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[65] effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel.1

Scarcely less famous are some of his deliverances on the meaning and the province and aims of poetry. Poetry he defined as the ‘rhythmical creation of beauty,’ holding with Coleridge, his chief master as critic, that its ‘immediate object’ is ‘pleasure, not truth’; and that ‘with the intellect or with the conscience it has only collateral relations.’ ‘Poetry and passion’ he held to be ‘discordant.’ And humour, also, he believed to be ‘antagonistical to that which is the soul of the muse proper.’ Sadness he declared to be the most poetic of moods; and ‘indefinitiveness’ one of the chief essentials of lyric excellence. A long poem he held, with Bryant, to be a ‘contradiction in terms.’

Poe's critical doctrines find their best exemplification in his own poems. He is, first of all, a poet of beauty, paying little heed to morality or to the life of his fellow-men. He is, in the second place, a master-craftsman, who has produced a dozen poems of a melody incomparable so far as the western world is concerned; and he has achieved an all but flawless construction of the whole in such poems as The Raven, The haunted Palace, and The Conqueror Worm; while in The bells he has performed a feat in onomatopoeia quite unapproached before or since in the English language. He is, moreover, one of the most original of poets. And the best of his verse exhibits a spontaneity and finish and perfection of phrase, as well as, at times, a vividness of imagery, that it is difficult to match elsewhere in American poetry.

But his poems of extraordinary worth are exceedingly few —scarcely above a score at most—in which must be included the earlier lines To Helen, Israfel, The city in the sea, the Sleeper,

1 Works of Poe, ed. Harrison, Vol. XI, p. x08.

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Edgar Allan Poe (2)
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