Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Satirical Poems,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), 12:107-110


[page 107:]


[Broadway Journal, March 15, 1845.]

IN prose satire done at random in our newspapers and other journals, we have been by no means, as a people, deficient; but in verse we are scarcely so much satirists, as subjects for satire. We have had, to be sure, Trumbull's clumsy “McFingal,” Halleck's “Croakers,” the “Vision of Rubeta,” with its sequel, and one or two other similar things, inclusive of a late volume of poems by William Ellery Channing, which we take to have been intended either for satire or burlesque, on the ground that it is impossible to comprehend them as anything else. But beyond these works (each of which has its peculiar merits and defects,) we have really nothing to show a foreigner as a specimen of our satirical abilities done into verse.

An ingenious friend at our elbow suggests that this deficiency arises from the want of a suitable field for satirical display. “In England,” he says, “satire abounds, because the people find a proper target in the aristocracy, whom they (the people) regard as a distinct race of beings, with whom they have nothing in common; relishing even the most virulent abuse of the upper classes, with a gusto undiminished by any feeling that they (the people) have a personal concern in it. In Russia, or Austria, on the contrary,” says our friend, “such a thing as satire is unknown; because it is dangerous to touch the aristocracy, and to [page 108:] satirise themselves would not exactly accord with the people's notions of either the decorous or expedient. It is the same thing” he continues “in America. Here the people who write are the people who read — and thus in satirizing the people we satirize only ourselves, and can feel no real sympathy in the satire.”

All this is more verisimilar than true. Our friend forgets that no individual ever considers himself as one of the mass. He, the individual, is the pivot — the immoveable and central pivot, on which all the rest of the world spins round. We may abuse the people by wholesale, and with a perfectly clear conscience, so far as regards any compunction for offending one single human being of the whole multitude of which that people is composed. Every one of the crowd will clap his hands lustily, and cry “encore!” “give it to them, the poor miserable vagabonds! it serves them right.” It seems to us, however, that we, here in America, have refused to encourage satire — not because what satire we have had touches us too personally — but because what we have had has been too despicably namby-pamby to touch anybody at all. This namby-pambyism, on the other hand, has arisen from the national sin of imitation — a sin perpetrated by all colonies upon the mother countries from which they spring. We content ourselves with doing what not only has been done before, but what (however well done) has been done ad nauseam. We should not be able to endure infinite repetitions of even absolute excellence in itself — but what is “McFingal” more than a faint echo from “Hudibras” — and what is the “Vision of Rubeta” but an illimitable gilded swill-trough overflowing with Dunciad and water? Let any vigorous, original, and fearless man of genius in America set himself [page 109:] to the task of composing a satire and there will be no longer any complaints of the American deficiency in this respect, nor any need of transcendental reasons to account for it.

We are led to these ideas by happening upon a copy of Mr. Benjamin's “Infatuation,” which we have never had an opportunity of seeing before. It is not sufficiently pronounced in its object, to warrant us in classing it with “legitimate” satire; but there is enough in it, we think, to show conclusively that the author might succeed if he pleased in this class of writing, at least as well, if not very much better, than any of his countrymen who have preceded him. The poem is full of nerve, point and terseness — the thrusts are dexterous and well aimed — and the versification peculiarly good of its kind. We have only to regret that the kind is not a more original kind than the hackneyed but undoubtedly forcible Iambic Pentameter.

We quote a few lines which embody not only some unusual pungencies of thought and expression, but some novel and very forcible rhythmical effects:

“Now o‘er the world Infatuation sheds

The Polka's poppies into vacant heads.

Asleep the Polka seems a tangled maze,

Awake the Polka prompts a hundred lays:

Polka the halls, the balls, the calls resound,

And Polka skims, Camilla-like, the ground.

Where roves in groves the nonsense-doating nymph,

And dreams by streams as smooth and clear as lymph,

Some leaf as brief as woman's love flits by,

And brings dear Polka to her pensive eye.

So in swift circles, backward, forward, wheeled,

The Polka's graces were at first revealed; [page 109:]

Perchance some posture-master, happy man,

From Nature drew the Polka's pretty plan.

Oh, wondrous figure, exquisitely stepp’d,

In thee who would not, should not be adept?

Oh Polka, Polka, wherefore art thou so?

I’ve asked ten dandies, and the ‘ten do'nt know!’ ”


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 107:]

1.  Infatuation; a poem, spoken before the Mercantile Library Association of Boston, October 9, 1844.

By Park Benjamin.   Boston W. D. Ticknor & Co.





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