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This article is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

After Poe: Poetics and Poetry David Gervais

They are insatiable of music, they cannot have enough of it; they desire
a music of greater compass perhaps than words can possibly yield...
(Pater, `Joachim du Bellay')


1

Thanks are due to Michael Schmidt for reminding us why Poe still matters as a poet (`Editorial', PNR 148). Not that his role as a founding father of Symbolism has ever gone unrecognised, but the partisan enthusiasm of Baudelaire and other French poets has sometimes made him seem a maverick. Reading a poet in a foreign language can be like drinking wine when one already has another taste in one's mouth. Schlegel and Tieck made classic translations of Shakespeare but that didn't save them from thinking that Gammer Gurton's Needle was by Shakespeare too: they could not hear the difference between Shakespearean verse and verse that was merely Elizabethan. But, for Poe, such discrimination counted for less. It was, in a sense, partly his genius to create poetry without the resource of a common culture. This made it easier for Baudelaire to project a Parisian angst onto his America and for Mallarmé to imagine an exquisite aesthetic Poe, even further removed from the graft and squalor of Baltimore journalism. Poe entered into his true kingdom of poetry, his `Al Aaraaf', from which all literal reference was banished. A handicap became a strength.

If this is to second Schmidt's recommendation of Poe as an alternative to what he calls the `facile ...


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