The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe Including Essays on Poetry

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 171

By man is cursed alway!


In this composition we find it difficult to recognise the Willis who has
written so many mere "verses of society." The lines are not only richly
ideal but full of energy, while they breathe an earnestness, an evident
sincerity of sentiment, for which we look in vain throughout all the
other works of this author.

While the epic mania, while the idea that to merit in poetry prolixity
is indispensable, has for some years past been gradually dying out of
the public mind, by mere dint of its own absurdity, we find it succeeded
by a heresy too palpably false to be long tolerated, but one which, in
the brief period it has already endured, may be said to have
accomplished more in the corruption of our Poetical Literature than all
its other enemies combined. I allude to the heresy of _The Didactic_. It
has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly and indirectly, that
the ultimate object of all Poetry is truth. Every poem, it is said,
should inculcate a moral, and by this moral is the poetical merit of the
work to be adjudged. We Americans especially have patronized this happy
idea, and we Bostonians very especially have developed it in full. We
have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem's
sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to
confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and
force:--but the simple fact is that would we but permit ourselves to
look into our own souls we should immediately there discover that under
the sun there neither exists nor _can_ exist any work more thoroughly
dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem _per
se_, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written
solely for the poem's sake.

With as deep a reverence for the True as ever inspired the bosom of man,
I would nevertheless limit, in some measure, its modes of inculcation. I
would limit to enforce them. I would not enfeeble them by dissipation.
The demands of Truth are severe. She has no sympathy with the myrtles.
All _that_ which is so indispensable in Song is precisely all _that_
with which _she_ has nothing whatever to do. It is but making her a
flaunting paradox to wreathe her in gems and flowers. In enforcing a
truth we need severity rather than efflorescence of language. We must be
simple, precise, terse. We must be cool, calm, unimpassioned. In a word,
we must be in that mood which, as nearly as

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