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In whatever tone he writes, there is sincerity, true love of nature, and a frequent flash of poetic expression, that make us dream pleasant dreams of what a little money and a little leisure might have brought from his pen.

45. Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849. Another Southern writer, in some respects the greatest of all, was Edgar Allan Poe. He was left an orphan, and was taken into the family of a wealthy merchant of Baltimore named Allan. He was somewhat wild in college, and was brought home and put to work in Mr. Allan's office. He ran away, joined the army under an assumed name, was received at West Point through Mr. Allan's influence, but later discharged for neglect of. his duties. Mr. Allan refused any further assistance, and Poe set to work to support himself by his pen. In the midst of poverty he married a beautiful young cousin whom he loved devotedly. He wrote a few poems and much prose. He held various editorial positions; he filled them most acceptably, but usually lost them through either his extreme sensitiveness or his use of stimulants. His childwife died, and two years later Poe himself died.

These are the facts in the life of Poe; but his various biographers have put widely varying interpretations upon them. One pictures him, for instance, as a worthless drunkard; another, probably more truly, as of a sensitive, poetic organization that was thrown into confusion by a single glass of liquor.

As a literary man, Poe was first known by his prose, and especially by his reviews. He had a keen sense Poe's criti- of literary excellence, and recognized it at a cism. glance. He was utterly fearless and fearlessness was a new and badly needed quality in American criticism. On the other hand, he had not the foundation of wide reading and study necessary for criticism that is

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Tales.

to abide; and, worse than that, he was not great enough to be fair to the man whom he disliked or of whom he was jealous. His most valuable prose is his Poe's tales, for here he is a master. They are well constructed and the plot is well developed; every sentence, every word, counts toward the climax. That is the more mechanical part of the work; but Poe's power goes much further. He has a marvellous ability to make a story "real." He brings this about sometimes in Defoe's fashion, by throwing himself into the place of the character in hand and thinking what he would do in such a position; sometimes by noting and emphasizing some significant detail, as, for instance, in The Cask of Amontillado. Here he mentions three times the webwork of nitre on the walls that proves their fearful depth below the river bed, and the victim's consequent hopelessness of rescue. Sometimes the opening sentence puts us into the mood of the story, so that, before it is fairly begun, an atmosphere has been provided that lends its own coloring to every detail. For instance, the first sentence of The Fall of the House of Usher is :

"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."

Here is the keynote of the story, and we are prepared for sadness and gloom. The unusual expressions, "soundless day" and "singularly dreary," hint at some mystery. The second sentence increases these feelings; and with each additional phrase the gloom and sadness become more dense.

No one knows better than Poe how to work up to ą

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climax of horror, and then to intensify its awfulness by dropping in some contrasting detail. In The Cask of Amontillado, for instance, the false friend, in his carnival dress of motley with cap and bells, is chained and then walled up in the masonry that is to become his living tomb. A single aperture remains. Through this the avenger thrusts his torch and lets it fall. Poe says, "There came forth in return only a jingling of bells." The awful death that lies before the false friend grows doubly horrible at this suggestion of the merriment of the carnival.

Poe's poetry is on the fascinating borderland where poetry and music meet. His poems are not fifty in number, and many of them are but a few lines in

Poe's

Poetry.

length. The two that are best known are The Bells, a wonderfully beautiful expression of feeling through the mere sound of words, and The Raven. Poe has left a cold-blooded account of the "manufacture" of this latter poem. He declares that he chose beauty for the atmosphere, and that beauty excites the sensitive to tears; therefore he decided to write of melancholy. The most beautiful thing is a beautiful woman, the most melancholy is death; therefore he writes of the death of a beautiful woman. So with the refrain. O is the most sonorous vowel, and when joined with r is capable of "protracted emphasis;" therefore he fixes upon "Nevermore." He may be believed or disbelieved; but in The Raven, as in whatever else he writes, there is a weird and marvellous music. To him, everything poetical could be interpreted by sound; he said he "could distinctly hear the sound of the darkness as it stole over the horizon." He has a way of repeating a phrase with some slight change, as if he could not bear to leave it. Thus in Annabel Lee he writes :

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But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we —

And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

This repetition is even more marked in Ulalume:

The leaves they were crispéd and sere
The leaves they were withering and sere.

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These phrases cling to the memory of the reader as if they were strains of music. We find ourselves saying them over and over. It is not easy to analyze the fascination of such verse, but it has fascination. Many years ago, when Poe was a young man, Higginson heard him read his mystic Al Aaraaf. He says, "In walking back to Cambridge my comrades and I felt that we had been under the spell of some wizard." When we look in the poems of Poe for the "high seriousness" that Matthew Arnold names as one of the marks of the best poetry, it cannot be found; but in the power to express a mood, a feeling, by the mere sound of words, Poe has no rival.

46. Sidney Lanier, 1842–1881. A few years after the death of Poe, a Southern college boy was earnestly demanding of himself, "What am I fit for?" He had musical genius, not merely the facility that can tinkle out tunes on various instruments, but deep, strong love of music and rare ability to produce music. His father, a lawyer of Macon, Georgia, felt that to be a musician was rather small business; and his son had yielded to this belief so far as the genius within him would permit. Another talent had this rarely gifted boy, - for poetry.

The Civil War was a harsh master for such a spirit, but in its first days he enlisted in the Confederate army, and saw some terrible fighting. More than three years later he was taken prisoner - he and his flute. After five months they were released. For sixteen years he taught, he read, he wrote, he lectured at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere, and for several winters he played first flute in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Baltimore. All those years he was in a constant struggle with consumption and poverty. Sometimes for many months he could do nothing but suffer. Between the attacks of illness he did a large amount of literary work. It was not always the kind of writing that he was longing to do, some of it would in other hands have been nothing but hack work; but with a spirit like Lanier's there could be no such thing as hack work, for he threw such talent into it, such pleasure in using the pen, that at his touch it became literature. He edited Froissart and other chronicles of long ago, and he wrote a novel. He wrote also on the development of the novel, on the science of English verse, on the relations of poetry and music, and on Shakespeare and his forerunners. He was always a student, and always original.

Lanier had the lofty conscientiousness of a great poet. Some truth underlies each of his poems, whether it is the simple and profound- Ballad of the Trees and the Master,

Lanier's

Prose.

Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.

Into the woods my Master came,

Forspent with love and shame.

But the olives they were not blind to Him;
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:

The thorn tree had a mind to Him

When into the woods He came.

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