Obscure Poe: “The Philosophy of Composition”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1846.
A questionable choice, perhaps, for this series since you may know at least one phrase in this essay:
. . . the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.
This is nothing less than Edgar Allan Poe explaining how, in a cold, analytical, and logical fashion he wrote his most popular work: “The Raven”.
It’s not just that poem. Poe claims his essay describes the “modus operandi by which some of my own works was put together [sic]”.
The Poe steps of composition for the poem follow.
Pick your length. Poe felt the poems lost their effect after a certain length. He aimed for 100 lines. “The Raven” is a 108 lines long.
Next decide on the impression you want to leave. Poe wanted something “universally appreciable”. For Poe, “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem”. But beauty, for Poe, is not a quality but the “intense and pure elevation of soul”. “Truth” and “Passion” are better addressed in prose. The precision to depict Truth and the “homeliness” needed for depicting Passion are “antagonistic” to creating a sense of beauty. Continue reading →
As I’ve said elsewhere, the United States Army was the one institution that appreciated Edgar Allan Poe in his lifetime – even if he did get expelled from West Point.
But what did Poe do when he was at West Point and in his days as a private soldier?
The late Major William F. Hecker answers those questions with some unique expertise.
Hecker, before he died from an IED in Iraq in 2006, taught English at West Point. He passes on the folklore surrounding Cadet Poe – stories Hecker’s father and great-uncle heard when they were at the school and that Hecker heard when he was a cadet and from his students. These are stories are of drunkenness and wild ill-discipline.
In fact, Poe doesn’t seem to have drank when at West Point and made a conscious decision to get himself expelled by failing to show up for roll call and not going to class. Continue reading →