Text: Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., “Oedipus and Orpheus in the Maelstrom: The Traumatic Rebirth of the Artist,” Poe Studies, June 1976, Vol. IX, No. 1, 9:6-11


[page 6, column 2:]

Oedipus and Orpheus in the Maelstrom:
The Traumatic Rebirth of the Artist

California State University — Sacramento

Probably more than any other Western fiction-writer, Edgar Allan Poe is obsessed with the themes of the Oedipal drama. In tales like “Berenice,” “Ligeia,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher’ he explores the forbidden territories of castration-anxiety, the prostitute-madonna complex, and incest. Commenting pertinently upon Poe’s “Marriage Group,” Daniel Hoffman remarks: “For reasons we are still attempting to fathom, Poe was never able to directly treat of his obsessive longing to be reborn in the womb, the reentrance into which becomes, as a result of his terror, an image of death, so that prenatal bliss and life after death are images of one another” (1). And Hoffman is correct in the phrase “directly treat” since the distortion and displacement in these tales effectively conceals their latent message. But as the following “naturalistic” passage from “A Descent into the Maelstrom” reveals, manifest and repressed content are much more intimately aligned in those stories which do not directly treat interpersonal relationships: “The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around” (2).

As a matter of fact, by approximating the overlapping insights of both personal dream and culture dream, or myth, “A Descent into the Maelstrom” perceptively dramatizes the dynamics of Oedipal tension, return-to-the-womb desires, and the resulting rebirth of the Orphic artier into postpartum existence. Thus the tale informs on three interdependent and often inseparable levels. As literal or manifest narrative, it details the phenomenological growth-through-suffering of the once innocent narrator whose nautical skills are existentially tested and tempered by his adventure with the whirlpool. As personal water-dream, however, the tale’s latent message reveals the submerged, Oedipal dangers which each hero-dreamer must negotiate in order to be baptized in, and then redeemed from, the numinous ocean of the unconscious. Finally, as culture dream, the story’s deeper latent meaning adumbrates the myth of the Orphic artist-questor who, though resolving his own Oedipal crisis by emerging from the underground womb, fails, in his art, to redeem others from the cultural wasteland. Like Orpheus, he returns safely with the Eleusinian mysteries of the Great Mothers Hecate and Demeter; but his self-rescue is purchased at great price because none believe nor learn from his tale but, like the lost Eurydice and the later spurned Thracian women, remain unredeemed in the wasteland (3). It is, of course, moot whether Poe consciously intended this psychic and mythic scenario, whether, as Marie Bonaparte argues below, it unconsciously evolved from his own tortured past, or whether, as I would think, Poe’s intuitive genius blended with his haunted geneology to produce a composition of [page 7:] such rich artistic density. Not the genesis of these two latent levels but rather their rich implications for our understanding of the tale itself are the chief concerns of this reading.

“A Descent into the Maelstrom” has inspired relatively little critical comment; until recently, most responses have been confined to hunting down source material. To be sure, Marie Bonaparte devotes a short paragraph of her analysis of “Tales of the Mother” to a general, combined reading of this tale and “MS. Found in a Bottle’ seeing both as “version[s] of the return-to-the-womb phantasy.” She concludes with an insight that could serve as a starting point for our more particular linking of Oedipal and Orphic themes: “In A Descent into the Maelstrom, the hero escapes the fate to which his brother falls victim, in the same way that Poe survived his brother Henry. But in both stories, the heroes succeed, as it were, in touching the bottom, in reaching those innermost uterine depths where the foetus once lay, bathed in those amniotic waters which are one of the few vestiges of that parent ocean from which, phylogenetically, we have all sprung” (4). Since Bonaparte, only Robert Schulman has suggested, in a one-sentence, passing comment, the kind of reaction prompting this essay: “Freudians might more particularly identify the smooth, tunnel-like whirlpool with an entry through the mother-sea into the womb, an entry the protagonist is intensely curious about but which he also fears will destroy him until he emerges from this chaotic region of death and birth, a changed, suddenly aged new man” (5). Both Bonaparte’s and Schulman’s remarks raise more questions than they answer. Specifically, why return to the womb? Why the seductive-destructive ambience of this particular womb? How, exactly, in this tale does ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny, that is, how does personal quest lead to the opportunity for cultural rebirth? Why abandon the womb once so desperately desired? And lastly, what is the psychological reason for the enigmatic condition of this “suddenly aged new man”? The solutions to these and other textual mysteries finally reveal the latent theme of the traumatic rebirth of the Orphic artist, which lies at the bottom of Poe’s maternal maelstrom.

To begin with, both dreams and myths provide valuable insights to the mysteries. These interrelated narratives invariably deal with symbolic journeys to terras incognitas; and these — be they the depths of the earth, the sea, the forest, the Mother, or the Unconscious — are all the same. The obsessive goals of such dangerous journeys can be lethal or therapeutic depending upon the questor’s motivation. As with Oedipus, the libidinal drive may be toward regressive fixation upon the Mother’s womb, in which case, as Jung admits, the obsession reaches a climax in self-destructive incest: “There is always a danger that those who set foot in this realm [the Underworld] will grow fast to the rocks, like Theseus and Peirithous, who wanted to abduct the goddess of the underworld. It happens all too easily that there is no returning from the realm of mothers” (6). Or such initiatory quests may be like those of the knights in Fisher King mythology and, as Freud indicates, “have the sense of releasing the boy from his incestuous bond with his mother and reconciling him with his father” (7). Both responses are latent in the tale, and both deal with a form of gnosis. But the former is reduced to self-serving [column 2:] and finally lethal narcissism, while the latter enlightens and expands not only the individual psyche but, as art, the wasteland also. Discussing this second notion of the questing hero, Wolfgang Lederer stresses the dual role of gnostic teacher and sexually active warrior and thus implies this intimate connection between Orphic artist and post-Oedipal hero: “a culture hero . . . brings knowledge. . . . The enlightenment sought so eagerly by every child is one of the most precious revelations of mythology. The hero not only teaches how to have sexual intercourse, but he also . . . is the one who has the courage to take a woman, to enter into her and into the whole mysterious and danger-laden realm of femininity, and to emerge victorious from the journey” (8). Due to the seductive appeal of the Underworld in the special case of hero as artist, however, the Orpheus figure often suffers a kind of psychic bends, or rebirth trauma, upon re-entry from the womb to the world; and “A Descent into the Maelstrom” begins and ends with this artistic rebirth trauma.

The first of the tale’s four stages opens by establishing twin sets of polar contrasts which are yoked together by their concern with what the “guide” terms “the best possible view of the scene” (II, 226). These analogous pairings constitute both the symbolic split-settings, “the summit of the loftiest crag” (II, 225) and the “vast bed of waters” (II, 228) under “the mouth of the terrific funnel” (II, 229), and the symbolic split-protagonists, “the old man . . . ‘broken up body and soul’” (II, 225) and his presumably youthful audience, our narrator, who “fell at full length upon the ground, [and] clung to the shrubs” (II, 226). As indicated, these geminations overlap in their concern with vertical (height-depth) positioning and its gender implications. The neophyte, or listener, is obsessed with terrestrial (and marine) depth, or the Mother; while the old man, on “a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock” named “the Cloudy” (II, 226), is preoccupied with celestial elevation, or the Father. Significantly, Freud links water- and drowning-dreams with birth from uterine waters, while “Hills and rocks are symbols of the male organ.”9 This Scylla and Charybdis symbology, as Joyce so well recognized in Chapter 9 of Ulysses, is central to the formative development of the psyche and especially the evolution of the artistic personality (10).

Consequently, when the old man abruptly declares “I will tell you a story” (II, 232), he hints at both the healing function of art and the neurotic plight of the artist. His “story,” like dream and myth, allegorizes the latent lesson that each man must make a return journey to the Mother and there be born again in order to achieve identification with the Father; and the sheer Orphic fact of retelling the tale suggests that the myth itself can therapeutically prepare its audience for the dangerous quest. But more than this, the “exhausted,” “broken,” and “weaken[ed]” (II, 225) condition of this artist-psychopomp betrays the terrible price of tale-telling, that is, the antecedent birth-trauma and its consequent anxiety, which are precursors, as Freud suggests, “of the fear of castration” (11). Strangely, but appropriately enough, the traumatized artist is finally empowered by his neurotic failure. As Freud concludes,

. . . he possesses the mysterious power of shaping some particular material until it has become a faithful image of his phantasy; [page 8:] and he knows, moreover, how to link so large a yield of pleasure to this representation of his unconscious phantasy that, for the time being at least, repressions are outweighed and lifted by it. If he is able to accomplish all this, he makes it possible for other people once more to derive consolation and alleviation from their own sources of pleasure in their own unconscious which have become inaccessible to them; he earns their gratitude and admiration and he has thus achieved through his phantasy what originally he had achieved only in his phantasy — honour, power and the love of women (12).

In this dream-vision, however, Poe’s traumatized artist has not yet achieved such power over his audience.

The remainder of this first stage documents several different “point[s] of view” (II, 229) toward the maelstrom and thus again deals with types of “noses, whether first-hand from a distance, or second-hand from authority. These conflicting evaluations are finally displaced by the ancient mariner’s first-hand dream and mythic voyage during which he symbolically beholds “the only path between Time and Eternity” (II, 243) and feels like “a traveller from the spirit-land” (II, 247) upon return. Initially, however, from the paternal summit of Helseggen, “the Cloudy,” the infantile narrator observes an aquatic wasteland: “a wide expanse of ocean. . . . A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive.” Abruptly, the lifeless sea reveals the concealed whirlpool whose “chopping character” and windy “teeth” (II, 227) betray the latent vagina dentata of a most Terrible Mother: “Here the vast bed of waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsionC heaving, boiling, hissing — gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices” (II, 228). Overpowered by this hideous, one-sided vision of the castrating Mother, the threatened neophyte collapses under Oedipal anxiety, “an excess of nervous agitation” (II, 229).

In order to renew the wasteland, the young knight must conquer such regressive temptations; thus he immediately attempts to counter this memento matri by rehearsing the “ordinary accounts of this vortex” (II, 229). Chronologically, the youthful narrator read these before his eye-witness, but long-distance, confrontation; yet such scientific, de-mythologized accounts “by no means prepared me for what I saw” (II, 229). Nevertheless, he reviews the histories of Jonas Ramus, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Kircher, which provide quantitative, factual “attempts to account for the phenomenon” and seem “sufficiently plausible in perusal” (II, 231). But he soon agrees with his Orphic “guide” in discounting this secular brand of gnosis which “however conclusive on paper . . . becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss” (II, 232). Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym echoes the same wisdom by implying that the narration of his voyage is also intended to deflate scientific misinformation with the pointed truth of symbolic experience: “I must still be allowed to feel some degree of gratification at having been instrumental, however remotely, in opening to the eye of science one of the most intensely exciting secrets which has ever engrossed its attention” (13). Thus, like Pym, this initiate learns that he must replace profane information with the sacred wisdom of myth and dream if he is to save himself and the wasteland; and only the sailor’s art, or “story,” can teach him this wisdom. In this sense, the tale within a tale, like the [column 2:] voyage to the whirlpool in “MS. Found in a Bottle,” propels artist and audience “onwards to some exciting knowledge . . . whose attainment is destruction.” (II, 14). Only in believably re-telling the traumatic tale can the artist educate others and relieve his own neurosis.

The old sailor introduces the second stage of the “story” of the journey to this “profound gulf” (II, 243) by describing his and his two brothers’ unique fishing practices. Fishing itself is a mythic act, both a ritualistic service to one or another Great Mother and a documented pastime of the Fisher King; its symbology accounts for the pantheon of castrating water-goddesses like the Lorelei, Sirens, and Symplegades (14). Jessie Weston, for example, in her study of wasteland mythology identifies the fish as a totem of Astarte (15), and Erich Neumann more generally proclaims that the Magna Mater “is associated with sacred fishpools” (16). In his provocative discussion of Indian mythology, Heinrich Zimmer partially deciphers this symbolism by explaining that the “moon is the controller of waters” (17). The benevolent lunar goddess plays a significant role later in this tale.

The sailor indicates that of the three brothers, he is in the middle chronologically, a fact which helps not only to specify the Oedipal context of the latent water-dream and fishing myth but also to account for the Orphic artist’s traumatic rebirth and his brothers’ drownings. As Freud remarks, “the position of the child in the family order is a factor of extreme importance in determining the shape of his later life and should deserve consideration in every case history”; and “A child who has been put into second place” is subject to “permanent estrangement” because he is “for the first time almost isolated from his mother” (18). By discovering sibling rivalry in the “exposure myth” of water-dreams, Otto Rank even more clearly identifies the fraternal antagonism latent in this voyage: “a certain tension is frequently, if not regularly revealed between father and son, or still more distinctly a competition between brothers” (19). In this sense, it is further noteworthy that the Oedipal brothers would not let their own “stout boys” penetrate the “horrible danger” (II, 234).

Finally, and more revealing than all the above documentation, is the singular motivation behind the brothers’ fishing habits. Only they have the courage to abandon the “usual grounds” and to fish forbidden waters whose danger frightens “the more timid of the craft” (II, 233). This latent undersea danger we have already revealed as regression to the Mother; consequently when they “fouled [the] anchor and dragged it” (II, 234), the fraternal umbilical ties are symbolically secured. In this sense their craft becomes like the Stultifera Navis, or Ship of Fools, of Mediaeval iconography, a hedonistic vessel which runs the risk of foundering forever on the pleasure principle. But all men must run this risk in order to return again, like the Ancient Mariner and his Wedding Guest, sadder but wiser. In this tale, only the middle brother, apparently not crippled by maternal dominance like the first and last child, can accept final estrangement from the Mother. But even he is irreparably traumatized by “the embrace of the whirl” (II, 243) . Although the other brothers’ briefly sketched role in this latent family romance demands a cautious reading, still it appears that both first-born and baby succumb to defeat in sibling rivalry and remain, [page 9:] like so many well-intentioned heroes, in the Maternal Hell of the “Mare Tenebrartzm” (II, 227) and “howling Phlegethon” (II, 231).

The third stage of the tale allegorizes the sailor’s ritualistic combat-coitus with the whirlpool. The regressus ad uterum symbolized here is identical to the “initiatory ordeals” preceding rebirth from the “devouring womb” which are documented in Mircea Eliade’s Rites and Symbols of Initiation (20). At the first maternal-marine threat, the “youngest brother,” like Odysseus in his trial with the Sirens, “lashed himself” to the mast “for safety”; but he and the erect mast are “sawed off” by the “chopping seas” (II, 236). This total and immature dependence upon masculine strength thus proves to be lethal for the unprepared neophyte before the “jaws of the gulf” (II, 239) of the castrating vagina dentata. Our narrator, the middle sibling already spurned by the Oedipal Mother, proves wiser than his brother by salaaming in foetal obeisance and grasping the magical “ring bolt,” symbol of maternal power: “I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands” (II, 236). Moreover, like Ike McCaslin’s abandonment of watch and compass in The Bear and Ahab’s rejection of the quadrant in Moby-Dick, this mariner casts his watch “far away into the ocean” (II, 238). Disposition of the emblem of mere scientific measurement recalls the faulty gnosticism of the historical authorities mentioned earlier; and, as if to reinforce this parallel, the sailor feels “sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream” (II, 238). This sense of hypnagogic vertigo explicitly echoes the opening anxieties of his young listener on the mountain-top and thus links the fates of artist and audience. As Joseph J. Moldenhauer observes in his study of Poe’s aesthetic psychology, “Artist and audience alike must suffer to earn their bearitude — must lose their life to find it” (p. 288).

Furthermore, the narrator-artist catches here an epiphanic glimpse of maternal ambiguity as benevolent moon, “the controller of waters,” and malign maelstrom merge in a latent image of primal unity: “overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky — as clear as I ever saw — and of a deep bright blue — and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never knew her to wear. She lit up everything about us with the greatest distinctness — but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!” (II, 237-238). This evocative and later traumatizing symbol, like the unveiling of Isis, captures the entire mystery of the tale, the goal and the forbidden wisdom of the gnostic quest, namely that moon and maelstrom, castrating Mother and benevolent Mother, are One. David Halliburton speaks to the point here in his discussion of the theme of the “transcendent woman” in Poe’s tales on manifestly sexual themes:

Here is the man, helpless, and here is the woman, overpowering. The man has lost the contest in the sense that he tried to negate the woman, only to be himself negated. In the sense that the woman proves the continuity of being and identity, he achieves, on the other hand, a kind of victory. If the woman survives, he, being human, should survive as well. This is never, of course, a victory over the woman, but a victory through her. In these final confrontations the two roles of the woman as Poe sees them — the role of victor and the role of mediator — are blended into one (21).

Having first glimpsed this forbidden knowledge, what [column 2:] Moldenhauer calls his new-found “contemplative aestheric awareness” (p. 296), the sailor, like Orpheus at the mouth of Hades, next betrays “unnatural” and “keenest curiosity” as the events “restore this] self-possession” (II, 240). Moreover, he reveals and understands for the first time the latent meaning of his voyage after the gnostic “mysteries”: “I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see” (II, 240; italics are Poe’s). Besides indicating here the artistic necessity of telling the experience, the narrator’s subsequent emotions identify the “mysteries” as those dealing with the ambivalence of the incest-taboo: “Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me.” His new-found, masculine “courage” (II, 242) is confirmed when he symbolically relinquishes the maternal “ring” and compulsive sibling rivalry to his doomed “eldest brother,” a two-time sufferer of maternal rejection, and “instinctively” grasps the phallic “cask” and secures himself in his “new position” (22).

This “new position” provokes an ironic effort to again scientifically justify the wisdom which “instinct” has already taught. But the narrator’s “invariable miscalculation” (II, 244) of the physical relationship between maternal “spheres” and paternal “cylinders” is finally offset by the sacred lesson of mythic observation, coupled with the memory of profane experience, which reveals that cylinders “offered more resistance to . . . [the whirlpool’s] suction” (II, 245) or, symbolically, that only tested paternal strength can resist seductive regression to the Oedipal womb. As if to ratify this new covenant, “a magnificent rainbow” appears, emblematic of the momentary mythic transition “between Time and Eternity” (II, 243) and anticipating the artist’s watery baptism into a new stage of wisdom. Sanctifying this Orphic rebirth, what Eliade terms the theme of “victory over the waters,”~3 and celebrating the now-understood gnostic mysteries of the Mother, the moon again symbolically coalesces with the maelstrom: “the rays of the moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss” (II, 242).

The final stage of the mariner’s dies irae, what Poe in “The Premature Burial” calls “the psychal day” (V, 269), is his rebirth or return to the homeland. But it is his consequent condition of traumatized rebirth which has so confused critics. As he reveals at the outset, not only have “these six hours of deadly terror . . . broken me up body and soul,” bur “It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened of my shadow” (II, 225) . As noted above, Robert Schulman is content simply to describe the paradoxical rebirth and to identify the sailor as a refugee from the “chaotic region of death and birth a changed, suddenly aged new man.” Somewhat more optimistically, Richard G. Finholt declares, “The significance of his salvation parallels that of the resurrection of Christ: It is a symbol of the reunification of man with God.”24 G. R. Thompson finds the escape a “mere accident” and attributes the artist-mariner’s “monomaniacal obsession” [page 10:] to his vision of the “ultimate horror,” that is, the ontological priority of “nothingness” (25). Finally, in a perception which anticipates this analysis, in emphasizing gnosis, Paul John Eakin sees the sailor as another of Poe’s posthumous “Lazarus hero[es]” who “promises a symbolic transfer of final knowledge. . . . In this way Poe could make this figure larger-than-life attain the unattainable, mediating between mortal man and the annihilating splendors of the angels’ final knowledge” (26). What Eakin’s valuable insight neglects is the artistic nature of the “transfer” of knowledge, that is, the Orphic extension of the Lazarus myth. Thus Freud’s analyses of birth-trauma and the resultant plight of the artist provide a far more accurate interpretation of the mariner’s condition: “A child who is mistrustful in this way (i.e., of strangers) and terrified of the aggressive instinct which dominates the world” is not actually horrified of these immediate phenomena; rather his neurosis “is a repetition of the determinant of the first state of anxiety during the act of birth — namely, separation from the mother” (27). For Freud, as noted before, the only way the artist, who particularly and peculiarly suffers from this birth-trauma, can relieve his condition is to translate his fantasy into a fable and thereby control his audience, which then can “derive consolation and alleviation from their own sources of pleasure in their own unconscious which have become inaccessible to them.”

Thus in a sense, this most ancient mariner is like Pip in Moby-Dick; his trial by water has rendered him an Orphic visionary, but a very vitiated visionary. As a matter of fact, and again like Orpheus, this “traveller from the spirit-land” (II, 247) has become a Cassandra whose “story” none will believe, whose gnostic wisdom none will accept. Consequently, the unredeemed, psychic seas are still a “wide waste” (II, 243), the maternal “mysteries” still untaught. In “Eleanora” Poe issues a tell-tale clue to psychoanalytic interpretors: “To what I may relate . . . give only such credit as may seem due; or doubt it altogether; or, if doubt it ye cannot, then play unto its riddle the Oedipus” (IV, 237). Here, the gnostic riddle revealed by the traumatic rebirth of the Orphic artist offers a more mysterious, but implicitly identical challenge: “I told them my story — they did not believe it. I now tell it to you — and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofaden” (II, 247; italics are Poe’s) .



(1)Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972), p. 240.

(2) The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), 11, 242. All subsequent quotations from Poe’s works will be taken from this edition and noted within the text.

(3) For a description of the Eleusinian mysteries of the Great Mother, see Erich Neumann, The Greet Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 162 ff. For an account of the rites of Orphic initiation, see Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology (New York: Viking Press, 1970) 111, 185. Finally for a complete discussion of the Orpheus myth and its relation to feminine mysteries, see Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955), 1, 111-115. Throughout this discussion, it must be remembered that the artist-questor is not [column 2:] Orpheus, but rather betrays successes and failures which are classically located in the Orpheus mythology.

(4) The Life end Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-Analytic Interpretation, trans. John Rodker (London: Imago, 1949), p. 352.

(5) “Poe and The Powers of The Mind,” ELH, 37 (1970), 253. Early source studies are Adolph B. sensor, “Scandinavian References in the Works of Poe,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 40 (1941), 83-89, Arlin Turner, “Sources of Poe’s ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom,’” Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 46 (1947), 298-301; and W. T. Bandy, “New Light on a source of Poe’s ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom,’” American Literature 24 (1953), 534-537. A more recent study the general thesis of which this essay agrees with is Margaret J. Yonce “The Spiritual Descent into the Maelstrom: A Debt to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’” Poe Newsletter, 2 (1969), 26-29. The latest accounts of the tale are primarily philosophical-theological appraisals: see Gerard M. Sweeney, “Beauty and Truth: Poe’s ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom,’” Poe Studies, 6 (1973), 25-26; and Richard D. Finholt, “The Vision at the Brink of the Abyss: ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom’ in the Light of Poe’s Cosmology,” Georgia Review, 27 (1973), 356-366 which sporadically employs Freudian terminology. Paul John Eakin’s “Poe’s Sense of An Ending,” American Literature, 45 (1973), 1-22, discusses the tale’s conclusion and will be dealt with later in this essay. A number of studies which deal relevantly with the theme of attaining secret knowledge also touch upon “A Descent into the Maelstrom”: Geoffrey Rans, Edgar Allan Poe (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965), pp. 76 ff.; and Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness (New York: Affred A. Knopf, 1958), pp. 106-107. Finally, Chartes O’Donnell’s “From Earth to Ether: Poe’s Flight into Space,” PMLA, 77 (1962), 85-91, concludes generally but pertinently that Poe’s “seeker of self-knowledge feels that somewhere outside the constricting and increasingly ruinous forms of civilization lies the key to the great dark mystery of the meaning of human existence”; and Joseph J. Moldenhauer’s “Murder as a Fine Art: Basic Connections between Poe’s Aesthetics, Psychology, and Moral Vision,” PMLA, 83 (1968), 284-297, suggestively discusses the image of the vortex in Poe, but more importantly, like Yonce and Hoffman, links Coleridge’s mariner with Poe’s and thus implies several provocative connections between art, death, and the return to the womb. See, especially, pp. 295-296 for a relevant analysis.

(6)Symbols of Transformation, trans. R.F.C. Hull (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), 11, 310.

(7) “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Part III,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologied Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1963), XVI, 335. Hereafter cited as Standard Edition.

(8) The Fear of Women (New York and London: Grune & Stratton, 1968), p. 49.

(9) “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Parts I and II,” in Standard Edition, XV (1963), 156, 158; italics are Freud’s. See also “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Standard Edition, V (1953), 399 ff.

(10) Although Scylla was originally a young woman, her transformed, phallic nature is unmistakable, especially since the cause of her transformation was her plucking a lock from her father’s, King Nisus’, hair. She is thus both a phallic and castrating woman.

(11) “The Ego and the Id,” in Standard Edition, XIX (1961), 58.

(12) “Introductory Lectures on Psycho Analysis, Part III,” Standard Edition, XVI, 376-377; italics are Freud’s.

(13) Works, III, 178. There have been a number of insightful, recent studies of the quest for knowledge in Pym. See, for example, Grace Farrell Lee, “The Quest of Arthur Gordon Pym,” Southern Literary Journal, 4 (1972), 22-23, and O’Donnell, passim.

(14) For a thorough discussion of this “Lady of the Lake” theme, see Lederer, Ch. 26. [page 11:]

(15) From Ritual to Romance (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957), p. 133.

(16) The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, p. 276; see also plate 134.

(17) Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, ed. Joseph Campbell (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 60.

(18) “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Part III,” Standard Edition, XVI, 334.

(19) The Myth of the Hero and Other Writings, ed. Philip Freud (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), p. 77.

(20) Trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), pp. 35 ff.

(21) Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 254-255; italics are Halliburton’s.

(22) Works, II, 241. For a similar discussion of the “mysteries” and myth involved in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and the curious, missing “brazen ring” in this myth, see Barton Levi St. Armand, “The ‘Mysteries’ of Edgar Poe,” in The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dork Romanticism, ed. G. R Thompson (Pullman, Wash.: Washington State Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 86-89.

(23) The Myth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Pantheon Books, 1954j, p. 59.

(24) Finholt, pp. 362-363.

(25) Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1973) pp. 170-171.

(26) Eakin, p. 14.

(27) Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Part III,” Standard Edition, XVI, 407.


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

  • None


[S:0 - PS, 1976]