You know how there are certain things that if people don't already get, there's no point in telling them? I made a note to myself to go back to Edgar Allan Poe's first compilation of poetry, entitled "Tamerlane, and Other Poems," published in 1827. I wanted to see whether Mathew Franklin Whittier's essay about the cheap availability of poor poetry (with a sarcastic handy guide to writing it "by the numbers"), published a few months later, might have been a direct response--containing as it does a parody of such compilations. Mathew was 15, and Poe was 18, in 1827.
I didn't see any direct references, or parallels. But while I was there, I decided to force myself to read one or two selections, aside from "Tamerlane." I was bracing myself, thusly: "Probably, they're going to be pretty good--I have probably been too hard on Poe," etc. etc.
They are awful.
How could anybody think that Poe went from this style of poetry, to "The Raven"? Maturity? Study?
Let me see--what was Mathew writing at age 18? We are talking, for him, from July 18, 1830, to July 17, 1831. Let's see what might fall within that period.
Mathew didn't write serious poetry until he began courting Abby, and then, after her death in 1841. In this early period, it was all of the humorous variety. But it was good work. He didn't write beyond his experience, or try to be "poetic." He, himself, did not seem to think that poetry was his forte; and of course, for much of his life he was in the shadow of his famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. Nonetheless, if I am not mistaken, he wrote "The Raven," and therefore he was the author of one of the most celebrated American poems of the 19th century. Even in that poem--even with him being in deep, terrible grief for Abby--he wasn't entirely serious.
I have no intention of attempting to analyze the poems found in Poe's "Tamerlane" collection. I think this is representative of what he was natively capable of, without stealing or imitating someone else's work. It fascinates me that scholars have let him get away with this. As I pointed out in a recent entry, his "Essay on Composition" is classic essay bullshit. How professors who typically give students a big red "F" on their essay exam for stuff like this, could imagine that Poe actually wrote "The Raven," is beyond me.
Do you know what it reminds me of? There have been mischievous tests run, where experts were asked to judge between a cheap product in their field of expertise, and an expensive one, with the labels pasted over. It's been done with wines, but I saw one recently done, as I recall, with chocolates, or coffee. And you know the experts can be mightily embarrassed in a situation like that. If I was an expert, I wouldn't go within 10 miles of a test like that. The odds are against you.
But here, generations of scholars have all been duped. I don't understand it.
Has anyone besides myself ever questioned Poe's legitimate authorship of "The Raven"? If so, I've never caught wind of it.
I'm going to close with one of Mathew's early, humorous poems. People like Ogden Nash, and Theodore Geisel, became famous for light-hearted poetry. This was Mathew's specialty (though he would typically embed a more serious message in it), and it's a legitimate art form. Later in life, he wrote some which were even better, including "The Vulture," one of the most popular parodies of "The Raven." This one is reprinted in the New York "Constellation"--where Mathew was the acting junior editor--from the "New England Weekly Review." Mathew would submit to other publications when he was on vacation; and then, when he got back on the job in New York, he would, naturally, reprint his own work in the "Constellation," in his capacity as junior editor. I have no question this is his work, and he has signed it as he very rarely did, with his first initial. It was published on May 22, 1830, when Mathew was 17 years old (one year younger than Poe was, when he published the "Tamerlane" compilation).
FROM ISABELLE FLITTS
I told you, dear pa, in my last—
Oh, no, I believe I did not—
The thing which one sits down to write,
Is the very thing always forgot;
But now I will tell, and perhaps
That I did not before, is as well
For until we decided you know
There was nothing especial to tell.
And 'tis only a month of six weeks;
'Twas the night which I wrote you about,
When we walk'd by the silvery beach;
Was that walk from my letter left out?
Oh then I have got to go back;
You'll excuse me, I hope, for the slips
Of my pen, when a body's confused
The pen stammers just like the lips;
Well, the party that went out with us,
Had left us alone on the shore;
I wonder they were in such haste,
'Twas a trick never play'd us before;
And we stood on the bank and looked down
In silence, long, long on the sea;
I mean that I did—his dear eyes
Were fixed all the while upon me.
Oh, I thrilled with a feeling all new,
For the beam of the look which he gave
Sunk deep in my soul, as the glance
Of the moon through the luminous wave;
And he vow'd by the stars that have shone
On the sky from the hour of their birth,
By the sea that's so true to the moon,
And the moon that's so true to the earth.
He adored, and he said 'twas all false,
The story of Clarissa Lee;
I knew so before, though I'd wept;
How mischievous people can be;
Your money, he said, was to him,
As the dew in the fathomless tide;
I've heard his own went like the dew,
But the tattlers undoubtedly lied;
For he spoke of owning a mill
Connected with which is a Bank;
The one manufactured cash;
The other for issuing plank;
And he spoke of the "buggy" he keeps,
And the farm where he frequently calls,
Somewehre out in the state of New-York;
On the route to Niagara Falls.
I knew this would gratify you,
And so I consented—or rather
I promised to write for consent—
Which you wont refuse, will you, dear father?
They'll fill your head full of their tales,
But he swears they are false if his name—
What a beautiful name for a man—
Is Augustus Frederic Graeme.
The school is most out, and I'm sure
I'm old enough now, to engage;
You'd hate an Old Maid; and he says
Sixteen is the prettiest age.
So you wont be vex'd, will you? now dont—
I wish you could come to our—when—
But I'll bring him home soon from the jaunt,
And I know you'll be satisfied then.
And now, while I think dearest Pa,
Please send by the very first mail—
He's momently looking for funds
But says they may possibly fail—
Some five hundred dollars—you must,
I need it for trinkets and things—
And your letter to Isabelle Graeme
Will find us at Lebanon Springs. M.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: Eric Johnson demo tape
for his band, "Mariani," at age 15