Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. B. R. Pollin), “Marginalia - part 05,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 253-262 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 253:]


Graham's American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art

March 1846 XXVIII, 116-18


By Edgar A. Poe.

[8 items, nos. 147-154]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia 147

The effect derivable from well-managed rhyme is very imperfectly understood. Conventionally “rhyme” implies merely close similarity of sound at the ends of verse, and it is really curious to observe how long mankind have been content with their limitation of the idea.(a) What, in rhyme, first and principally pleases, may be referred to the human sense, or appreciation of equality — the common element, as might be easily shown, of all the gratification we derive from music in its most extended sense — very especially in its modifications of metre and rhythm. We see, for example, a crystal, and are immediately interested by the equality between the sides and angles of one of its faces — but on bringing to view a second face, in all respects similar to the first, our pleasure seems to be squared — on bringing to view a third, it appears to be cubed, and so on: I have no doubt, indeed, that the delight experienced, if measurable, would be found to have exact mathematical relations, such, or nearly such, as I suggest — that is to say, as far as a certain point, beyond which there would be a decrease, in similar relations. Now here, as the ultimate result of analysis, we reach the sense of mere equality, or rather the human delight in this sense; and it was an instinct, rather than a clear comprehension of this delight as a principle, which, in the first instance, led the poet to attempt an increase of the effect arising from the mere similarity (that is to say equality) between two sounds — led him, I say, to attempt increasing this effect by making a secondary equalization, [page 254:] in placing the rhymes at equal distances — that is, at the ends of lines of equal length. In this manner, rhyme and the termination of the line grew connected in men's thoughts — grew into a conventionalism — the principle being lost sight of altogether. And it was simply because Pindaric verses had, before this epoch, existed — i.e. verses of unequal length — that rhymes were subsequently found at unequal distances. It was for this reason solely, I say — for none more profound — rhyme had come to be regarded as of right appertaining to the end of verse — and here we complain that the matter has finally rested.(b)

But is [[it]] is clear that there was much more to be considered. So far, the sense of equality alone, entered the effect; or, if this equality was slightly varied, it was varied only through an accident — the accident of the existence of Pindaric metres. It will be seen that the rhymes were always anticipated. The eye, catching the end of a verse, whether long or short, expected, for the ear, a rhyme. The great element of unexpectedness was not dreamed of — that is to say, of novelty — of originality. “But,” says Lord Bacon, (how justly!) “there is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.”(c) Take away this element of strangeness — of unexpectedness — of novelty — of originality — call it what we will — and all that is ethereal in loveliness is lost at once. We lose — we miss the unknown — the vague — the uncomprehended, because offered before we have time to examine and comprehend. We lose, in short, all that assimilates the beauty of earth with what we dream of the beauty of Heaven.(d)

Perfection of rhyme is attainable only in the combination of the two elements, Equality and Unexpectedness. But as evil cannot exist without good, so unexpectedness must arise from expectedness. We do not contend for mere arbitrariness of rhyme. In the first place, we must have equi-distant or regularly recurring rhymes, to form the basis, expectedness, out of which arises the element, unexpectedness, by the introduction of rhymes, not arbitrarily, but with an eye to the greatest amount of unexpectedness. We should not introduce them, for example, at such points that the entire line is a multiple of the syllables preceding the points. When, for instance, I write —

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain,(e)

I produce more, to be sure, but not remarkably more than the ordinary effect of rhymes regularly recurring at the ends of lines; for the number of syllables in the whole verse is merely a multiple of the middle, and there is still left, therefore, a certain degree of expectedness. What there is of the element, unexpectedness, is addressed, in fact, to the eye only — for the ear divides the verse into two ordinary lines, thus:

And the silken, sad, uncertain

Rustling of each purple curtain. [page 255:]

I obtain, however, the whole effect of unexpectedness, when I write —

Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before.(f)

N.B. It is very commonly supposed that rhyme, as it now ordinarily exists, is of modern invention — but see the “Clouds” of Aristophanes. Hebrew verse, however, did not include it — the terminations of the lines, where most distinct, never showing any thing of the kind.(g)


idea) a. This probably comes from Goold Brown, Institutes of English Grammar (N. Y., 1833), p. 235 — a book which he knew in 1843 according to his 1/28/43 rev. (in collaboration with Henry Hirst) of The Poets and Poetry of America (H 11.225) and his use of this definition of rhyme in “Notes on English Verse” in Lowell's 3/43 Pioneer (also in “Rationale of Verse” of 1848; H 14.212).

rested) b. The idea of “the appreciation of equality” is not to be found in the 1843 “Notes on English Verse” nor is the “crystallic” analogy; both occur in “Rationale of Verse” (paras. 19-20), changed and a bit expanded (H 14.218-19), but it is not at all clarified, nor does Poe here or elsewhere suggest the source of his notions. For a full development of this idea of “equality” through the parallel with music, see The Science of English Verse (1880) by Sidney Lanier, despite his Prefatory deprecation of Poe's “Rationale of Verse.” For Poe's theory of “equality” see Claude Richard, E. A. Poe, pp. 566-68. Concerning the squaring and cubing of pleasure, J. Arthur Greenwood, Edgar A. Poe (Princeton, 1968), p. 101n31, cogently suggests the “hedonic calculus” with its assignment of quantities to various pleasures, attributed first to Daniel Bernoulli (1738) of the famous family mentioned in M 101, but only one of a long line of such “calculators.” His citation gives 140 works between 1738 and 1958; yet I suspect that a different approach to the hedonic calculus may have suggested this passage — that of the Utilitarians, led by Jeremy Bentham and James (and John) Mill, emphasizing the scale or ranking of pleasures, from the nadir of sensuality through the acme of altruism and aesthetic delight. Bentham's term, “felicific calculus,” was based on intensity and duration of the experience — scarcely an objective standard. Greenwood observes that Poe's “multiplying two such utilities together” is unique.

The Pindaric ode explanation is ingenious and peculiar to Poe. The “epoch” intended by Poe for the development of rhyme is unspecified, but it has generally been agreed that full end-rhyme, in verse, appeared in Europe only from the second century on, especially for church hymns (see Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry, pp. 705-709, and Ency. Brit., 23.27475). In the “Rationale of Verse” (H 14.247) Poe again alludes to “Pindaric odes” but only for their demonstration of the need for equal “pulsations” [page 256:] in determining “rhythm,” not “rhyme.”

proportions) c. For five other instances of Poe's use of Bacon's statement in Essays (No. 43, “Of Beauty”) see “Ligeia” (TOM 331n4). Sometimes Poe gave Bacon's words correctly: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”

Heaven) d. The dream of “divine beauty” consequent on poetry and music is developed and posthumously published in the “Poetic Principle” (H 14.275, 290-91) and occurs, for music alone, in the small M 8 article.

curtain) e. Poe's choice of line 13 of “The Raven” is highly significant, for this is unquestionably borrowed, largely, from Elizabeth Barrett's line in “Lady Geraldine's Courtship”: “With a rushing stir, uncertain, in the air, the purple curtain” — which stimulated “the whole construction” of “The Raven” (see TOM Poems 356-57n10). Moreover, the concern over splitting a long line into two rhymed short ones determined Poe's interest in experimenting with and rewriting “Lenore,” one of his favorite poems, toward the end of 1844.

before) f. Poe rightly comments on his extensive use, in “The Raven” (this being line 14), of the rhetorical figure of “homoeoteleuton” or “the use of a series of words with the same or similar endings.” Aristotle discussed it in his Rhetoric for the ending and, more rarely, the beginning of prose periods, and it may have contributed to the first appearance of real rhyme in early African Christian hymns (see Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry, p. 708). In his chapter on “Rhythmic Use of Rhyme” S. Lanier (see b above) cites “The Raven” (11. 13-14) for this ingenious subdividing of the long line and also for “an agreeable sporadic group” of rhymes (p. 93 of the 1901 ed.).

kind) g. Both these “observations” are reprinted from Poe's Pin 100 and Pin 77 (q. v. for details). Counterposing Greek “usage” with Hebrew “non-usage” somewhat tempers if it does not contradict his initial statement in this article about “how long mankind” used a conventional type of rhyme, but the authorities do not support Poe at all. A good statement on the accidentality of rhymes in The Clouds was available to Poe in Edward Munk, The metres of the Greeks and Romans (Boston, 1844), pp. 23-24 (cited by Greenwood, p. 87n9), but this was not the source of his earlier Pin observations. Prof. Hardie Hansen, CUNY, in private communications to me, has usefully noted that rhyme with the ancients was never structural as in English. Poe, intensely aware of the resources of rhyme, said “What thinking person can doubt that it did actually exist” in classic poetry (“Rationale of Verse,” H 14.225)? Succinctly Edmund Gosse would assert: Rhyme “was practically unknown to the ancients ... [or was] accidental” (Enc. Brit., 23.274). But Poe has modern supporters: W. J. M. Starkie, ed. of The Clouds (1911) notes comic, parodic, or rhetorical purposes in three sets of apparent rhymes (11. 485-86, 495-96, 711-15); Paul Roche, tr. of Three Plays of Euripides [page 257:] (N. Y., 1974), p. xi, detects rhyme even in tragedy; L. P. Wilkinson, Golden Latin Artistry (Camb. U. P.,1963), pp. 32-34, notes its use medially and terminally or for noun and epithet, especially in Latin.

Marginalia 148

Talking of inscriptions — how admirable was the one circulated at Paris, for the equestrian statue of Louis XV., done by Pigal and Bouchardon — “Statua Statuæ.”

Note: This is a rephrasing of the first sentence of Pin 79 (q. v.).

Marginalia 149

In the way of original, striking, and well-sustained metaphor, we can call to mind few finer things than this — to be found in James Puckle's “Gray Cap for a Green Head:” “In speaking of the dead so fold up your discourse that their virtues may be outwardly shown, while their vices are wrapped up in silence.”


Note: For Poe's general use of Puckle, see M 23. Puckle's text, so inordinately praised, is scarcely improved by Poe's changes: “In speaking of the dead, fold up your discourse so handsomely as their virtues may be shown outwards, and their vices wrapped up in silence” (1834 ed., p. 119). Poe uses this “apothegm” of the “old English moralist,” who was actually a notary public, in his 2142 rev. of “Brainard” in Graham's (H 11.15) and in FS 9 of 5/49, which is even more laudatory.

Marginalia 150

Some Frenchman — possibly Montaigne — says: “People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think, except when I sit down to write.” It is this never thinking, unless when we sit down to write, which is the cause of so much indifferent composition. But perhaps there is something more involved in the Frenchman's observation than meets the eye.(a) It is certain that the mere act of inditing, tends, in a great degree, to the logicalization of thought. Whenever, on account of its vagueness, I am dissatisfied with a conception of the brain, I resort forthwith to the pen, for the purpose of obtaining, through its aid, the necessary form, consequence and precision. [page 258:]

How very commonly we hear it remarked, that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it: — as I have before observed, the thought is logicalized by the effort at (written) expression.(b)

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity — when the bodily and mental health are in perfection — and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time — yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows;” and for absolute thought there is demanded time's endurance.(c)

These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure, moderates or tranquilizes the ecstasy — I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy itself) that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature — is a glimpse of the spirit's outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion — if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition — by a perception that. the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness-for in these fancies — let me now term them psychal impressions — there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.(d)

Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody everothe evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe. In experiments with this end in view, I have proceeded so far as, first, to control (when the bodily and mental health are good) the existence of the condition: — that is to say, I can now (unless when ill) be sure that the condition will supervene, if I so wish it, at the point of time already described: — of its supervention, until lately, I could never be certain, even under the most favorable circumstances. [page 259:] I mean to say, merely, that now I can be sure, when all circumstances are favorable, of the supervention of the condition, and feel even the capacity of inducing or compelling it: — the favorable circumstances, however, are not the less rare — else had I compelled, already, the Heaven into the Earth.

I have proceeded so far, secondly, as to prevent the lapse from the point of which I speak — the point of blending between wakefulness and sleep — as to prevent at will, I say, the lapse from this border-ground into the dominion of sleep. Not that I can continue the condition — not that I can render the point more than a point — but that I can startle myself from the point into wakefulness — and thus transfer the point itself into the realm of Memory — convey its impressions, or more properly their recollections, to a situation where (although still for a very brief period) I can survey them with the eye of analysis.

For these reasons — that is to say, because I have been enabled to accomplish thus much — I do not altogether despair of embodying in words at least enough of the fancies in question to convey, to certain classes of intellect, a shadowy conception of their character.

In saying this I am not to be understood as supposing that the fancies, or psychal impressions, to which I allude, are confined to my individual self — are not, in a word, common to all mankind — for on this point it is quite impossible that I should form an opinion — but nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions. In a word — should I ever write a paper on this topic, the world will be compelled to acknowledge that, at last, I have done an original thing.(e)


eye) a. Poe took his statement about Montaigne directly from Bulwer's Ernest Maltravers, 111, ch. 2, save for the opening: “I think it is Montaigne who says somewhere —,” but Bulwer may have given Montaigne in error for Gilles Menage, in Ménagiana (Paris, 1694), 1.161: “M. de la Chambre disoit que la Plume inspire, que souvent il ne savoit ce qu‘il alloit écrire quand il la prenoit, qu‘une period — produiroit une autre période.” (M. de la Chambre used to say that the pen was an inspiration, that often he did not know what he was going to write when he took it up; that one sentence used to produce another.) Poe repeats this for M 277.

expression) b. Here Poe repeats the major idea and much of the language of M 63, including his coinage of “logicalize” to which he adds the coinage “logicalization.”

endurance) c. This paragraph and the next one express an idea encountered elsewhere in Poe, e.g., “Pit and Pendulum” (TOM 682-683). [page 260:] This seems to owe something to Sir David Brewster's attempt to explain “special illusions” in Letters on Natural Magic (1832; 1839 N. Y. ed.), pp. 53-56, a book which Poe used extensively in explaining Maelzel's “Automatic Chessman.” Para. 6 (below) owes much to p. 55 on mental “pictures.” For “shadows of shadows” see Hamlet, 2.2.264-68: “ ... the shadow of a dream ... ambition ... is but a shadow's shadow.”

mortality) d. Valhalla was joyous and Hell (or Helheim) gloomy, but they were at a great distance from each other, unlike the afterworlds of the Greeks. Poe seems unaware that Hell was originally the daughter of Loki, spirit of evil, who ruled over the nine realms of Niflheim, the underworld, where dwelt the dead, while Valhalla was a hall in Odin's Palace of Gladsheim. Poe may have known of the Norse Hell from Fuseli's engravings, celebrated in Henry Kirke White's “Ode” to the artist (H 10.224). The Poe-coinage of “psychal” (also in para. 8) occurs eleven times, q.v. in PCW 35 and 91.

thing) e. Poe derived the phrase “the power of words” from Pope's Imitations of Horace: Epistles, 6.48: “Graced as thou art with all the power of words” (TOM 1211-15). Poe indicated the connection of creative thought and the eternally enduring “power of words” throughout the universe, a subject treated also in “Mesmeric Revelation” and even in Eureka. His coinage “supremeness” occurs also in Eureka (16.302) and “Premature Burial” (TOM 961), and in “Philosophy of Composition” (14.201). The beginning of paragraph 5 became the subject, almost the wording of Poe's opening for “To Marie Louise,” his 32 blank verse lines of 3/48, probably composed during the period of 12147-1148 (see Poems, 406-408).

For Paul Valéry's appreciative comments on this “valuable” but “imprecise” article, see his article in Le Commerce, 1927, 14.11-41, (reprinted as Fragments des Marginalia, Montpellier, 1980) which is included in translation by James R. Lawler in Valéry's Collected Works (Bollingen series XLV), Vol. 8 (Princeton, 1972), pp. 177-92.

Marginalia 151

Mr. Hudson, among innumerable blunders,(a) attributes to Sir Thomas Browne, the paradox of Tertullian in his De Carne Christi — Mortuus est Dei filius, credibile est quia ineptum est; et sepultus resurrexit, certum est quia impossibile est.”(b)


blunders) a. Poe's detestation (see MM 146 and 165), as a Shakespearian lecturer, was Henry Norman Hudson (1814-1886), New Englander and clergyman, whose Lectures on Shakespeare came out in 1848, [page 261:] his Life and Notes (of Shakespeare) in 11 vols. (1851-56) and another biographical study in 1872.

est) b. This is one of many uses made by Poe of Tertullian's “paradox,” from Bk. V of De Carne Christi, which Poe probably derived from Father Bouhours’ La Manèire de Bien Penser (q.v. in Pin Intro.). “Fourth Dialogue” (ed. of 1743, p. 474). Poe cited this first in “Berenice,” and later in M 245 (TOM 220n8 which translates it thus: “The Son of God has died, it is to be believed because it is incredible; and buried, He is risen, it is sure because it is impossible”). Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, greatest of the church fathers after Augustine, wrote “On the Flesh of Christ” between 202 and 208 A. D. presumably. For Browne see Poe's use in para. 4 of Intro. to M.

Marginalia 152

Bielfeld, the author of “Les Premiers Traits de L‘Erudition Universelle,” defines poetry as “l’art d’exprimer les pensées par la fiction.” The Germans have two words in full accordance with this definition, absurd as it is — the terms Dichtkunst, the art of fiction, and Dichten, to feign — which are generally used for poetry and to make verses.


Note: This is almost the same as Pin 152 except for the newly added phrase “absurd as it is,” indicating a disenchantment with literary matters German. Poe's attitude toward the Schlegel brothers, Tieck, Goethe et al. had turned strongly negative, as we can see in other refs. in the later Marginalia.

Marginalia 153

Diana's Temple at Ephesus having been burnt on the night in which Alexander was born, some person observed that “it was no wonder, since, at the period of the conflagration, she was gossiping at Pella.” Cicero commends this as a witty conceit — Plutarch condem[n]s it as senseless — and this is the one point in which I agree with the biographer. —


Note: This entire article comes from James Puckle, The Club, “The Author's Preface”: “Diana's Temple, at Ephesus, being burnt that night Alexander was born, one said, ‘It was no wonder; for she was then a gossiping at Pella:’ which Tully commends as a witty conceit, and Plutarch condemns as a witless jest.” Poe used Plutarch several times for learned [page 262:] sources, as in Pin Intro. 121, MM 13 and 46, and FS 9, but it is doubtful that he knew more than a few of the Lives or anything of the Moralia. In the Lives, article on Alexander, ad. init., Plutarch speaks of Diana's assisting at the birth, but nothing of her gossiping. Pella became the capital of Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander. Diana's temple at Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the world, was burnt by Erostratus for self-commemoration.

Marginalia 154

Brown, in his “Amusements,” speaks of having transfused the blood of an ass into the veins of an astrological quack — and there can be no doubt that one of Hague's progenitors was the man.


Note: This largely comes from James Puckle, The Club, “Quack” (1834 ed., p. 55): “Brown, in his Amusements, tells us indeed of transfusing the blood of an ass into an Astrological Quack. ... Such blockheads, with their formidable bombast, are the oracles of those that want sense, and plague of them that have it.” Puckle alludes to Thomas Brown, Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the meridian of London (London, 1700), p. 88: “Amusement VIII, The Philosophical or Virtuosi Country.” As for Hague (misprinted as “Hugo” by Harrison) — this is taken by Poe from an article by him in the 5/6/40 AWM on Hague, debunking “A Charlatan! / Weather Prophet, Star Reader, and Fortune Teller” (Brigham, pp. 76-80, q. v. for a para. on his humbug predictions).







[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 05)