The Complete Stories and Poems
Edgar Allan Poe
I’ve been reading this book for almost three years and it feels so good to finally have finished it! I was surprised by what I found in here. Poe was slightly different to what I thought. He is very much shrouded in shadow and the macabre, at least, his more successful stories and poems were. But there were also some very basic stories in here, some that felt like they weren’t even written by the same person. For every great piece of literature, there were two mediocre ones. I disliked the crime stories in particular. The best ones, for me, were the ones where the narrator laments a lost love on the cusp of insanity: these stories were simply beautiful. Here’s my top two, the only two I consider to be literary perfection: \
Shall we descend into madness? Shall we be haunted by our own desires? Shall we be consumed by that terrible facet of life known only as death? Shall we cling to what cannot be reanimated? Shall we wish for a return of something that has long been in darkness? Shall we become obliterated by the brutal finality of such a statement as “nevermore?” Lenore has gone. She has departed from this life, and is permanently out of the reach of the man. The raven represents the solidarity of this. Despite how much he longs for the impossible, despite how much he hopes for something that could never occur, he still has that inclination that the fantastical could happen: he has to believe that she could come back. And the raven represents the voice of reason, the voice of actuality. And it kills him. It is pain, despair, melancholy and a spiritual death all rolled into one haunting feathery package. He rebels against this voice of rationality. He knows the voice speaks the truth, but he cannot simply accept it. He has lost something vital; he has lost part of himself that will never grace his presence again. And he clings to hope, a false hope such as it is. The raven smashes this to oblivion; it destroys any last semblance of the miraculous occurring. It makes the man realise that this is life, not some whimsical world where nothing bad ever happens. People die. People we love die. Nothing can change that. Lenore will never walk through his chamber door again, and the reality drives him into madness. It shatters his life. ”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'er 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!” His soul will never lift anymore; hope shall never be lifted anymore. By the end of the poem he has full realised the reality of the situation. The raven, the dark bird of harsh truth, the harbinger of the words he simply doesn’t want to hear, has become demonised. It has become the very object he did not want to face; he created a sense of longing to protect himself from the emotional loss of Lenore, and this bubble of falsehood has been burst. Reality sets in, and it is a fate worse than death. It is one of persecution and mental chaos as the bird is simply unable to supply the man with all his answers. He is driven mad by the unknown. The man in the poem has lost “Lenore.” But, what is this Lenore? Is she a woman? Is she this man’s lost love? Or is she something much, much, more? I think on the surface level of the poem she is his dead wife. But the archaic references speak of something else. Lenore could perhaps be a universal suggestion of a lost sense of self or even humanity. We are no longer what we once were. It is also rather significant that the man is persecuted only by the natural world. Very much in the Romanticism vein, man stands aside from nature. He has become something different with his modernisation and industrialisation. He walks outside his nature. And Poe, being an anti-transcendentalism thinker (a dark romantic), demonstrates that life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and nor could it ever be. It is pessimism in full force, and although I strongly disagree with the outlook on life, and appreciate the idealistic utopia offered in the poetry of Percy Shelley and other Romantics much more, I do love the dark beauty of this poem. The finality of the phrase “nevermore” is nothing short of maddening reality for our lost man. It is the end of hope. Ligeia If a mind has found the most true and profound bliss what happens when it’s taken away? Well, the simple answer is it doesn’t work anymore, at least not very well. The narrator of this marvellous short story experiences a whole host of emotions and mental states after his loss. Firstly, he is hit with the expected wave of melancholy fuelled by his understandable grief; secondly, he feels the slow calm breeze of acceptance; thirdly, and finaly, he is savaged by an unrealised state of delusion and fantasy. In this, Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates his true mastery of writing a character in different states of mental stability. Needless to say, he’s a remarkable writer. In beauty of face no maiden ever equaled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream - and airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos. Yet her features were not of that regular mould which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen.”The narrator cannot be blamed for his fragility. He has lost his world: he has lost his beloved Ligeia. She was everything to him, and they both knew it. Nothing could lessen the blow of her death; nothing could take the pain away of her upcoming demise: nothing could save his mind in a world without her. They were living in harmony; their souls had achieved happiness and love; they were two lesser beings of one greater soul: they were at peace in their own transcendental plane, until she died. So, the narrator’s sense of self awareness and actuality has been destroyed. He is left with the tatters of a wonderful experience, and his own delusion. I recommend looking at the following quote and considering exactly who is speaking, and why he would conjure up such an image. Perhaps, he didn’t fantasise this. Maybe this is paranormal. I do love the multiplicity of its interpretation. This short story is a marvel. It appears confusing and contradictory, but if you stop and consider who is actually speaking then its true nature is revealed. Admittedly, on my first read I was a little lost, though after a second read I began to see it for what it was. This is not as approachable as some of Poe’s other works, and it really isn’t an advisable starting point for the author. But, the short story is wonderful, truly wonderful. It highlights the working of the mind in a state of sheer depravity; it is disturbing and brilliant. PostscriptIt seems to me that the more popular stories were the more effective ones. The only one with little renown that was brilliant was Ligeia. I’m glad I read the entire thing, but some of the works were entirely forgettable. There two, though, will be works I certainly will be reading again in the future.