Our very existence, like that of the universe we live in, is a system of rhythms. Even before we were born, consciousness may have come to us as an awareness of rhythms; the hammock- like swinging as our mother walked, the intimate beating of her heart and our own matching hers in double time (Western Wind 199). This speaks volume to the artist and artistic work of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s works, his poetry climbs into the ears of his readers and connects consciously and at times unconsciously and plugs us into the rhythm of Poe’s heart, his mind and his soul. Once connected to Poe’s inter dwellings one is never the same. I was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe in I believe ninth grade language arts class (which I still have the textbook today), the class had begun in the genre of Romantic tradition known as Romanticism which in my head was Harlequin.
Romantic than was explained to be a collective rebellion within the arts and philosophy against the classical conventions which had emphasized reason over emotion, the general over the particular and society over nature, nothing to do with steamy skin novels from the grocery stores. But even more specific I was introduced to which is also known as Dark Romanticism, which meant this wasn’t the general optimistic view or individuals and nature; that there was a more complex philosophy, filled with dark currents and as stated in my textbook, “a deep awareness of the capacity for evil” and yet Dark Romanticism is Romantic in their emphasis on emotion, nature, the individual and the unusual (McDougal pg.103).
There is a rhythm in the way I came to know this maiden who lived by the sea, by the name of Annabel Lee. Was my teacher just in a happy mood today? And why because the content was sad, but my teacher was singing almost and something inside of me sparked.
It was many and many a year ago/ in the kingdom by the sea/ that a maiden there lived whom you may know/ by the name of Annabel Lee/ And this maiden she lived with no other thought/Than to love and be loved by me… ( )…/But we loved with a love that was more than love
The position of the words Edgar Allan Poe used immediately brought a sort-of sway to them and it captures the reader brings them in with this deep emotion of what else love, you are standing deep in this mutual love in the first two stanzas. In these stanzas and throughout the poem Poe uses mixed meters in different lines to causes our flow when read properly to sway he goes between tetrameter (meaning four, in relation to the rhythmic unit in a line of poetry having accented and one or two unaccented syllables) and trimester which is three. In units/lines with one accented and one unaccented syllable are known iambs and in units with one accented and two unaccented syllables are called anapest(McDougal pg. 189) which Poe have mastered in not just Annabel Lee but in a lot his works of poetry (including onamonapeai of his poem The Bells) .
Later I learned that the poem Annabel Lee is what you would call a ballad, which is a poem that tells a story, often a tragic one. Ballads differ from other narrative poems in that they are always highly rhythmic, often intended to be sung, put to music. Most ballads have stanzas of equal lengths and refrains or repeating passages, phrases or verses that occur with some sort of regularity throughout the poems (McDougal pg. 189). Although Poe varies the length of his stanzas, in Annabel Lee the stanzas have the same basic rhyme and meter; it has refrain and repetition. I was connected to poetry on that day and I was connected to Edgar Allan Poe by way of rhythm. I wanted to know how it was that I was so moved by these words and not by others before. What made this poem or poet so special that I not only heard this sad story and understood it right off, but that I could almost feel the waves, or see this man pained and lying next to a sepulcher, where his true love had been laid to rest, by a sea? I wanted to hear more from this poet and I wanted to know his story. It was first the rhythm of Poe’s work that propelled my interest in poetry and then his subject matter, the emotions of the inner dwellings of the human mind, his soul and consciousness really peek my interest.
Then come The Raven, the second poem read by my teacher that day and probably one of the most famous of all his poetry opened my eyes to the possibilities of words done beautifully. Think of the genre of Romanticism its history; a movement from the outside, from the rationale; inward. It was also known as the Age of Enlightment, an intellectual and aesthetic phenomenon that dominated cultural thought from the last decade of the 18th century well into the first decades of the 20th century. A movement that involved all the arts; music, paintings, literature and what a more interesting place to explore than inside one’s own mind and/or heart. Romanticism from its earliest manifestations in Germany with the "Sturm und Drang" (“storm and stress”, meaning artist/people wished to deal with individuals and their emotions). Movement of the 1770's to its vibrant first flowering in England in the 1790's to its importation to American soil from the 1820's onward (IHAS: Artist/Movements). Not to be confused with romance, romanticism deals with the emotion of love and all its properties and melodrama. In romanticism it is the personal experience, it is the divinity of self and the connection to others as a whole and nature (wikipedia.romantism.com). Like the roll of thunder cross the sky like horses or like the roll of pain in one’s own heart is romanticism. Think of the rhythm of a ballad it’s meter and line and syllables, now;
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/ Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-/ While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping/ As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door/ “Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-/ Only this and nothing more”
Again here is the singing of my teacher, that is wrapping the students up in this story, that is love and who knows nothing of love, yet this deeper feeling of sadness and despair. Also, the images a lone man reading and grieving awaken by a Raven this beautifully dark, scary evil (?) bird along with the use of Greek Gods and Goddess and dimensions of worlds and potions and again the loss of a true love. I was taken again on a trip by way of pulses and beats of the way he had organized his words. Although the stanzas of The Raven are more drawn out, more elaborate, it has a rhythm to it and my teacher really captivated me. After hearing The Raven and Annabel Lee at school I went home very excited about the poet Edgar Allan Poe and not only did my uncle and older brother recite The Raven (with a more dramatic tone) my uncle gave me an album of stories by Edgar Allan Poe performed or recorded by Vincent Price (which I still have today) and even in the dialog of his characters there is a rhythm in the way they speak.
The ballad, The Raven pulls the reader down into this world of the speaker who is distraught, he is weak and weary, and he is mourning the death of his lost love Lenore. He then takes the reader on a journey through his own consciousness into what he thinks is happening to him in this dream-state of a talking Raven who only says, “nevermore” In which it is true he will nevermore see, hold or be with Lenore. The speaker hears a rapping, why the rapping at first the door then the window? It is escape, the speaker is trying to escape from this melancholy and human mortality, the speaker is trying to escape into forgetfulness, the speaker is really experiencing a perverse conflict between the desire to forget and the desire to remember. The Raven represents remembrance with that one word “nevermore.” Which by the end the speaker realize he is caught forever in this mood, he will be stuck and he does waddle as they say in the madness?
In The Raven the reader isn’t in a sway as with Annabel Lee but in a high tension at some point, the rhythm changes from the slow hit at the end and moves inward as the speaker get upset or come to certain conclusion. In the first 70 lines the rhythm is slow picking up in pace around lines 25 – 30 when the speaker whispers “Lenore”. Following the internal rhyme words of “turning and burning”;
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning/ Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before/ “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice; / Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-/ Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore-/ Tis the wind and nothing more!”
The speaker has become excited, with what he is hearing, his heart is beating, yet his is still trying to convince himself of his sanity. And although the speaker assumes that the word "Nevermore" is the raven's "only stock and store", he continues to ask it questions, knowing what the answer will be. His questions, then, are purposely self-deprecating and further incite his feelings of loss (Wikipedia.theraven.com) and finally madness, ending back into calmness from the frenzy in lines 80 – 101. Here the calmness returns in lines 102 – and to the end at 105;
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting/ On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;/ And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming/ And the lamp-light o’ver him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; / And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted- nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe captures the rhythm of dark emotion, the sway of loss love, the waddling of despair, the ache of loneliness, the feeling of hair standing up at the back of the neck of coincidence of nature; the wind howling in the night, the appearance of a big beautifully black bird; he uses Romanticism to play on our fears of the unknown even within ourselves. It is no wonder that Edgar Allan Poe is credited with being the father of Dark Romanticism; the father of the detective stories which gives him a foot into Modernism. Poe uses a lot of poetic devices for the most part in his rhythms, he plays with the meter in ballads, he uses alliteration and repetition to give that sing song feel to his poetry; with images, his uses imagery and symbols to paint the narrative of his poetry and Poe almost always set the mood, the tone of the poem within the first two stanzas.
There are so many different opinions on the artistry of Edgar Allan Poe’s work and his personal life that I felt over-whelmed with the genius that he was/is since his words are alive and very well. I do tend to agree with David Galloway (an author who wrote the introduction to a book on the critic, author, poet) who states, “Poe created his effect for even those tales and poems which seems to depend almost entirely on the conventional devices of horror metempsychosis, the influence of supernatural agencies, premature burial, physical torture and murder to produce a terror which demands to be taken at something more than its face value; and in its most complex forms, the terror represents a profound disruption of man’s mind and soul, a spiritual agony which transcends the age in which it was written as well as the agonized life which created it.
Poe’s personal life reads like one of his novels; father leaves; mother die; an orphan in a family friend home; a life of drinking; one of the first writers to try and live solely on his craft; loner: young wife dies and he still seems to chill his readers and give to them the feeling film maker Hancock gave to movie goers with “The Birds” or King’s “Pyscho”. There is a rhythm to Poe’s work sometime that of the flood of blood curling narratives, open heart beatings, souls stuck in tree branches against a dark night or rippling sea and within the beak of a black bird.
I enjoy the works of Edgar Allan Poe because of his ability to use words to question ourselves and that of what really is human nature/ nurture. Poe opens the reader up to the many different possibilities of not just black and white but the many different layers of gray and how and where do we fit in if we were in someone else’s shoe. The reader question one selves and humanity, we experience via speaker and question and by God isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do (lecture Mueckenheim 2011)?