this present, though distorted, is legible only as aftermath. The tragedy here is that real martial value, or “loveliness,” is buried and forgotten by the inconstancy of our memorial gaze.

And inconstancy in the gaze brings us to Helen. Thomas Mabbott alone remarks on the name's appearance in “The Valley Nis,” and makes very little of it. He says that “‘Helen’ seems here to refer to a living person,” and that she must be “the poet's present inspiration, rather than ... the beloved Jane Stith Stannard.”(23) This is all he says, and as far as I can tell, he only looks forward to his own reading of how the poem “To Helen” looks backward at one of Poe's early earthly loves. In doing so, Mabbott misses the point entirely. Poe is hardly making love to this Helen of Nis, hardly tallying her as traditional muse: “Helen, like thy human eye / There th’ uneasy violets lie —.” Helen is [page 143:] the classical figure first of all, and her human eye is therefore dead in the present. Yet, this isn't the whole story. Like the eye of the blackbird in Wallace Stevens's later poem, Helen's “eye” can also be read as epicenter of a roving and quite fatal vitality. But Mabbott does not see this, and would be consistent with his line notes for “To Helen.” About this very martial name he writes: “There are many stories about Helen of Troy. All agree that she was the daughter of Zeus and the most beautiful of women, but there is disagreement about her adventures and character. Poe alludes only to those legends that present her in the most favorable light. ... furthermore, [Isocrates argued that] Helen ... commanded Homer to compose The Iliad, that those who died fighting for her might be envied by living men. Helen thus inspired poetry” (my italics, 166). Certainly a “most favorable” memorialization suggests other Helens, and we should check to see if this Helen's particular luring beauty might conflate muse with siren, and more. In Robert Fagles's translation of The Iliad, Helen is precisely this threatening siren, for she is “dangled before [Paris's] eyes [as] the lust that loosed disaster.”(24)

Poe's Helen is neither all immortal — all muse/threat — nor is she all mortal prize of war, but possesses as well the unfettered volition of a roving human “eye.” She is in fact the earliest avatar of Poe's famous dark ladies. In the remainder of the poem Poe enacts the roving of Helen's un-sated, highly abstracted “eye.” This “eye” acts as something like the location of all that is wrong with the present in Nis. Indeed, Poe does not so much paint a fixed landscape [page 144:] in the second stanza as inhabit this “eye” and then reel from vista to vista. Metonymically, Helen's eye “wave[s],” “drop[s],” “breeze[s],” “fl[ies],” “rustle[s],” and “roll[s]”. All the while, Poe repeats the word there, pointing at once to Helen's eye and to an unnamed and strangely personal grave, as if seeking to stop the commotion he creates in his own martial simile.

Decades after Leslie Fiedler's groundbreaking reading of misogyny in Poe, we are hardly surprised to rediscover such inconstancy in Poe's figuration of the feminine.(25) More recently, Joan Dayan has said that “perhaps all of Poe's work is finally about radical dehumanization:”(26) Day-an's words suggest that the radical distribution of Helen's “eye” in the second stanza of “Nis” might be read as enacting Poe's first morcellation of a feminine figure — if far more subtly than does the rhetoric of violence in a tale like “Berenice.” This is yet another reason that the early poems are so important.

On the other hand, Helen's “eye” is broken into active verbs, which seems a kind of net gain — something other than simple misogyny. Perhaps Helen (as threat) and Poe (as narrative force) together animate the stanza in some sort of conflated grotesque. If so, it truly is surprising to find Poe's narrative force cohabiting with this morcellated, feminized inconstancy. In a suggestive passage, Dayan writes: “The unbelievable overturning of the law of identity and contradiction that I have argued to be central to Poe's work can now be considered as more than a fable of mind. Poe's reconstructions depend [page 145:] upon experiences that trade upon unspeakable slippages between men and women, humans and animals, life and death. Poe deliberately undermines the taxonomic’ vocations of male supremacy and thus attributes to it a troubling, ambiguous vitality”(184). With these words in mind, we might wonder if more than a “slippage” between Poe and Helen is written into “The Valley Nis.” If an exorbitant narcissism surely inhabits Poe's love poetry, then might not masochism inhabit Poe's poetry of hate? Indeed, Helen's inconstancy in Nis creates a chiasmus of poetic affect; inconstancy is distanced (in the name of a loved woman) and brought near (as an aspect of the hated self). If Dayan is correct and a certain amount of slippage between men and women occurs — between Poe and his composite Helen — why not a certain amount of displacement between men? What I mean is that Poe's narrator's relation to Helen invites us to consider two precursor perspectives, for both Paris and Menelaus possessed her. In the former we have another figure for inconstancy (as both warrior and lover), and in the latter we have a heroic ideal. While this displacement to the “man” behind the “woman” is certainly not in the poem in any conventional sense, it is intriguing how nicely it picks up aspects of the Lafayette / Arnold grotesque we have already considered.

In “The Valley Nis” Helen's “eye” is not possessed, but persists as the trope through which both men and women, trapped in present commotion, forget and undermine the heroic actions of warriors. Helen's “eye” rushes away from [page 146:] rumors of patriarchal glory, of war, and might be thought to skate instead on the surface of Poe's time — “the thirty-years peace.”


Poe's fixation on martial names is one strong way to link Poe's verse with the martial through the 1831 Poems. By 1829 Poe's verse obsession with names is undeniable. Nonmartial proof of this fact is easy to find. Take, for example, Poe's acrostics in “Elizabeth” — a poem in which the capitalized first letters of each line spell out ELIZABETH REBECCA. In “Enigma,” a more diffuse acrostic printed in a Baltimore paper in 1833, the encrypted names all come from the literary canon of Poe's era, and lead via a variant spelling to Shakespeare, “a name known / Which gathers all their glories in its own.” The nagging repetition of the word bard in “Enigma” is just another clue to the answer. But these playful pieces serve only to bookend the 1831 Poems.

“Tamerlane,” on the other hand, evinces staying power, appearing in Poems in its third published iteration. Kenneth Silverman has tied the poem to the influence of Byron, and of course to Poe's life, and now Major Hecker, in the introduction to this volume, has picked up something of a martial thread there. Interestingly, Poe's Tamerlane has very little to do with the “real” Tamerlane.(27) Rather, the poem turns on history to explore the theme of ambition's cost to the self. The choice, it seems, is between [page 147:] love of a woman and love of power, with Tamerlane wrongly choosing the latter:

Kind solace of a dying hour!

Such, father, is not (now) my theme:

I will not madly think that power

Of earth may shrive me of the sin

Unearthly pride hath revell’d in —

Poe's Tamerlane has given up the love of Ada (Byron's daughter's name) for ambition of empire. On the one side we have men and the love of force, war, and power for its own sake, while on the other, and lost now to the dying Tamerlane, we have earthly, spiritual, and even physical love. Tamerlane's failed blazon recounts the loss of Ada's figure as his own lost ability to figure:

And O! I have no words to tell

The loveliness of loving well!

I will not now attempt to trace

The more than beauty of a face

Whose lineaments upon my mind

Are shadows on the unstable wind.


Kenneth Silverman says that “the poem's most insistent theme is youth,” and that “the conventions of romantic pessimism” lead straight to Byron's “moody, lonely victims of early blight and later world-weariness.” Silverman [page 148:] counts the usage of words like young and youth in the first “Tamerlane” and concludes that the 1827 poems “compose a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”(28) Youth is an insistent theme in all three versions, but so is old age. How remarkable that Poe hires a fallen warrior of nearly seventy years, a man the age and station of Lafayette, as his poetic doppelganger!(29) Youth matters in this poem, but mostly as something irretrievably lost. How remarkable that a poet so young could enfold such vivid regret before even really getting started. It is not, however, remarkable at all, knowing Poe as we do, that Tamerlane's preference for power over love gets both rejected and approved. Silverman points out that Tamerlane's strong warning against ambition can't be trusted. This is certainly still the case in 1831, when Poe wrote John Allan one last desperate time before leaving West Point. Still fretting over his generalized, nomadic ambition, Poe accused Allan of teaching him the importance of making a name for himself in the world, and then of abandoning him.

What I find most remarkable in “Tamerlane,” however, is not how a young poet does battle with ambition, a subject explored well in the biographies, but rather how a young poet takes on the crux romantic trope of childhood, especially in Wordsworth. The preface to Poems is given over to trite invective and adoration. Poe places himself against whatever proselike thing it is that Wordsworth is up to, and for whatever Coleridge writes. For Poe, Wordsworth's great sin is that he speaks both for youth and as a man: “As to Wordsworth, I have no faith in him. ... He [page 149:] was to blame in wearing away his youth in contemplation with the end of poetizing in his manhood.” But doesn't Poe's own Tamerlane reach back from manhood to youth? Surely Poe asks us to approve the figure as he casts it in his own poem. And we should remember that two books earlier, in Tamerlane, while only playing at hiding behind “A BOSTONIAN,’ Poe again does much the same thing that he condemns in Wordsworth. First he published anonymously. Then, unsatisfied, he infantilized his own absence by crookedly asserting that the Tamerlane poems emerged unrevised from a child's pen; he says, “The greater part of the poems which compose this little volume, were written in the year 1821-2, when the author had not completed his fourteenth year. ... He is conscious that in [Tamerlane] there are many faults ... which he flatters himself he could, with little trouble, have corrected, but unlike many of his predecessors, has been too fond of his early productions to amend them in his old age.” Poe, like Whitman, revised incessantly. The subterfuge here is sheer fudge, but interesting for a number of reasons. On the one hand, we have first breath of the hiding, doubling, and repetition so common in the mature work. On the other, we can't help but remark that this first masking of self is less expert than in the later work, that it fails to entirely conceal a brittle ego already cowering in the marketplace of poetic personae.

What matters most in the present context is that we see alteration in the poetic statements between the Tamerlane (1827) and Poems (1831) prefaces. The displacement of [page 150:] romantic vision in the former approaches the Wordsworthian well of childhood Poe explicitly rejects in the latter. In fact, the second preface might be thought an attempt to erase the first. In the 1831 piece Poe writes of the problematic of self-criticism — writes directly over the dishonesty of the Tamerlane preface. Like an expert at self-analysis, and just before attacking Wordsworth, Poe says:

I think the notion that no poet can form a correct estimate of his own writings is [a vulgar error as regards criticism]. ... a bad poet would, I grant, make a false critique, and his self-love would infallibly bias his little judgment in his favor; but a poet, who is indeed a poet, could not, I think, fail of making a just critique. Whatever should be deducted from the score of self-love, might be replaced on account of his intimate acquaintance with the subject; in short, we have more instances of false criticism than of just, simply because we have more bad poets than good. ... By what trivial circumstances men are led to assert what they do not really believe.

Read in the context of 1827's false humility, Poe here leaves us no good options as readers. If we take him at his 1831 word, he must be honestly dismissive of his first efforts. But we know that the 1827 preface is but thin veil against the eyes of the world, that there is no poet in “his fourteenth year,” that Poe always fully invested in [page 151:] the currency of his efforts. Poe's attack on Wordsworth is therefore unstable, and therefore his lovemaking with Coleridge can't be trusted either.(30) If we are a bit confused, it is because we are looking for Poe and cannot seem to pin him down even within language explicitly about his own self-production. So why does Poe erase relation to mentors? Why does he both court and then shun the attachments affiliation provides?

Stephen Rachman, writing about creative plagiarism in Poe, points out that his relation to other authors is not simply one of love and theft. Rachman goes to the heart of the problem Wordsworth represents for Poe in (and by) quoting a friend: “Shawn Rosenheim has argued that the central problem of Poe's fiction is ‘the problem of the existence of other minds’ (Rosenheim, 388). I would reformulate this as a problem with the existence of other texts.” What is Poe's solution to this problem? Rachman says that Poe's plagiaristic appetite (whether for other names, minds, or texts) “is essentially a confessional mode.” Poe wants us to see him scribbling in the margins of other texts. Cleverly, Rachman says that when Poe “allows us to see him posing, he ‘ex-poses’ himself.” This is a strong argument, but isn't Poe's consumption of literary and martial names more mercenary, less playful, more desperate, and therefore in general more violent an act than Rachman suggests? Poe's un-American face is at times appalling, in step with the sentiment of lines penned by Gen. George S. Patton. This other West Point poet wrote, in a truly frightening poem titled “Peace — November 11, 1918,” [page 152:] of his disgust for the “cheering mob” at the Great War's end. The commotion at war's end promised to Patton only a “Life like a festering sewer / Full of the fecal Pacifists / Which peace makes us endure.” Peace, he thought, meant he would not be “Knowing once more the whitehot joy / Of taking human life.” Here, radically displaced from the exterior world to an interior war with names, is Poe's most hawkish, undemocratic desire; he would take the life of other names; he would erase his literary progenitors rather than join with them. Geoffrey Sanborn makes a similar point in his “A Confused Beginning: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket.” Richly returning us to Freud's family romance in Poe, he explores how “the air of self-generation” is “precisely what so many of Poe's narrators and protagonists desire.”(31) The point, of course, is that in Poe “self-generation” is a desire, but not yet an achievement. To illustrate this point we might remember that Poe's selection of the name “Arthur Gordon Pym” has long been read as echo of Edgar Allan Poe ... but notice also the stealthy return in the title of an introjected Byron; he was, of course, “George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron.”

The “more than beauty of [Ada's] face” that Tamerlane cannot recall, that has been erased by a martial will to power, brings us nicely back to Helen, and “To Helen” — perhaps the most important of the military names to touch the West Point book. She makes her first appearance in 1831, long after her face launched those thousand ships. Like Ada, or the Helen of Nis, this figure is not a woman to [page 153:] Poe. She is not even a woman in poetry's andocentric tradition, for Poe's blazon barely occurs. Leslie Fiedler, if writing about the later tales, notes this phenomenon when he writes that “Poe ... can scarcely bring himself to do more than list the stereotyped data which indicate the Fair Lady.”(32) Helen is instead a general's war prize — a simple metonymy for martial force. To possess her is to “possess” a martial “throne,” as my epigraph suggests Poe desired. If in “To Helen” Poe's adoration once seemed safe, seemed pure adoration, and we know that this is how generations of critics have read the lyric, now we notice Helen's Nis-like silence. Poe's women are typically robbed of voice. As with Ada in “Tamerlane,” there is no fear that uncanny Helen, statuesque Helen, comically tucked as she is into her “niche,” will ever speak her mind and engender the speaker's reply. With Helen, as with Ada, “There was no need to speak the rest, / No need to quiet any fears / Of hers — who asked no reason why, / But turned on me her quiet eye” (my italics).

Poe's “To Helen” enacts the story of Pygmalion in reverse, robs us yet again of Fiedler's fair lady, and therefore constitutes a more typical Ovidian metamorphosis.(33) The speaking, moving part written into The Iliad and “The Valley Nis” becomes a dead blank in “To Helen”; Helen turns to cold white marble in a window niche. The 1831 book alone provides a choice of Helens, a choice between fixity and movement, and this ultimately unsettles any single meaning for the figure. Was Poe serious? Is the petrifaction of the feminine really his poetic ideal of Beauty ... or [page 154:] are we supposed to laugh? “‘Of all melancholy topics what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?’ Death, was the obvious reply. ‘And when,’ I said, ‘is this melancholy of topics most poetical? ... the answer here also is obvious — When it most closely allies itself to beauty: the death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic of the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover. — The abuse of reading “The Philosophy of Composition” back nineteen years to the 1831 Poems allows for some insight. Poe, tucked in “to Helen” as closely into a speaker as we ever find him, does not pose as “bereaved lover.” Instead he reveals himself as an owner of antiquity, of “the beauty of fair Greece, / And the grandeur of old Rome.” This poem is therefore less about adoration (or loss) of any earthly inspiration, and more about the containment of a threat, or the poetic achievement of a tactical objective. In siding here with a fixed death for Helen, Poe realigns himself with Tamer-lane's choice against a life with Ada, and ultimately for the “lovely,” martial, and cultural value of an aristocratic general's plunder. In closing, let us take up one last time the crafted coincidence of martial names in Poe:

Helen, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicean barks of yore,

That gently, o’r a perfum’d sea,

The weary, way-worn wanderer bore

To his own native shore. [page 155:]

Who does this figurehead bark transport, and to where? Poe to beauty? No. Instead it carries us with Poe to yet another of his failed identifications with a martial name. Despite Orphic, rhythmic swells, we know that Poe's are Homeric seas, and therefore that the way-worn wanderer, headed home, needs to be Odysseus — that first of the great, literary, nomad powers with which Poe was certainly familiar.(34) In the end, I think Helen's “Naiad airs” have only appeared to transport the poet to the comfort of a classical “home.” This is because the Ovidian violence done Helen in the third stanza works against any transport to such fluid, living comfort. Therefore, in spite of the manifest meaning of the lines, we must conclude that this “weary, way-worn wanderer” still floats between battles. Finally, this drifting warrior persona may signal Poe's complex relation to the domestic sphere, a place that also creeps in through the 1831 reference to statuary and “that little window-niche.” A later version replaces the writer's “scroll” in Helen's hand with an “agate lamp,” signaling yet another subtle retreat from the heroic.(35)

My hope is not that these thoughts on the 1831 Poems conclude the conversation regarding Poe and his martial investments; they are too partial and impressionistic to do this. Rather, I want to suggest how the lack of criticism regarding Poe and the military calls for new work in this area.

In the 1831 Poems, Poe proves himself already broken and in transit, already a nameless, literary masochist “on desperate seas” — at war over possible names for his own [page 156:] poetic identity. And this is where Hart Crane, Poe's most careful modernist reader, finds him. In “The Tunnel” section of The Bridge, the beauty of Helen's transport, “those Nicean barks of yore” morph into a Gotham subway train. Crane, also searching America for Poe's proper name, and finding only dismembered bits of the poet and his language, well deserves what I hope is not the last word on Poe's nom de guerre:

Whose head is swinging from the swollen strap?

Whose body smokes along the bitten rails,

Bursts from a smoldering bundle far behind

In back forks of the chasms of the brain, —

Puffs from riven stumps far out behind

In interborough fissures of the mind ...?


[page 157:]


1.  Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson, The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987), 96.

2.  See Laplanche and Pontalis's The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Norton, 1973), 160, for a history of Freud's use of ambivalence and other key terms. The “family romance” has grown into an essential clue for contemporary critical understanding of the American Renaissance. Freud used the term to describe the fantasies whereby subjects imagine alternative genealogies for themselves: “I am really a foundling.” “You are not my parents.” “I kill the father by having many, or none at all.” Or, “Lafayette's friend, ‘General’ David Poe, is really Benedict Arnold.” Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville (Berkeley: California Univ. Press, 1979), Michael Paul Rogin's important book on Herman Melville's art and politics, has led the way toward more recent explorations of the “family romance” in American romanticism. The term is central to my speculations about the significance of officership in Poe's poetics. Clearly Otto Rank's work on Poe's investment in doppelgangers might inform this reading, but I have had to leave it aside for want of space.

Lafayette's actual battles with Washington's bad son, Arnold, although richly suggestive, may only seem to matter here; we have no evidence Poe knew the two generals had faced off during 1781's Virginia campaign. In fact, Arnold sent a letter of truce directly to Lafayette. Lafayette “refused to receive any message from the traitor,” and, later, “the attitude of La Fayette [proved] especially gratifying to General Washington, to whom [page 158:] he reported it, and who wrote to him from New Windsor [which is just up the Hudson River from West Point] ... ‘Your conduct upon every occasion meets my approbation, but in none more than in your refusing to hold a correspondence with Arnold.” See Charlemagne Tower, The Marquis de La Fayette in the American Revolution (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), 339-40.

3.  This imagined and disbursed martial milieu is like John Allan in that it constitutes a significant paternal force that both supported and rejected Poe. Therefore, Poe's martial experience figures significantly into the long Oedipal saga that informs much of Poe criticism, especially because it underlines the young Poe's fixation with the family romance. Perhaps critics have obscured Poe's ambivalent struggle with martial authority because it complicates the strongest appeal Oedipal dynamics holds for criticism — the promise of simple, structural correspondence. One theoretical origin of this post-structural idea, and therefore of the particular close readings I submit here, is Deleuze and Guattari's influential book, The Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1983).

4.  In one of the best-known articulations of the nature of romance, Henry James wrote that “the Balloon of experience is in fact of course tied to the earth, and under that necessity we swing, thanks to a rope of remarkable length, in the more or less commodious care of the imagination; but it is by the rope we know where we are, and from the moment that cable is cut we are large and unrelated” (quoted in Michael Davitt Bell, “The Development of America Romance,” in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2000], 633). Emerson's famous idea about shunning and the disruptive customs of artistic relation is, imported as it may seem, actually a natural connection here (see Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), 150).James certainly echoes Emerson's shunning. Hawthorne's “The CustomHouse” notice that the transport of a successful poetics requires both affiliation with and divorce from the social is also part of this tradition in American literature (Bell, “The Development of American Romance,” 632). [page 159:]

5.  Here, from the Tales, is part of Poe's description of Ligeia: “In beauty of face no maiden ever equaled her. ... Yet her features were not of that regular mold which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen. ‘There is no exquisite beauty,’ says Bacon, Lord Verulum, speaking truly of all the forms and genera of beauty, ‘without some strangeness in the proportion — (Poetry and Tales [Library of America, 1969], 263). Abstractly considered, the facade of Roderick Usher's house contains the same grotesque architecture as Ligeia's face. There are many more examples of odd juxtaposition in the marginalia and essays.

6.  See my epigraph.

7.  Negative memorialization is a rich subject, and something that goes on to this day at West Point. In the Old Cadet Chapel Arnold has a memorial plaque on a wall next to others commemorating great generals. His name alone is scratched out. Fort Arnold at West Point was quickly renamed Fort Clinton after the treason, but tourists willing to read the small print on a bronze plaque can still find Arnold represented. As Major Hecker observes, Poe himself is treated in a similar fashion in the library.

8.  Milton's words, “confusion worse confounded,” which he uses to describe the metaphysical fall of Lucifer from the mind of God, are also the words Poe used to condemn Emerson's “frogpondian” transcendentalism.

9.  See Barbara Johnson, “Melville's Fist: The Execution of Billy Budd,” in The Critical Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), 79-110. My reading of the role Arnold and Lafayette play in Poe's life and literary imagination owes a great deal to the design of the now-classic critical observations Johnson makes concerning Billy and Claggart.

10.  Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. Harrison Hayford and Herschel Parker (New York: Norton, 1967), 331.

11.  West Point retains this letter in its archives. See Thomas and Jackson, The Poe Log. [[Letters, 2008, 1:65.]]

12.  In Specimen Days, Walt Whitman first spoke of this sense of impersonality or emptiness rising from reading Poe: “[His] verses illustrate an [page 160:] intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty ... and, by final judgment, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat” (Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, ed. James E. Miller [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959], 157).

13.  Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition,” in Essays and Reviews (Library of America, 1984), 15. Emerson, in perhaps his darkest mood, recounts the death of his son Waldo. He writes of the absence of any “practical power” to grasp a language capable of dealing with the harsh “lords of life:’ One such lord, the same one important here in Poe, is “Succession?’ Emerson writes: “In the death of my son, now nearly two years ago, I seem to have lost a beautiful estate — no more:’ Emerson wonders at how quickly his depression falls away, and logs that the failure of moods to stay with us is a great tragedy: “I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers when we clutch the hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our existence:’ Although he recovers by the end of “Experience,” the result of the loss of objects (and the affect they carry) lands Emerson at the edge of where Poe's dark, projective, genealogical thinking begins: “Our relations to each other are oblique and casual. ... Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. ... We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate” (Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Whicher, 256-57). As in Poe, subjects are cut off, unrelated, self-alienated, and small. Emerson's oversoul is nowhere to be found in “Experience?’ or in Poe.

14.  Having long since digested Marie Bonaparte's awfully smart book, suffered through the real lesson in The Purloined Poe, and, most recently, enjoyed the airing of Poe's cultural perversity in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps we are steeled to refuse the seduction of critical praxes that promise to decrypt Poe.

15.  Poe begins his famous “Balloon Hoax” with these words.

16.  Of the rancorous “Longfellow War” fought out in literary journals and newspapers during 1845, critics have traditionally thought that Poe, then the established author of “The Raven,” had attacked himself under the nom de guerre “Outis.” It was thought a brilliant move by Poe — to attack [page 161:] himself privately and thereby justify his own very public self-defense. “Outis” means “nobody” or “Nornan” in Greek, and of course recalls the name Odysseus used (in book I X of The Odyssey) to taunt Polyphemous, the Cyclops.

In “The Identity of ‘Outis’: A Further Chapter in the Poe-Longfellow War,” American Literature 60 (October 1988): 402-15, Kent Ljungquist and Buford Jones attempt to relieve Poe of this one of his many identities. They name Lawrence Labree, the editor of the New York Rover, as Longfellow's defender. Very powerful circumstantial guns are brought to bear on the old claim of Poe as Outis, and the authors’ scrupulous, investigative scholarship all but win their chapter in the war. However, not even a lapse into the grammar of near certainty — “In his letter as Outis, [Labree] seemed to enjoy ... “ — can close the question for good. Ironically, one can still look back almost 160 years (to Labree and Outis) for the nagging reason why the mysterious reviewer may still have been Poe. Ljungquist and Jones write, “In his March 1, 1845, letter, Outis, in one of his rhetorical questions that continued to annoy Poe, asked: ‘Did no two men ever think alike without stealing from one another?’ (Pollin, III, 30). In his March 1 column in the Rover, Labree, using similar diction and the same technique of the rhetorical question, asked: ‘[M]ay not two men occasionally think alike?’” (410). If two men might think alike, they might also publish similar rhetoric and diction on the same day. The identity of Outis, I would argue, is still an open question, if, after 1988, smart money is certainly on Labree. Longfellow, in the end, remained undefeated, and Poe was refused Odysseus's final taunts from beyond stone's throw.

17.  See Poe's Poetry and Tales, 820. For the best work to date on the remarkable impact Lafayette had on Americans in Poe's time, see Anne Loveland, Emblem of Liberty: The Image of Lafayette in the American Mind (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1971).

18.  Interestingly, what we might call Poe's “nostalgia for the future” in this poem foreshadows his later, ground-breaking forays into science fiction. See John Tresch, “Extra! Extra! Poe Invents Science Fiction,” in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Kevin J. Hayes (Cambridge, [page 162:] Mass.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002), 113-32, for a lucid reading of Poe's futuristic nostalgia, and for how his ‘invention’ really intervenes in a tradition that includes Swift's Gulliver's Travels and More's Utopia.

19.  The Latin captures the very old idea that the transfer (or translation: translatio) of culture as knowledge (or studies: studium) is all that preserves civilization from a creeping barbarism and discontent. The full phrase is Translatio Studii et Imperii, and in the nod to empire it nicely carries the implication that America is really the untranslated inheritor of English cultural value. I mean to point to Poe's genealogy-based unwillingness to fully embrace America's declared and revolutionary break with Englishness — with primogeniture, for example. At least in his aristocratic and European half-life, Lafayette stands remarkably between America and England. He fittingly symbolizes Poe's halfway covenant with American democratic ideology. For a later example of Poe's resistance to American westernness, or place, notice the near absence of American scenery in Poe.

20.  In Poe's time, readers still remembered the strange fear that the American wilderness would result in at least a loss of manners, and at worst a return to savagery.

21.  Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Poems, ed. Thomas Olive Mabbott (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2000), 190; Whitman, Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, ed. Miller, 28, 26.

22.  Thomas Mabbott notes another lost soldier that may be buried here: “The nameless grave ... is ... on the old road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, over which Poe journeyed with the Allan Family in 1815. The story is that a farmer ... tried to aid a dying Covenanter, fatally wounded at the valley of Rullion Green. The man, without revealing his name, died in [the farmer's] arms, saying at the last, ‘Bury me in the sight of the Ayrshire hills.’[The farmer] carried him to the top of Black hill, and buried him, marking the spot with a small cairn. It is hard to believe that Poe did not know this touching story” (Poe, Complete Poems, ed. Mabbott, 191).

23.  Poe, Complete Poems, ed. Mabbott, 194. See also Paul F. Baum's 1949 essay, “Poe's ‘To Helen,’” Modern Language Notes 64 (May 1949): [page 163:] 289-97, for early augmentation of Mabbott. Baum argues for the influence of a number of women upon Poe's construction of Helen; even then, criticism turned as I do here to a kind of “composite inspiration” in Poe (295).

24.  Homer, The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin, 1990), 589.

25.  See Karen Weekes's essay, “Poe's Feminine Ideal,” in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Hayes, 148-62, for lucid, late addendum to the discussion of Poe's treatment of women. I agree with Weekes when she “join[s] other critics in arguing that Poe never truly wrote about women at all” — when she says that “Poe's feminine ideal ... is merely a place holder” (151).

26.  See Joan Dayan, “Amorous Bonds: Poe, Ladies, and Slaves,” in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995), 183. While I keep here to close reading of the 1831 poems, Dayan's work suggests obvious connections within the later, larger body of Poe's work. In the tales the clearest example of a fragmented, “dehumanized” martial body occurs in “The Man That Was Used Up” (307). This spoof about a shattered, caricatured (West Point?) captain, John A. B. C. Smith, signals not only Poe's negative critique of scientific progress, but also a complex critique of martial figures and authority. This comic writing is significant because Poe lets his guard down and actually writes about American force and space. While the racist Poe certainly approves of Smith's “progress” in “the Indian wars,” he also takes the figure (both literally and figuratively) apart. “The Man That Was Used Up” suggests Poe's part in a larger debate over the nature of American democratic subjectivity. Three years later, in Nature, Emerson would write that “unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man” (Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Whicher, 64). [page 164:]

See also Poe's late remarks on plagiarism in his February 1848 submission to Graham's Magazine (Essays and Reviews, 1425). There he seems to damn the military intellect in no uncertain terms: “[Military men] are almost wholly wanting in the noblest energies of the soul — in imagination and taste — in the capacity of enjoying works of genius — in large views of human nature — in the moral sciences — in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society, and in original conceptions on the great subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings” (1427). But this is not Poe, but a letter hidden in plain sight. The words are from Channing's damning of Bonaparte, and Poe will go on to offer the stolen refrain by a plagiarist. Maddeningly, Poe lays before us this luring critique of warriors, not once but three times, and offers no discernible judgment of the content. Possibilities for future scholarship are rich.

27.  There is no way to use here a series of lucky facts that would have delighted the breed of old-school psychoanalytic critics for whom accidents turn into truth claims. Poe of course knew that Byron was lame, but he probably had no idea that “Tamerlane” derives from the Persian “Timur-i lang,” or “Temur the Lame.” It seems he was pierced with arrows while attempting to steal sheep in his youth, and was left crippled. Like Oedipus (“swollen-foot”), Tamerlane has his trauma written on his body; he carries in plain sight the physical evidence of his deficit, the spur to his wild ambition. Because the Turkic name for him is Timur, or “iron,” we therefore have hidden in Poe's Tamerlane something like the appellation “broken strength,” and therefore close cousin to the Arnold / Lafayette coupling already explored. Tamerlane, a near world-conquering general like his ancestor Jenghiz Khan, was known as “the last of the great nomad powers.” This, of course, ties in too conveniently with Poe's fancy of being adrift between nations and names — a being of pure, ever-thwarted potential (Silkroad Foundation, 1997-2000, April 17, 2003, http://www.silkroad.com/artl/timur.shtml).

28.  Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 41, 39.

29.  If the speaker is even the roughest approximation of the historical [page 165:] Tamerlane, then the deathbed confession can only invoke the ghost of a father. Histories relate that Timur-i lang fell sick and died while encamped with his army at Samarkand, awaiting both spring and the start of his own massive campaign to overthrow China's first Ming emperor.

30.  See Barbara Johnson, “Strange Fits: Poe and Wordsworth on the Nature of Poetic Language,” in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Rosenheim and Rachman, 37-48, for a remarkable reading of “agreement” between the poets.

31.  Stephen Rachman, “‘Es Lasst sich nicht schreiben’: Plagiarism and ‘The Man of the Crowd,’” ibid., 62, 67, 66; General George S. Patton, The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire, ed. Carmine A. Prioli (Lewiston: Edward Mellin Press, 1991), 86; Geoffrey Sanborn, “A Confused Beginning: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket,” in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Hayes, 163.

32.  Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Stein and Day, 1966), 292.

33.  As J. Hillis Miller notes in Versions of Pygmalion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), 3, the Pygmalion story is atypical in that the inanimate is made animate. Where women are concerned, Poe and Ovid mostly like it the other way around.

34.  See Herbert Edward Mierow, “A Classical Allusion in Poe,” Modern Language Notes 31 (1916): 184-85, for more on the long debate over the name of Poe's wanderer.

35.  In a conference paper titled “Poe's Homely Details,” Barbara Cantalupo has recently commented on how objects in Poe's poems point to his real, nineteenth-century, domestic, and sentimental surround (paper presented at the Second International Edgar Allan Poe Conference, October 3-6, 2002, Baltimore). [[Published as “Poe's Homely Interior,” Poe and the Visual Arts, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 2014, pp. 87-102.]]



Dr. Gerard (Tony) A. McGowan is an Associate Professor of English at West Point.


[S:0 - PPMPA, 2005] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Private Perry and Mister Poe (G. A. McGowan)