Poe’s Advice to a Fellow Writer

“And as for these personal enemies, I cannot see that you need put yourself to any especial trouble about THEM. Let a fool alone — especially if he be both a scoundrel and a fool — and he will kill himself far sooner than you can kill him by any active exertion. Besides — as to the real philosophy of the thing — you should regard small animosities — the animosities of small men — of the literary animalculae (who have their uses, beyond doubt) — as so many tokens of your ascent — or, rather as so many stepping stones to your ambition. I have never yet been able to make up my mind whether I regard as the higher compliment, the approbation of a man of honor and talent, or the abuse of an ass or a blackguard. Both are excellent in their way — for a man who looks steadily up.”

– Poe in his February 18th, 1844 letter to George Lippard

The animalculae are numerous enough that this bears reblogging.

That's What Poe Said

The quote below this blog’s title (and the first quote posted on Facebook) is Poe’s advice in a letter to an aspiring young writer named Abijah M. Ide, Jr. This young man ended up becoming good enough at writing poetry that “Abijah M. Ide. Jr” was once mistakenly thought to be a pseudonym of Poe’s and his poem, “To Isadore,” was falsely attributed to Poe. The Poe collection that I’ve had since college (purchased in the late 1990s) actually contains this poem. Pretty hilarious.

Poe was very kind to fans and corresponded with a few. He offered nothing but kind encouragement to fellow writers. Today, I’ll quote from his February 18th, 1844 letter to George Lippard:

And as for these personal enemies, I cannot see that you need put yourself to any especial trouble about THEM. Let a fool alone — especially if he be both…

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“And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care; and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fables of sorrow, and weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.” – Poe, in “Silence: A Fable

I think of this line every time I make the mistake of reading the news. Blech.

“It is only the philosophical lynxeye that, through the indignity-mist of Man’s life, can still discern the dignity of Man.” – Poe in Marginalia for June 1849

Indignity-mist. I really love that. What a beautiful, poetic way to summarize the bullshit involved in daily life. 

“I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy…”

“I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. Thus he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind — that he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong.

In like manner, nothing can be clearer than that a very generous spirit — truly feeling what all merely profess — must inevitably find itself misconceived in every direction — its motives misinterpreted. Just as extremeness of intelligence would be thought fatuity, so excess of chivalry could not fail of being looked upon as meanness in its last degree: — and so on with other virtues. This subject is a painful one indeed. That individuals have so soared above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all biographies of”the good and the great,” while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows.”

– Poe in Marginalia in The Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849

The manuscript for this particular Marginalia entry is currently available for viewing at The Poe Museum in Richmond, VA. I went there last Sunday and it was one of the best experiences of my life. A full post about my visit is forthcoming, but for now, just let me say that being in the presence of this manuscript and all the other wonderful objects The Poe Museum has in their collection was an ineffably wonderful, soul-elevating experience.

Byam Shaw’s illustration for “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

Over the weekend, I discovered this fantastic illustration by Byam Shaw (1872-1919) for “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” I’ve posted about this story before, as it is one of my favorites and the Poe story that scared me the most. When I saw this wonderful illustration, I laughed out loud, because it summed up exactly how I felt the first time I finished reading “Valdemar.” Add up all the facial expressions in this photo and yep… that was me!

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Apparently it made this artist feel similarly. 🙂

“Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.”  

– Poe, in a July 2nd, 1844 letter to James Russell Lowell

My Visit to Poe’s Grave

I’m back to blogging, after a fairly long absence, necessitated by my family’s moving from Seattle to the DC area. My husband’s job conveniently got transferred here, and now, after years of aching to visit Poe’s grave and being unable, I live a mere one hour south of it and can go pretty much whenever I want. I feel very, very lucky and I’m so grateful for this!

We arrived in Virginia on a Friday. As we pulled into the parking lot of our new home, my husband asked, “Do you want to go to Baltimore on Sunday?” My answer was an immediate “YES!” (What an awesome husband, right?)

Baltimore has always fascinated me, not only because of Poe, who I’ve now been reading for 30 years, but because my father (who got me into Poe) was born and raised there, along with three generations before him. With Poe’s bones lying there and all of the family lore taking place there, Baltimore is a place of myth, story, legend and magic for me. I have always loved it from afar, and I’m so happy to be so close to it now!

Upon arriving in Baltimore, we went to Poe’s grave first. It felt indescribably good to finally be there after so many years of longing to go. I figured I’d cry, but no, it was an occasion of pure joy.

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After visiting his grave, we sought out his original burial place, which is a few steps away, in another part of the Burying Grounds.

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To the left of that is the grave of his grandfather, David Poe, Sr., and I’ve just learned that his brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, is buried there as well.

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As you can see, Westminster Hall and Burying Ground is a gorgeous, fascinating old cemetery. I look forward to going back and taking a tour, to learn more about the other inhabitants and to learn more about its quirks, like this:

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Poor Didier, lying forever beneath the church’s HVAC system. I’d LOVE to know what possessed the church to build over these graves in such a goofy way.

Some markers are so old, they are weathered to the point that they are hard to read, and they stick out of the ground in all directions.

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The vaults, now they are just cool.

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These naturally make me think of Poe’s poem, “The Sleeper:

AT midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapour, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain-top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
The rosemary nods upon the grave;
The lily lolls upon the wave;
Wrapping the mist about its breast,
The ruin moulders into rest;
Looking like Lethe, see, the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take,
And would not for the world awake.
All beauty sleeps! — and, lo! where lies
With casement open to the skies,
Irene with her destinies!

O, lady bright, can it be right,
This lattice open to the night?
The bodiless airs, a wizard rout,
Flit through thy chamber, in and out,
And wave the curtain-canopy
So fitfully, so fearfully,
Above the closed and fringéd lid
‘Neath which thy slumbering soul lies hid,
That o’er the floor and down the wall,
Like ghosts, the shadows rise and fall.
O, lady dear, hast thou no fear?
Why and what art thou dreaming here?
Sure thou art come o’er far-off seas,
A wonder to these garden-trees!
Strange is thy pallor — strange thy dress —
Strange thy glorious length of tress,
And this all-solemn silentness!

The lady sleeps. O, may her sleep,
Which is enduring, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!
This bed, being changed for one more holy,
This room for one more melancholy,
I pray to GOD that she may lie
Forever with uncloséd eye!
My love, she sleeps. O, may her sleep,
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Heaven have her in its sacred keep!
Far in the forest, dim and old,
For her may some tall tomb unfold —
Some tomb that oft hath flung its black
And wing-like pannels, fluttering back,
Triumphant o’er the crested palls
Of her grand family funerals, —
Some sepulchre, remote, alone,
Against whose portal she hath thrown,
In childhood, many an idle stone, —
Some vault from out whose sounding door
She ne’er shall force an echo more,
Nor thrill to think, poor child of sin,
It was the dead who groan’d within.

That last line echoed through my mind as we explored the Burying Grounds, reading the names on the vaults and examining their iron doors.

We brought my 4 and 6-year-old daughters along, who were very excited to see Edgar Allan Poe, as they have heard their Mommy talk so much about him. I neglected to tell them that he is, um, dead, though, and they were very sad to learn of his death. My 6-year-old berated me:

“Mommy, why didn’t you tell us that Edgar Allan Poe is dead?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to freak you out.”

“I’m not freaked out by dead people, I’m SIX!”

Well, now I know. 🙂

The Poe House and Museum, a few blocks away, wasn’t open that day (but I am told it will have its grand opening for 2014 on Memorial Day weekend!), so we could only drive by it. We will be back to see it when it’s open, and I absolutely can’t wait for that!

Afterwards, we explored the awesome Hampden neighborhood for a while. We bought some new Alan Moore at Atomic Books and indulged my other obsessions, knitting and spinning, at Lovelyarns and Threeravens Fiber Studio.  We closed our fantastic visit to Baltimore with a visit to the Annabel Lee Tavern, in the Canton neighborhood.

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The entire place is a beautiful homage to Poe and a loving tribute to Baltimore. And the food, oh my God, the food. I will dream of the duck fat fries until the next time I go to Baltimore and have them again. I think I’d better make a reservation for Memorial Day weekend…