Text: Richard H. Hart, “Poe in Foreign Lands and Tonques,” typescript draft, January 1941




JANUARY 19, 1941

Poe in France by Dr. JEANNE ROSSELET of Goucher College

Poe in Russia by Dr. LUBOV KEEFER of The Johns Hopkins University

Poe in Germany by Dr. HERBERT SCHAUMANN of Goucher College

Poe in Spain and Spanish America by Dr. PEDRO SALINAS of The Johns Hopkins University



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THE EDGAR ALLAN POE SOCIETY of Baltimore arranges annually on the birthday of the poet [[changed to the first Sunday in October]] a public commemoration in the historic church beside which Poe and his kindred lie buried. The program of the meeting of January 19, 1941, included a symposium on the topic, “Poe in Foreign Lands and Tongues,” participated in by four members of the teaching staffs of Goucher College and the Johns Hopkins University. The papers, though brief and designed only for oral presentation, proved so interesting that the Society voted, with the kind consent of the authors, to print them as one of its occasional publications. They are offered, therefore, as a contribution to the history of Poe’s fame and influence, the more timely, perhaps, because presented in a period of intense nationality and worldwide strife.

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Associate Professor of French in Goucher College

YOU HAVE NO DOUBT observed that the author of “The Raven” is known in France as Edgar Poe. This shortened form is merely due to the habit of using only one of several given names. However, it seems quite appropriate in this case, for Poe had never been legally adopted by Mr. Allan, and his relations with his foster-father were often stormy.

It was Charles Baudelaire who, in 1856, shortly after the death of the poet, introduced him to the general public by translating his tales under the title of Histoires Extraordinaires. The two men had a great deal in common, whether in temperament or circumstances. Baudelaire was highly strung and showed early evidence of a morbid streak inherited from his mother. His stepfather, Colonel Aupick, did his duty by the unruly boy according to his lights, which were, naturally enough, along the line of strict discipline. Therefore, as soon as he had the chance, the young man proceeded to sow his wild oats with considerable speed and thoroughness. When his own book of poems appeared, in 1857, he gave it the suggestive title of Les Fleurs du Mal. There is a note of defiance in it, and it is quite true that several of the hundred and fifty-one poems are distinctly immoral. In fact, Baudelaire’s “succès de scandale” rather exceeded his expectations, for the book was condemned by the court, and he had to pay a fine of 250 francs (about fifty dollars), which was precisely the sum he had received from his publisher. Baudelaire himself was aware of the absence of any erotic element in Poe’s works, for he says: “There is not . . . a single passage referring to lust or even carnal pleasures.”

However, when it came to defining the essence of poetry, the two poets were in complete agreement. In fact, Baudelaire absorbed The Poetic Principle so completely that he gave as his own several well-known passages of it, thus laying himself open to the charge of plagiarism. Even so, Baudelaire should in no sense be considered a mere echo of Poe: he was already twenty-five when he first came into contact with the American poet and he had already written several of the poems which were to appear in Les Fleurs du Mal. He had had no difficulty in recognizing a kindred spirit [page 6:] and in turning to good account principles which had been in the air since Coleridge, but which had never before found such striking expression.

One poem, “Recueillement,” will serve to show that Baudelaire and Poe belonged to the same “famille d’esprits,” as Sainte-Beuve would have expresses it:

Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.

Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend, le voici

Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,

Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.


Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,

Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,

Va cueillir des remords dans la fête servile,

Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici.


Loin d’eux. Vois se pencher les défuntes Années,

Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannées,

Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;


Le Soleil moribond s’endormir sons une arche,

Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l’Orient,

Entends, ma chère, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

Since it is a sonnet, it is necessarily short. “I hold that a long poem does not exist,” wrote Poe. Moreover, “it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with Truth,” again according to The Poetic Principle. In the last tercet, notice the line: “Et, comme un long linceul  traînant à l’Orient”; does not the word linceul — shroud — suggest the Lady Madeline of Usher, coming out of her tomb and ascending the stairs, or the line of The Sleeper: “While the pale sheeted ghosts go by.”

And does not the use of alliterations in the same tercet suggest such lines as:

Over the Mountains

Of the Moon

Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,

The shade replied,

If you seek for Eldorado.

It is indeed “The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.” As you know, the strongly “atmospheric” quality of “Recueillement” caught Debussy’s fancy, and it belongs to the concert stage as much as to the favorite bookshelf.

If Baudelaire was Poe’s prophet, Stephane Mallarmé became his high priest. Outwardly, the two men were completely different: Mallarmé was a professor of English who performed his duties with commendable thoroughness, and was known, besides, as a good husband and a devoted [page 7:] father. He was rewarded, according to the French system, by being promoted from provincial lycées to a Paris one. However, he did not find his daily task congenial; so he never felt tempted to write his memoirs and to publish them, like Professor Bliss Perry of Harvard, under the title “And gladly teach.” He did not look for relief among the “Paradis Artificiels” of de Quincy, Poe, and Baudelaire, but worked off his sense of frustration in the pursuit of pure poetry. The very title of his only long poem, “ L’Après-midi d’un Faune,” so well known to music lovers, is indicative of his need of escape. Though never popular — and what adept of pure poetry could expect to be — he soon attracted a group of young poets who made his modest apartment of the Rue de Rome their Mecca and who became known in 1886 under the name of the “Symbolists.”

Since Baudelaire had translated Poe’s tales, Mallarmé devoted himself to Poe’s poems. They appeared in 1888, though The Raven had already been published in 1875 with illustrations by Manet. Moreover, one of his own poems shows how strongly he had come under the spell of the American poet. It is called “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe” and is, like “Recueillement” a sonnet. The lines are so elliptical that they are often obscure and there exist several different interpretations of the poem.

Here are the first four lines:

Tel qu’en lui-même enfin l’éternité le change,

Le Poète suscite avec un glaive nu

Son siècle épouvandé de n’avoir pas connu

Que la mort triomphait dans cette voix éstrange!

They suggest three other much older lines:

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

and yet, there is a different and even deeper meaning: the poet’s figure has been blurred by the many troubles, and vexations of every day. Now, that he has come to the end of what has been so well called “the long littleness of life,” the lines of his personality emerge clearly:

Tel qu’en lui-même, enfin, l’éternité le change,

In its suggestive beauty and its use of alliterations, it is one of the great lines of modern poetry.

It is so well-known that the first part of it “Tel qu’en lui-même” serves as title to one of Georges Duhamel’s works; it is the last volume of one of his cyclic novels. The hero, Salavin, is like Poe, like Mallarmé, like many of us, a man who finds it hart to adapt himself to the surrounding [page 8:] world; he is full of inhibitions and we are apt to find him “queer.” Now that death has come, he, too, appears in his real identity; and we discover somewhat late, perhaps, that we like him.

One of the greatest contemporary poets is Paul Valéry. The very title of one of his books of poems: “Charmes,” published in 1822, shows that he also, follows in Poe’s footsteps, for the word goes back to its Latin origin: carmen, carminis, a song, but also a magic incantation. To him, Poe was “ le poète par excellence.”

A reaction was to take place, of course and there were those who were indifferent to Poe and those who were actively hostile. The Abbé Brémond and his group of poets expressed themselves in no uncertain terms, “Crachons sur Edgar Poe.” As you know, French people take their literary quarrels quite seriously!

We must not forget, however, that Poe was first known in France through his tales and that a translation of The Gold Bug appeared as early as 1845, eleven years before Baudelaire’s Histoires Extraordinaires.

Those of you who delight in detective novels must be acquainted with Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq, whose deductive powers compare with those of Monsieur Dupin of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. In the last years of the Second Empire, the numerous schoolboys who devoured Gaboriau and Jules Verne were unaware of their favorite authors’ indebtedness to Poe. Yet, in Charleville, close to the Belgian frontier, there lived a youth whose dreams of escape were strongly colored by Poe, as well as by Jules Verne. At seventeen, Arthur Rimbaud turned these dreams into vivid lines which were to give French poetry a new visionary intensity. If we turn to his Bateau Ivre, we shall discover, in his description of an ocean which he had not yet seen, Jules Verne’s Quarante Mille Lieues sous les Mers, to be sure, but also Poe’s Descent into the Maelstrom:

Moi qui tremblais, sentant geindre a cinquande lieues

Le rut des Béhémots et des Maëlstroms épais,

Fileur eternel des immobilités bleues,

Je regrette l’Europe aux anciens parapets.

The influence of the tales of obsession and horror is real, though more difficult to trace. To begin with, the theme had been handled successfully before The Black Cat, as is apparent to all of Balzac’s devotees. Moreover, the latter part of the nineteenth century marks the appearance of many medico-psychological works, especially those of Pierre Janet. Thus, we know that Maupassant had read Poe, but tales like William Wilson only gave literary coloring to his own experience of fear and obsession. When Le Horla appeared in its first form in 1886, Maupassant’s admirers thought that he was exploiting a very different vein from the robust realism of Boule de Suif. Only his most intimate friends realized then that he was [page 9:] already a very sick man; less than seven years later, he was to die in an insane asylum.

We have, however, a much more clear-cut case than that of Maupassant; it is that of Villiers de l’Isle Adam, who knew Poe so well that he was able to recite whole tales from memory. One quotation, taken from Souvenirs Occultes in his Contes Cruels, will serve as evidence. It is part of a description of the Dead Cities of India, which, a few years later, were to provide a background for several of Kipling’s stories:

Un air chaud de mortels arome pèse sur les muets débris et c’est comme une vapeur de cassolettes funéraires, une bleue, enivrante et torturande sueur de parfums.

These words especially bleue sueur de parfums, bring back to mind Baudelaire’s famous line, “Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.” And yet, Poe himself had written:

The orange ray of the spectrum and the buzz of the gnat . . . affect me with similar sensations. In hearing the gnat, I perceive the color, in perceiving the color, I seem to hear the gnat.

Villiers de l’Isle Adam left us in no doubt as to Poe’s influence, for the tale is preceded by the following quotation from Berenice:

Et il n’y a pas, dans toute la contrée, de château plus chargé de gloire et d’années que mon mélancolique manoir héréditaire.

Edgar Poe.

Of Poe’s influence on the drama, I shall only furnish one instance, clear to everyone, Pelléas et Mélisande. Maeterlinck had fallen easily under the spell of the House of Usher, for level land, stagnant water, old gloomy buildings, heavy silence broken by the sound of bells were familiar features to a man brought up so close to Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, Korngold’s Todte Stadt.

II y a toujours un silence extraordinaire. . . . On entendrait dormir l’eau. . . . Sentez-vous l’odeur mortelle qui règne ici. . . . Selon moi elle provient du petit lac souterrain que je vais vous faire voir.

. . . . an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reached up from the decayed trees and the grey walls, and the silent tarn, a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible and leaden-hued.

Pelleas and Melisande, like Roderick Usher, are haunted by fear, fear of Destiny, fear of Death. “Oh! oh! petit père,” cries Little Yniold, looking at the lovers through the window, “ ils ne ferment jamais les yeux. . . . J’ai terriblement peur. . . .” [page 10:] His eyes were bent fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance, there reigned a stony rigidity.

— Ils ont peur? a quoi vois-tu qu’ils ont peur? . . . — Ils sont malheureux, mais ils rient. . . .

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out for ever,

And laugh — but smile no more.

These are only a few remarks on a subject which has already filled several volumes. They will help to show you that Poe’s influence has been far-reaching and to justify the assertion that, of all nations, no one has responded to the genius of our poet more completely than France.

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Instructor in the Russian Language and Literature in the College for Teachers, The Johns Hopkins University

TODAY IN THE RUSSIA of the Soviets the star of Edgar Allan Poe is setting with meteoric swiftness. Not many years ago, however, its light flashed with blinding iridescence. How brilliantly it shone may be inferred from the reply of Avram Yarmolinsky, chief of the Slavic Division of the New York Public Library, to inquiries about Russian belles lettres prompted by the Czaristic participation in the World War. He spoke (in the Bookman, 1916, Vol. XLIV, pp. 44-45) of the “mad Edgar” as the only American whom the Slavs had taken completely to their heart, with all his “unearthliness and morbidity, his fantastic rationalism and super excited aestheticism, with all his dreams and nightmares.”

This cult of Poe reached its apogee at the turn of the century with the symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont. Drawn irresistibly to Poe’s mystic melodiousness, and deeply stirred by his martyrdom, Balmont, though taking issue with Mrs. Whitman for her worship of Poe, still finds him a poet beloved of the gods, with all the cosmic and protean implications of such rank. For Balmont, Poe walking in Elysium with his Helen, “a lily of the valley and a violet,” is the “North Pole and all the southern lands which one passes on one’s way to the North Pole, the sweetest sound of the lute and the most passionate sob of the violin, sensation exalted to a state of crystal serenity, an enchanted gorgeous hall ending with a magical mirror.”

Balmont’s adaptations of Poe, extending in time from the ascension of the last Romanof to the collapse of the Empire, were epoch-making. In scope and significance they challenge if perhaps they do not surpass Baudelaire’s essays on the American’s prose. Many of them literal, others free versions of Poe motifs, they formed the very crest of the neoromantic tide which bore Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Wilde. To Dostojevsky and Andreev, they unlocked new and broad psychologic vistas. Stylistically their impact stirred Mereshkovsky, Golikov, and Sologub. A whole fresh start in writing and melo-declamation was marshaled in by the Raven. [page 12:] Without Poe, neither Sherlock Holmes nor Nick Carter would have had a Slav Patron-Saint. In the Conqueror-Worm and the Bells, in Eldorado and Silence, Rachmaninof and Gniessin, Miaskovsky and Podgoretzky discovered accents of rare exoticism.

Criticism in Russia, too, accorded in those days to Poe the highest laurels. It stresses, throughout, the unapproachable excellence of his idiom, and the inimitable flavor of his color. Typical is the review of one A. Krasnoselsky, who, paraphrasing the Nevrosés of Arvéde Barine Against the Prose of Life, or To the Psychology of indefinite Strivings (Russian Wealth, 1900, XI, pp. 27-55), gives Poe the iconoclast a niche alongside of De Quincey, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Gerard de Nerval; but emphasizes the unfettered course of the American’s message even in this illustrious cénacle. He discourses at length on Poe’s astonishing power to illumine each and all of the gruesome manifestations of fear, the entire gamut of destructive maddening terror, sadistic thrill, and mania.

Even more laudatory is E. Anichkov’s monograph Beaudelaire and Edgar Poe (The Contemporary World, 1909, II, pp. 75-100). Here, with the authority born of a life-long contact with belles-lettres, the critic draws an exhaustive chart of counteraction between these strangely attuned artists. Again Poe is valued, not as the peer, but as the superior, of the French poet. For did not Beaudelaire find in Ulalume and Enigma an eternal answer whenever torn by doubt of the validity of his calling? Granted that Fleurs du Mal are unique in their daring flights of imagination, no one ever approaches Poe in his conviction of the sanctity of instinct, inspiration, intuition, or deep-rooted loathing of all cause and effect. And what distinguishes Poe from all his Old-World competitors is, in Anichkov’s view, his “Americanism”: the sharp, cool, self-dissecting analysis, thanks to which he emerges from the white heat of passion a calculating detached Yankee, at once a frenzied lunatic and a journalist with a flair for the popular.

The first symptoms of a waning sympathy for Poe in the U. S. S. R. appear in 1926, in the Preface to the translated Poems by Valery Brusov (Edgar Poe: Full Collection of Poems, Moscow-Leningrad). The very vehemence of the poet’s argument bespeaks the all too real fear lest the labor of a life-time be suppressed by the new regime. Consequently, the Russian sets out to prove that all official suspicion of Poe’s mystical ideology is ill advised, since his nebulous otherworldliness is but an excess of youthful ardor, a masque concealing an “incorrigible realist,” a scientist of objective self-possessed mentality. Always a pragmatist, Poe lived, says Brusov, to regret his flamboyant extravagances and to relish his place as self-acknowledged leader of experimental psychology, a field with which his name is signally and insolubly tied.

Brusov’s apologetic tone in respect to Poe grows, with the somewhat befuddled Stalinists, into open censure, a warning against the perniciousness [page 13:] of all “bourgeois” philosophy. The common denominator of Poe is said today to be his respect for an outworn civilization, for a set of dogmas whose every element breathes venom to the young “democracy.” Anything not directly reducible to time or space, to causality or logic — in short, all of Poe — undergoes a new revaluation. It would seem indeed as though we are faced with the extinction of the Poe cult in the country, which, with France and Spain, was once warmest in extending him citizenship and adulation. In retrospect, the ramifications of these processes present many interesting features.

Not the least intriguing is the query into their origins. Who was first to transplant the exotic seed? Did it reach the Neva unmolested or already grafted on some foreign plant? Was Russia actually first to appropriate Poe and to proclaim his eminence to cultures more in key with his esthetics? Which of his works led in popularity and why?

It has been maintained that Russia brought to light some sporadic translations from Poe not only ahead of France, but even in the thirties of the last century before he had earned renown in the States. Yarmolinsky, for one, subscribes to this opinion. The earliest authority for it is, perhaps, the poet Andreevsky, who ventures this hypothesis in 1878 in his Preface to the Raven (The Messenger of Europe, II, 108-217). If true, the date would not only point to an unusually rapid penetration of foreign and as yet unfamiliar fare, but it would invalidate the widespread surmise that all Russification of Poe transpired via France. Unfortunately, the biography of the American poet to which Andreevsky alludes is lacking and instead there appears in the Pantheon for 1851 a life-sketch of Margaret Fuller.

Of course, I disclaim anything like a final voice in the matter, but the only items distantly relevant to the youthful protegé of John Kennedy are several Ravens anticipating by a considerable margin of time the birth of their vociferous and illustrious comrade. Two of them grace the Reader’s Library: the earlier, a poem by A. Timofeev (1835, Vol. VII); the other, in the plural, a novel by Mrs. Charles Rebeau (1839, Vol. XXXI). The first clearly identifiable bit from Poe appears, again to the best of my knowledge, in 1848, in the Miscellany to the same Reader’s Library (Vol. LXXXIX, p. 174) under somewhat unusual auspices. Hidden by the headline An American Hunter for Treasures, it reports that “Mr. Welsberg, in his History of Sea-Pirates, translated from an unknown tongue and an unknown author, had mentioned among the latest filibusters the famous Kidd, leader of a strong fleet of “American Cossacks.” “Incidentally, we are able to amplify the information of Mr. Welsberg from the notes of a certain English naturalist, but lately back from America, and to tell what has happened to the treasures appropriated by Kidd in the Panamian Vera Kruz.” What follows is a barely recognizable paraphrase of The Gold-Bug.

Those who cherish the notion that Crime and Punishment and the [page 14:] Brothers Karamasov were fertilized by Ligeia and Berenice may rejoice in the circumstances that Dostojevsky’s own periodical Time treats its subscribers of 1861 in the January and March issues to the most sizable bit of Poe importations made up to that date. The Tell-Tale Heart, the Black Cat, and the Devil in the Belfry, run parallel with Dostojevsky’s Low in Spirit, while the Diary from the Dead House shares honors with the anonymously disfigured and crudely worded Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Peim). What is undoubtedly the clearest proof of Gallic imprint is furnished by the latter, with the exception of the Raven the most beloved specimen from the pen of Poe in the country of the Tzars. There is no Preface, but to each of the opening thirteen chapters of the “Adventures” the translator appends a subtitle of his own making. Since the photographic likeness of all these headings in the subsequent readings of the novel might be interpreted as indication of a common and probably French source, it seems pertinent to reproduce them here: The Precocious Seekers of Treasures, The Secret Passage, The Raging Tiger, Mutiny and Slaughter, The Bloody Letter, The Ray of Hope, The Plan of Escape, The Corpse, The Hunt for Food, The Bottle of Port, The Die, At Last.

That the interest thus whetted warranted immediate comment, criticism, and direction, transpires from E. Lopushinsky’s Edgar Poe (an American Poet) — The Russian Word, St. Pet., 1862, pp. 3-30). America, that promised land of freedom and beauty, shirks its poetic obligation, says the author. Cooper, Irving, Longfellow, all are imitative, inane. Poe alone might rank with or even above Europe’s supreme masters. An escapist, like Longfellow, he towers above him in dramatic suspense, in tense fatalism, in inexhaustible richness of moods, and in economy of language. Naïve like his colleague of the lugubrious, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Poe flings open infinitely wider the fascinating portals of the “grand peutêtre,” terrorizing, hypnotizing. With him all is done on a colossal scale. Forever he eschews the miserly, the frugal, to wit, in his woman-portraits. A “fantastic realist,” he dwells simultaneously in two spheres, one of fancy and one of fact.

Should one still entertain doubt concerning the Latin basis of this evaluation, none remains for the sources of the life-history which follows. France alone could give credence to a Poe so consumed by incest and paranoia. The French route becomes self-evident from the list of works with which Lopushinsky substantiates his phenomenal views.

As peaks of lucidity unapproachable in the annals of any literature he selects the Murders in the Rue Morgue (Double Murder), the Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and The Purloined Letter. To prove Poe’s genius for seeing himself and the children of his fancy on two different planes, the Russian cites the Descent into the Maelstrom, the Mesmeric Revelations, Ligeia, and Morella; for his escapism, The Colloquy of Monos and Una; for his ruthless destructiveness, The Imp of the Perverse, the Black Cat, and the [page 15:] Man of the Mob [[The Man of the Crowd]]. Beauty and terror are said to be one in the Pit and the Pendulum, the Masque (Appearance) of the Red Death, A Ms. found in a Bottle, and the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Pum); grim humor is declared to reign unchallenged in Four Beasts in One, the Some Words with a Mummy, and the Voyage in an Aerostate [[The Balloon Hoax or Hans Pfaall]]. Already a substantial catalogue, this is swelled further by William Wilson, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Fall of the House of Usher (Uger). Whatever first-hand information the author may have had, it could not have been furnished in the vernacular.

Little light is shed by the later Edgar Poe as Psychologist and by the translations appended, signed with the initials N. Sh. (Delo-Business, 1874, IV, pp. 276-320; V, pp. 210-242; and VII, VIII, pp. 350-366). Again the “mad Edgar” is treated as a Transatlantic counterpart of Hoffmann, if less methodical in thinking, so more “American” in the impeccable translucence of his “feminine” deduction. Much significance is attached to the polarity of his Weltanschauung, an antithesis without which great art is unthinkable, and his unprecedented, insatiable craving of crime for crime’s sake.

N. Sh. proposes to publish only those bits of prose “in which are best etched the individual characteristics of this peculiar and moody talent, his inner world and his social views, novels for which his juggling with ideas could earn the title of ‘legal.’ Needless to say, jurisprudence does not enter into them . . . ” The choice falls on the Gold-Bug, The “Double” Murder, The Golden “Scarabee,” and months later, The Masque of the Red Death, Berenice, The Black Cat, the Tell-Tale Heart, Ligeia, and the Shadow, boiled down to some thirty pages of barbarisms, with none of the poetry allowed to filter through. Obliterated are all shifts of time and space. Now and then the dialogue alone strikes a vaguely reminiscent note.

More augury as to the fortunes of Poe-music than those of Poe-scholarship is contained in the earliest known translation of the Raven, by S. A. Andreevsky (The Messenger of Europe, 1878, II, pp. 108-127). Two courses of procedure were his. One was to keep intact the meter:

Kak to polnochiu gluchoiu, v chas, kogda svoei mechtoiu,

Ja nad knigoi naklonivshis, unosilsia daleko . . .

Such a technique would entail not alone a considerable sacrifice of meaning, but it would cripple the movement. For that “glas de melancholie” beloved by Baudelaire, which imparts to “dreary, weary, tapping, rapping,” the metal of impending inexorable catastrophe, liquifies into velvet in the Slav “gluchoiu, mechtoiu, smushchenny, probushdenny.” Corollarily, Andreevsky decides on a less literal but more homogeneous version:

Kogda, v ugrumy chas nochnoi,

Odnashdy, bledny e bolnoi

Nad grudoi knig rabotal ia . . . [page 16:]

In spite of the Gallic accents coloring Dreamland (St. Pet., 1898) in all, a surprisingly accurate reproduction of Poe melody, and of the uniformly French stamp of the volume which it shares with Jean Richepin, Baudelaire, Sully Prud’homme, Coppée, and Musset, Andreevsky goes for the motto of his Anthology to Poe: “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem; melancholy thus . . . the most legitimate of all poetical tones.”

Certainly, any scruples Andreevsky may have entertained relative to his obligation towards Poe pass unheeded by the next commentator on the Raven, L. E. Obolensky (St. Pet., 1888). Here all ruminating tremorous nocturnal half-shades deteriorate into blatant barrel-organ love-making. Who could decipher any of Poe’s magic in “I am lonely. She is gone. Sleep is not for me. I am alone with my hopeless sorrow. Sleep is not for me . . .”

Luckily, it is the last of truly offensive crudities. For when next the symbolist Mereshkovsky (St. Pet., 1892) tries his hand at the lines, he infuses the haunted shadowland with a dreamy nonchalance, the spectral charm of which has escaped unscathed the most caustic charges of injustice to Poe in the East. It has the added grace of individuality.

Pogrushenny v skorb nemuiu

E ustaly, v noch gluchuiu

Ras, kogda ponik v dremote . . .

New translations continue. The Russian Wealth for 1881 (May) contributes the Cask of Amontillado, the Oval Portrait, and Silence, anonymously, and the following year the Messenger of Europe (V. III) another Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, or rather its opening eleven chapters, by one O. P.

With Balmont one is in the very thick of the Poe vogue. To a minute inquiry into the American’s style and thought, to a loving integration with the innermost processes of his mind, to a cleansing of his idol from tactless, tawdry handling which had been given him by his compatriots, Balmont devotes his life. Poe, asserts the Russian, took an untrodden path, and one which nobody has traversed successfully since. “He is the first in significance and the first chronologically of poet-symbolists of the nineteenth century, discoursing in half-uttered, half-hinted tones of a siren or in the deep lustreless voice of a sibyl. Others, Goethe and Dante, had essayed this kind of suggestiveness, but its distilled essence is found only in Poe. Yet his merit is higher still, in the invention of new genres, new artistic means. In his fairy tales he effects a new language airily rhythmic, nervously quivering, and choice. No artist is capable of conveying so forcefully and tersely the atmosphere of hallucination premonition, super-natural fascination, the static landscape.” (Belmont: Poe’s Ballads and Fancies, Introduction, 1885-1895.) [page 17:]

Balmont is the first to compile a relatively accurate and exhaustive bibliography of Poe. He laments over the low standard of taste exhibited, as in the St. Petersburg translations of A. S. Suvorin (1885, reprinted 1896), or, worse still, the simultaneous Moscow versions of V. N. Marakuev, with the classic lines: “Although your head has neither helmet nor spear, you certainly are no coward.” .  . . Alone, Mereshkovsky is singled out for a badge of honor in his Raven (1890-92) and Ligeia (Work, 1893, XI). Not alone does Balmont enrich Russian literature by innumerable unknown poems and stories from Poe, the Bells, To Helen, To Eleanor, Morella, The Ms. found in a Bottle, but he shows conclusively that the same rhythmic skeleton can be successfully applied to a diametrically opposite linguistic syntax.

Balmont’s Raven is no less a masterpiece than his Annabel-Lee or the Bells, which he is wise enough to cut in half. Throughout, he makes the most of alliteration and an ingenious play of vowels.

The Raven

Kak to v polnoch, v chas ugrumy, -polny tiagostnoiu dumoi,

Nad starinnimi tomami ia sklonialsa v polusne



Eto bilo davno, eto bilo davno

V korolevstve primorskoi semli

Tam shila e zvela ta, chto zvalas vsegda

Nazivalasa Annabel-Lee

Yet even Balmont’s indefatigable labors in behalf of the American poet are cast into the shade, numerically at least, by an anonymous anthology, printed as a ten-volume supplement to the Periodical Around the World (Sytin, Moscow, 1908). Only in Val. [[Vol.]] VIII does Lev Umanez sign Eleanor, Annabel-Lee, Ulalume, and the Raven, a singularly direct and unaffected message:

V posdny chas, nochnoi poroiu,

Ia sklonilsa golovoiu nad starinnoi knigoi

V mrake kabineta moevo . . .

Judged by the fantastic guise of the vowels, the eternally recurring subtitles of Gordon Pym, and sundry other indications, the English must have gone a tortuous route before reaching the banks of the Moscow river.

Little new light is shed by Golikov’s Novels (Stasulevich, St. Pet., 1904), his Altaia “in the style of Poe” (Night-Thoughts, Sobinov, 1902), or by the “second edition” of the Oval Portrait and William Wilson (transl. by V. I. T. in the Artist’s Library, Iasinsky, 1917, XIV).

This lack is amply compensated by Brusov (Edgar Poe — Full Collection of Poems and Verses, Moscow-Leningrad, 1926). By way of introduction [page 18:] the poet states the motives which have prompted him in his “important” undertaking. “The lyrics of Poe are one of the most marvelous phenomena of the world literature. Exceptionally individualistic . . . harboring a series of creations which must be conceded to embody an unapproachable high of verbal art, they are the fount of innumerable currents in later literature. The cycle of ideas animating the poems and many of his technical devices were later developed and utilized by other artists, English, French, German, Russian, . . . ; and it is impossible to view these in their right perspective without a closer familiarity with their primary sources.” Here Brusov makes a digression emphasizing the need of presenting a foreign author not in his own tongue, but in the vernacular. He goes on to lament the dearth of adequate adaptations and attacks with particular vehemence those of Balmont. “We can assert” he says, “that the significance of Poe as a poet for our literature has been negligible, both, in the sense of direct influence and of his high command over the word, and in the working out of a correct understanding of the aims of poetry . . . .”

What Brusov misses in Balmont is the dominating keynote, the tonality. In his concern with individual words or with separate sound values he loses sight of the center to which all those relate. So “Lo! tis a gala night” loses much of its meaning in:

Vo tme besuteshnoi — blistaiushchy prasdnik,

Ogniami volshebny teatr osaren . . .

Brusov condemns the obviousness with which, “Whose harshest idea will to melody run” is paraphrased into the obscure:

Ty v misliach, e mleia

Roshdaetsa zvon,

E lepet roshdaia

Vsrastaet trava,

E musika taia

Shisn mira shiva,

where one would look in vain for a vestige of coherence and logic. Balmont and Vasili Fedorov (Poe-Poems and Verses, Moscow, 1923), insists Brusov, twist the whole idea of the master out of its primary context; “lost are all the nuances of thought, the elegant verse grows unwieldy, and loses its euphony and originality.” Acceptable in blank verse, Balmont’s rimes violate not alone the poetic syntax, but even that for which he strove above all else, the meter.

Out of the prolific crop of Russianized Ravens Brusov cites but a handful of specimens which might pass muster: Mereshkovsky, Zhabotinsky, (alias Altalena), and three of his own. For his task Brusov has prepared himself most conscientiously. He pondered over John Ingram and Harrison, Balmont, Baudelaire, and Strobl (Wörter Poe’s mit einer [page 19:] Bibliographie von Mortiz Grolig, Minden, 1907), Andrew Lang, and Thomas Mosher. To settle text differences Brusov consults the London edition of Poe of 1856 and the Tamerlane version. It is illuminating that even at this late stage of the game Brusov prefers to arrive at Poe in translations. His chief authorities are: Gabriel Mourey (Mercure de France, Paris, 1909), Stéphane Mallarmé (Varier, Paris, 1889), and Emile Lauvriére (Paris, 1904), the first for clarity and fidelity to text, the second for color and subtle linguistic nuances, the last as a golden mean and a repository of endless factual data. Baudelaire, Hedwig Lachmann (Berlin, 1891), and of Italian translations Lanciano (1892) have had a more specialized function. Involuntarily one asks, does Brusov’s Raven justify all this? To the uninitiated it might seem that the net result:

Kak to v polnoch, v chas unily, ia vnikal, ustav, bez sily,

Mezh tomov starinnych, v stroki rassuzhdenia odnovo,

is just a heavy-footed doctrinaire bit of Balmont.

If Brusov felt it expedient to underscore the fact that the artistry and not the ideology of Poe was his magnet, since in “mature years the poet had consciously renounced his mystic dreams . . . and put as his foundation the basic sciences and positivistic data so becoming to the materialistic Republic of North America,” the real attacks on Poe, undertaken with a truculent vehemence which in itself bespeaks his popularity, are launched by one S. Dinamov (The Scientifico-Fantastic Novels of E. Poe. Literature and Marxism, III, Moscow, 1931, pp. 51-64). No such antagonism could be detected in Brasol’s Critical Contours (St. Pet., 1910) or in V. L. Friche’s The Poetry of Nightmares and Horror (Moscow, 1912). Poe’s creations, says Dinamov, rooted in the struggle of the landowning South against the manufacturing North, reveal the inconsistency of all industrial systems based on slavery. For each of his characters is a marked man, overpowered by outward forces, passive, will-less, with not even a notion of protest. From birth he considers existence inimical, cruel. All he knows is sordid despair.

Berenice, the Man of the Crowd, the Imp of the Perverse, the Pit and the Pendulum, — is not there in each of these more tragedy than in Hamlet? Something tells the characters that it is imperative to act, but they know that action is fatal. Day and night they coin their own capital punishment, their immutable sentence. If they rid themselves of thought like the Man of the Crowd, they see all the more pointedly the impassable blackness of past and future. Perverse, dull, they are constantly afraid of themselves. Love is more deadly than hate. Shadows of an unexisting world, they spread destruction all around them and distil the rich variety of living to self-annihilation. What the U. S. S. R. denounces loudest, is the grandiosity of their ego. Lonely, pitiful refugees of an outworn regime, they are biased slaves of an exalted I. And the real tragedy of Poe, says Dinamov, is that, [page 20:] fully aware of this decadence, he cannot tear himself away, and suffocates under capitalistic actuality no less than his heroes.

Nor is Poe honest with himself in his scientific principles. Of others he demands information and detail (Remarks to Hans Pfall, On R. A. Locke, On Cyrano de Bergerac, The Flight of Thomas O’Pypk), but interested though he is in technical advances, in physics and in chemistry, he not only never transcends the limits of what is, not only never pierces the thick walls of foreboding and intuition; but, on the contrary, he steers science, that concomitant of capitalism, straight to Paracelsan standards. He never stops to dissect. Instead, he enumerates. He misses the entire romance of knowledge, that poetry which fired Ovid and Thomas More, Verne, and Wells, the magical wand used by Voltaire and Balzac, Zola and Huxley, to conjure the “scientific pathos.” “His scientific fantasy is as anemic and devoid of creative imagination as his social fantasy.”

His whole idea of advance is purely quantitative, an increase in proportions and measure. To wit, his enthusiasm for the size of the balloon. There is no courageous prophesy. All is reduced to number and bookish wisdom, “playing the role of decoration to conceal his artistic impotency, extending alone to corpses, . . . volcanoes, and dark islands . . .” And what is amazing, in the eyes of Dinamov, is that Poe’s appreciation of mechanistic strides, as evidenced in his familiarity with Mutiny on the Bounty and Reynold’s Antarctic Expedition, his own proficiency displayed in Eureka and Maelzel’s Chess Players [[Chess Player]] are sterile of consequences. To the end he challenges reason. Never does he divorce himself from superstition. Nicasio Landa (Introduction to Poe’s Works, Madrid, 1858) voices a regretful, almost recriminating attitude when he extols the American for having unearthed the wonderful in science. The finish of the road finds Poe not farther than the start, with the antipodal conception of imagination and logic permeating the early To Science and the Ms. found in a Bottle.

It took Regis Michaut (Le Mystère Edgar Poe — Les nouvelles litéraires, October, 1926) to rectify the aberrations of Camille Mauclair and Paul Valêry, who crowned Poe a “Mathematical genius.” Mauclair proves that Poe’s calculus is “mystifyingly occult.” He is the avatar of class hatred. What if he tries now to motivate, now to abjure social barriers? The poison fills his own blood. Therefore, all his dramatic personae are, in Lenin’s phraseology, “individuals devoid of time and space, the fruit of a sick fancy, perverts of philosophic idealism, worthless products of a worthless social order.”

Dinamov questions the raison d’être of another phase of Poe’s production, the detective story (The Novels of E. Poe, Thirty Days, 1933, XI-XII, Moscow, pp. 60-64), a species again insolubly integrated with the bourgeois order. Is it not typical that England boasts of but two monuments to literary genius, Barrie’s Peter, and Sherlock Holmes, and that the [page 21:] crime novel has made a multi-millionaire of Edgar Wells? Unwittingly, Poe provides in his detective stories a Damocles’s sword both for his class and for the genre. Today, with the U. S. S. R. safely established, there is no more function left for either. Ideologically obsolete, Poe’s detective stories have no excuse for being except their supreme cogency and compactness of expression.

To the Babbit, Poe is indebted yet for another strain, his delight in death and decay (Edgar Poe — the Artist of Death and Decay, October, January, 1934, pp. 160-171). Whereas the new social plan, aware of the inevitability of death, makes every effort to combat it, the capitalist feasts on the dissolution of life. Capitalism loves to gild with tinsel and glamor the “final curtain,” as with Hemingway, Hergesheimer, or in “present Germany,” Ewers. A pioneer of the “reactionary Utopia,” Poe has forever been a vitriolic enemy of freedom. In 1848 he openly opposed the abolition of slavery. Later, in Mellonta Tauta, he drew a hopeless canvas of the future. Democracy he abhorred as the most “insolent, rapacious, filthy of beings which have ever peopled the earth,” an attitude which endears him to all oppressors of the globe at a distance of centuries. To it he owes the halo emanating from every word of his in the West. In truth, he knows no truth, since he knows no hope. “Every man is a center of innumerable lines of being, every man fills his conscience with an innumerable quantity of ties with reality: in him there live past and future, the born and unborn. But the consciousness of the heroes of Poe is empty, their life-ties crack in their agonizing souls, impoverished, thin, surprisingly aimful at aimlessness, without passion, without feeling, without experience (p. 163).”

Such appears to be the contemporary Soviet attitude toward Poe. If one were to make a prophesy from the unchartable fortunes of Chaikovsky and Shostakovich in the U. S. S. R., the day of Catharsis for Edgar Poe is close at hand.

  [page 22:]



Instructor in German in Goucher College

I WAS FIFTEEN OR SIXTEEN years old and still in Germany when a friend of mine completed the construction of his first radio set and invited me to come and listen. Radio at that time was new, not owned by everybody in the small East Prussian town where I grew up. This was to be my first experience and I was as excited as if spirits were about to be conjured, yet without much faith; and when weak batteries and a prolonged barrage of static tried our patience, on the point of losing my curiosity. But suddenly, clear as a bell, a station came through, an exquisitely schooled voice reciting a story that was indeed the manifestation of unearthly powers — a spirit bearing witness, probing the depth of horror, forcing darkness, not the dark of that friendly room about us but some universal gloom in contrast to which Light assumes its infinite meaning. I was listening to Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” told in German. It reached me through those cumbersome earphones damped to my head and became the discovery of that day greater than radio, a voice from beyond this earth and more than I had bargained for, an immortal presence by virtue of the author’s art.

Let me assure you then, you who are his compatriots by birth, that Poe is an integral part also of German education and civilization and that he is appreciated in Germany in a particular way, because the Romantic school of German letters had prepared for his reception. This Romantic school was his John the Baptist. We relish doubly against that background the classical and incomparably original elements of his genius; and if he addresses his book Eureka

to those who feel rather than think, to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as the only realities,

we are invariably reminded of these Romantic writers who, more than admiring imitators, are Poe’s company as he walks the lonely brink. There is E. T. A. Hoffmann, whose anchorite Serapion lost all discernment between an inner and outer world; Novalis, who conceived of reality as [page 23:] of darkness throwing its shadows into the realm of light; Tieck, who spoke of dreaming as the Ultima Thule of all human philosophies. Poe shares with them his sense of wavering between feeling and reason, his withdrawal from life, his inability to be anything but a poet. And as Nicolaus Lenau suffered from a certain “natural gravitation towards melancholy,” a doubt of life itself, so Poe writes to his friend Kennedy in 1835:

Convince me that it is worth one’s while, that it is at all necessary to live and you will prove yourself indeed my friend.

A terror of death, similar to Poe’s, may be observed in Tieck, who, particularly in his early youth, was plagued by visions of the last destruction, of ghosts walking towards him asking the great question of the purpose of this world, until like Poe, although not so brilliantly, he became an arsenal of torture and despair. Poe’s vision of death as a friend and of night as a mother and a beloved, on the other hand, had found its highest expression in German letters in the poetry of Novalis, or the melancholy cult of beauty in Platen, or in writers like Achim von Arnim, who calls us happy even for beauty that died before our time so that now we need not suffer from loving it.

In all these aspects, Poe is the eternal Romantic as opposed to the Classsic, who holds as in a glass the moment of purest color, removed from time. Nature, too, he saw in true romantic fashion animated in human terms. “Eine Landschaft soll man fühlen wie einen Körper” says Novalis — or as Poe writes:

I love, indeed, to regard the dark valleys and the great rocks and the waters that silently smile and the forests that sigh in uneasy slumbers and the proud watchful mountains . . . I love to regard these as the collossal members of one vast and sentient whole.

There have been, of course, German writers after Poe who worked under his spell. Two may be named, Hanns Heinz Ewers and Gustav Meyrink, but neither of them carries sufficient weight to make a close comparison profitable. The really great of Thomas Mann’s dimensions withdrew instinctively from a field where genius has exhausted all possibilities. Yet the spirit of Poe is a living force. His “Masque of the Red Death” inspired Franz Schreker in his outline for an opera; and Rainer Maria Rilke, speaking about loneliness, uncertainty, and fear in modern man, quotes Poe as the outstanding expert on these timely subjects. In his letters to a young poet he advises his friend to accept existence on a broad basis: “for it is not laziness which is to blame for the monotony of human relations but fear of unforeseeable experience, which may test our strength too severely.” Let us, he continues, think of the existence of each individual as a room, and we shall find that most people know only a [page 24:] corner of that room, a place by the window where they walk up and down. There they have a certain security. And yet, is not that uncertainty more human, — that sense of peril which forces the captives of Poe’s stories to feel out the extent of their fearful dungeons not to be strangers to the terrors of their abode? But we have been set into life as into the element which corresponds best to our needs. We have gone through centuries of assimilation and have no reason to mistrust our world. It is not against us. If there are terrors, they are our terrors; if there are pitfalls, they, too, belong to us and we must try to love them. We have only to hold to what is difficult and it will become the thing we trust and find most faithful.

So Rilke [[states]], in sentences which define Poe’s position in a terror-stricken world. For Poe knew the heart of terror and can best address us, the happy and sheltered, now suddenly in need of his enquiry into that darker side of human experience which, in spite of the irreverent smiles of some of his contemporaries, guided his path to move among associate planets.

Let me in conclusion quote a fragment of Annabel Lee in German, — a language that Poe knew well enough to comment on frequently, even to the definition of certain difficult terms. I say these lines as remembered by a Baltimorean who learned them as a child from some lost anthology:  

Es ist viele, viele Jahre her,

Dasz am Meeresufer allhie

Ein Mädchen lebt’, o fragt nicht mehr,

Mit Namen Annabel Lee;

Und das Mädchen es lebte für mich allein

Und ich lebte allein für sie.


Ich war ein Kind und sie war ein Kind

Am Meeresufer allhie,

Und wir liebten uns lieber als Liebe liebt,

Ich und schön Annabel Lee;

Liebten uns so, dasz die Engel im Blau

Beneideten mich und sie.

  [page 25:]



Professor of Spanish in the Johns Hopkins University

IF WE WISH TO STUDY the literary fortunes of Edgar Allan Poe in the Spanish language, it is necessary to distinguish between the literature of Spain and that of Spanish America. The explanation for this distinction is not geographical or political; it is in strict conformity with the literary facts. And how can we express concisely the difference between the reaction of Spain and Hispanic America to the works of Edgar Allan Poe? I think by saying simply that Spain has shown an almost exclusive preference for the narrative works of Poe, especially for his stories, while Spanish America, not without knowledge of the tales and narratives of this American poet, has shown a particular interest in his poems.

According to the data collected by Prof. John E. Englekirk, whose book, “Edgar Allan Poe in Hispanic Literature,” I recommend to all who wish a more accurate knowledge on this point, Poe was translated into the Spanish language in Spain long before he was translated in Spanish America. Spaniards were able to read the romances of Edgar Allan Poe in Spain as early as 1857. In 1858 a collection of his Short Stories was published, whereas in Spanish America there were no translations of Poe until the year 1869. How can it be explained that an author of the American continent, in the English speaking area, was known first in a European county of Spanish speech before he was known in the countries of Spanish speech in the same hemisphere? This is one more example of the debt which the work of Edgar Allan Poe owes to the French poet Baudelaire. For the Tales were translated in Spain, and into Spanish, not from the original English, but from the French translation called “Histoires extraordinaires.” Spaniards of the middle of the nineteenth century used to receive English and German literary novelties by way of France. Thus it was with Poe. In consequence, the Tales were read in Hispanic America in Spanish editions from translations made in Spain. It was Spain that revealed to Hispanic America the existence of this great artist. The chronological priority in the translation of the Short Stories of [page 26:] Edgar Allan Poe, and their diffusion throughout the Spanish speaking world belongs to Spain. In Spain proper they continue to think of Poe as the author of new and strange Short Stories. Poe, the writer of prose, leaves Poe, the poet, in the shade.

And the chief difference in Hispanic America is this. In Spain the translations of the poems of Poe are few and of little worth. But all the Spanish speaking peoples of the American hemisphere were attracted to the poetic work of Poe before Spain was, and with much more intensity. If Spain was the discoverer of Poe the prose writer, it was Spanish America that discovered Poe the poet. The translations of The Raven, The Bells, Ulalume, To Helen, Annabel Lee, The Conqueror Worm and other poems of Poe are multiplying over the whole American continent, from the Rio Grande to the banks of La Plata, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. I think I can say that Poe is the first example of a continental poet, a poet of the Americas, of the Western Hemisphere. In order that you may appreciate for yourselves the truth of this statement, I shall tell you that the most celebrated poem of Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven, has been translated by poets of Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. Is it not interesting, this case of an entire continent the American Spanish speaking continent, divided into many nations great and small, yet nevertheless united in a common admiration and enthusiasm for a poet, all of them working together for the knowledge and the spread of his work? While the United States and the several countries of Spanish America look at each other with suspicion and reservations in the political sphere, it is excellent to see how they all are united by their admiration for a poet. That is a noteworthy policy.

We have now seen how the works of Poe have been translated widely in Spain and Spanish America. But translations indicate only that an author is read, enjoyed, and known in a country. We must ask ourselves another question. Was this knowledge and diffusion of the works of Poe converted into an influence on the literatures of Spain and Spanish-American countries? To this question we may not give one answer alone. It requires two, one for Spain, and the other for Spanish America. In my opinion the work of Poe has had scarcely any influence on the writers of Spain, or if it has had some influence, it is very superficial, and has been exercised on no writers of a high order, nor has it produced any work of importance What is the reason for this? Of course the answer to this question must be purely hypothetical, therefore, simply guessing, I offer my opinion that the Spanish turn of mind does not incline to the type of the supernatural, the terrific that predominates in the Tales, nor to the misty sentimentalism which envelopes the poetry of Poe. There is in Spanish literature a glorious tendency towards the unearthly, the superlogical, but this hispanic spiritualism finds its way, above all, through mystical sentiment, and does not aspire to produce terror or surprise. In the vision [page 27:] of the world offered to us by Spanish poetry there is a precision of outline which contradicts every extreme of vagueness, even to expressing the mysterious, as may be seen in San Juan de la Cruz. That is to say the poetic spirit of Poe did not find in the Spanish spirit any of those deep affinities upon which influence is always based.

But the picture changes if we turn to Spanish America. Here the individuality of Edgar Allan Poe, the new atmosphere which his prose and verse brought with it, fascinated many and very fine writers, and without doubt we may say that his influence over all America is both extensive and intensive. The modern Hispanic-American poet who has opened a new path for Spanish poetical language, and whom we must consider the greatest lyric poet of the Spanish language of this hemisphere, and one of the greatest of all our literature is Rubén Darío. He was born in the little Republic of Nicaragua. Rubén Darío was a passionate admirer of Poe. In his work “Los raros” (The Choice Ones) he devoted to Poe a study full of sympathy and intelligence; and in many of his poems we see the trace of Poe’s spirit. Frequently he quotes “el celeste Edgardo” (the celestial Edgar) as he calls him, or cites one of his heroines, Stella, Ligeia, or some other. In Mexico the most popular poet of the twentieth century, Amado Nervo read, studied, and commented on Poe throughout his lifetime, and in his poems we perceive the mysterious and tragic currents of the author of The Raven. Colombia had a poet, José Asunción Silva, of great interest because of his bold metres and the changes he wished to introduce into the poetic style. And Silva also was a fervent lover of Poe’s poetry, and aspired to imitate in the Spanish language those innovations which the American poet brought to the English poetical language. Going further south, on the banks of La Plata River, in Montevideo, we come across one of the most original and disquieting figures of modern poetry: this is Julio Herrera y Reissig. His theories of poetic beauty, of the value of mystery and indefiniteness come directly from Poe. In his works we constantly meet with the inspiration of Poe. His poetic sensibility, his form of expression can only come from the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. In the Republic of Argentina, Leopoldo Lugones, the most versatile and prolific of modern poets, reflects in some of his periods and productions the strong pressure that has been exercised on his poetic mind by the North American. And these names which I have cited are names of poets of the first rank in Spanish-American poetry of the twentieth century, which goes to prove that the fascination exercised by Poe was upon the finest poets of Spanish America. And I also wish to call attention to the extent of the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. It runs through the whole continent, from the Antilles to Mexico, from there to Guatemala, to Colombia, to Chile, to the Republic of Argentina.

These are the facts. But I must confess that I am ever dissatisfied with facts. There are persons for whom facts are like heavy and abundant food: [page 28:] they are served with a large dish of facts, they consume them with appetite and then give themselves up to a sort of lethargy or relaxation of absolute satisfaction, in which the intelligence remains asleep and asks for nothing more. Unfortunately I am not so easily contented. When I am given a fact, I have the tendency to do what children do with a mechanical toy: break it open to see what is inside of it. Always I am tempted, with a crude fact, to interpret it, to look for its explanation. And, therefore, as I hinted at an explanation of the fact that in Spain there is scarcely any perceptible influence of Edgar Allan Poe, now I must try to explain why in America the contrary has come to pass, that is to say, why the influence of Poe has been so widespread and so intense. Let us reject for the moment any temptation to believe that there is the reason of Americanism, as opposed to continentalism at the bottom of this preference: that is, that the Argentines, the Mexicans, the Colombians were more open to the influence of Edgar Allan Poe because they were Americans as he was, because they were born in the same hemisphere. No, the doctrine of continental soil explains nothing in this case. Let us seek for light elsewhere.

But first, I must ask you to allow me to make a little digression on what is called influence in history. This idea, like so many historical ideas, has lost its exact meaning, and has become extremely vague. The fact is that ever since the time of Greece and Rome, literary history is full of examples of authors, of writings, or of literatures influencing other authors, writings, or literatures. From the earliest times of history there have existed no frontiers for the creations of the mind. The only frontier, and that has been perfectly open, has been that of the knowledge of the language of other countries. But what interests me to discuss here is how influence works. I think that an author has influence in a foreign country for two reasons: the first is his intrinsic merit, the power of his work which radiates and expands, which tends to illuminate, like the sun, large areas of the world. That is, an author has influence first because of his greatness, because of his authentic worth. But there is another reason, an external and purely temporal reason, a kind of opportunity, a propitious moment, more propitious or less propitious, in the spiritual state of the country supposed to receive the influence. There are times in the history of a country when its collective spirit is in a certain way content with its condition, when it does not aspire to great changes, and feels no appetite for novelty. On the other hand it is possible that at the same time, for historical reasons another country finds itself in a state of spiritual restlessness, of dissatisfaction with its condition, and turns its face in every direction, seeking new paths, new lights. That country will be in a state of much more receptive sensibility than the first. And naturally, if there appears a writer who represents a new artistic attitude, the effect which that literary personality will make upon one country and the other is very [page 29:] different. The country which we should call stationary will leave few or no open pores through which the foreign influence may penetrate. On the other hand the country of the second type will be entirely open to that influence. Let us see if this theory can find confirmation in the case of the difference of influence exercised by Edgar Allan Poe in Spain and in Spanish America. For this purpose we shall examine the general state of the literary spirit in both the geographical localities.

About the end of the nineteenth century, although for many years the Republics of Spanish America had been politically independent, nevertheless Spain exercised a kind of authority or tutelage over them, and was a sort of model for American letters. Necessarily this situation gave to Spain a conservative literary tone that was almost academic. Spain represented in literature tradition, standards of the past, history. But the new nations of this continent, felt within them an urgency to free themselves from that kind of Spanish authority. They had a revolutionary attitude toward innovation, a desire to change and be different, to affirm their individuality. This general condition of ideas finds a perfect parallel in the state of poetry, which has been the literary form cultivated most and best by Spanish America. Let us compare the situation of poetry in Spain and in the Spanish area of this hemisphere.

During the greater part of the nineteenth century lyric poetry in Spain and Spanish America had developed in an orderly way along somewhat parallel lines. The Anacreontic and neoclassic movement in Spain evoked identical accents in America. The great Spanish romantic poets found in Spanish America a host of followers. But in the last quarter of the century a divergence began to appear in the attitudes of Spain and Spanish America towards poetry. In Spain lyric poetry had not allowed itself to be influenced by the great schools of poetry subsequent to Romanticism in France and other countries. There was a sort of indifference, which took on the character of isolation, in Spanish poetry, with respect to the Parnassians, the Symbolists, and the Decadents. In spite of being the immediate neighbor of France, Spain seemed to give no value to the transcendental changes that had occurred in the conception of poetry and poetic language from Baudelaire and Rimbaud on. It is difficult, almost impossible that any literature, however rich its tradition, should live entirely on its own substance. Interchanges are necessary, a constant spiritual commerce with the literature of other lands, not to adopt foreign manners and lose their own individuality, but to better affirm to themselves their own identity by this fruitful contrast. Spanish poetry lost that capacity for contact with foreign ideas, and therefore Spanish America deemed it conservative, backward, and stationary. In Spanish America they were versed in modern French writers, they admired them; and little by little there was growing a desire to embody in the Spanish poetic language the innovations realized by France in its poetic language. This longing created in Spanish America [page 30:] a state of dissatisfaction with contemporary writings in Spain, a desire for change, which for the moment found no concrete expression. But slowly while Spain remained stationary, in this hemisphere there was preparing the revolution of poetical language. At last, between 1890 and 1900 that revolution established itself by its writings, and triumphed noisily in the movement called modernist. Modernism, born in Spanish America, triumphed in Spain as well, and though not affecting profoundly its literature it was accepted by the best writers of the day. For the first time the young literature in the Spanish language was enjoying the triumph of influencing the centuries-old literature of the ancient mother country.

Modernism, as a literary movement, is not exclusively of any one country of Spanish America. We see in this school the absolute coincidence of all the Spanish nations of the continent in a spiritual aspiration and in the means to bring it about. The aspiration was to renew Spanish poetical language, and to widen the field of ideas and themes of poetry. And what were the means? Essentially they were the study and assimilation of all the technical novelties of poetry that was not Spanish, especially modern French poetry. The poets of America ceased to look upon the poets of Spain as their only masters, and turned to foreign poets for instruction. Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Leconte de Lisle were the new heroes of our young poets of the modernist school. But as they studied and came to know French symbolism, the young writers of Spanish America discovered that a poet of the northern American continent, of the English tongue, Edgar Allan Poe, was the idol of the French Symbolists and the great initiator of the modern tendencies of French poetry. He had worked magic with words and sounds; he had changed rhythms and tones in English poetic language. And then the poets of Spanish America who were attempting a like revolution in Spanish poetic language, saw in Edgar Allan Poe the great figure of a revolutionary poet, of an innovator — perhaps the first new and original poet of the continent; the first spiritual conqueror of Europe, the first American poet to teach the old world a lesson in poetry. They began to study Poe, to translate him over and over again, to attempt an adaptation of his metrical reforms to the Spanish language. Edgar Allan Poe was worshipped by the Spanish American modernism because he served as leader and banner for their revolution. And he was neither worshipped nor imitated in Spain, because there the poets did not wish to revolutionize anything. I think that we may satisfactorily explain in this way the great difference between Spain and Spanish America regarding the influence of the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. If you will allow me the simile, I will say that in the same way as many political liberators of Spanish America held George Washington as a model in their struggles for independence, and as a forerunner of their liberation, so the poets of Spanish America at the end of the nineteenth century looked upon Edgar Allan Poe somewhat as a great liberator, a [page 31:] great revolutionary of the poetry of the North. The fact is, thanks to the poetic genius of Rubén Darío, leader of the modernistic poetry, all those rhythmic novelties, those new metrical schemes created by the Hispanic-American modernism in imitation of Edgar Allan Poe reached also across the Atlantic to Spain and have been incorporated into the history of Spanish poetic forms. Thus it is that the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe reached Spain, not directly but through the modernist poets of Spanish America.

The paths followed by works of the spirit are not at times less complicated and marvellous than those followed by the products of industry and commerce on the routes of the world. Thus the work of this great poet whose birthday in immortality we celebrate today, marked two separate itineraries on sea and on land. His prose departed from the shores of the United States, reached Paris, where it put on French clothing, climbed the Pyrenees Mountains, reclothed itself in Spanish attire in Madrid, and then always restless and wandering, crossed the Atlantic once more and reached the shores of Cuba, of all Spanish America, where it was received in its Spanish clothing. And the poetry from the United States travelled south on the continent, lodged in almost all the large intellectual centres of Spanish America, and there donned the garb of the Spanish language; from there in mysterious Spanish ships it reached its final port in the poetry of Spain. And here end the superterrestrial adventures of Edgar Allan Poe throughout the two worlds where Spanish is spoken: the Homeland and the New World.



This symposium was held as the Nineenth Annual Commemoration Program of the Poe Society on January 19, 1941. The program was held in the Westminster Church. The participants were Dr. Jeanne Rosselet (Goucher College), Dr. Lubov Briet Keefer (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Herbert Schaumann (Goucher College) and Dr. Pedro Salinas (Johns Hopkins University).

© 1941 and 1999, by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.


[S:1 - PFLAT, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Poe in Foreign Lands and Tonques (Rosselet, Keefer, Schaumann, Salinas, 1941)