Edgar Allan Poe--The Bells and The Bird

Worm fangs, worm fangs, worm fangs.

Well, if you can get out to New Jersey in a few weeks, J. Herbert Waite of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is giving a seminar on Mussel Beards and Worm Fangs: The Mechanical and Structural Intricacies of Complex Marine Biomaterials on November 10th at Princeton. And I’m distressed that Google was able to give me nothing on “worm fangs” but that.

However, “worm jaws” is full of enlightening links. I leave reading them as an exercise for the reader, mostly because I’m still fixated on eating mimes.

It’s a fascinating mental image – the mimes screaming voicelessly, the worm mauling them one after another. Here there’s a mime trapped in an invisible box and unable to escape; there there’s a mime trying to run away but being blown back by a strong wind.

It’s tragic, really.

If a worm devours a mime in the forest, and there’s no one around. . .

Mad used to parody EAP’s verses a lot. I still have mosdt of one of them memorized, and I didn’t even try to:

**The Rating

Once upon a weeknight dreary
As I sat with vision bleary
Before my Zenith TV that I bought on time at Gimbel’s store
Suddenly I was discerning
Certain shows were not returning
Shows I’d seen just weeks before
“Hey!” I said, "What goes on with all these shows I’ve seen just weeks before?
Are they gone

As I spoke the screen grew dimmer
And I caught the first faint glimmer
Of a strange, fantastic creature
Who my eyes could not ignore
Short and round and roly-poly
He was made of number wholly
“Gosh!” I shouted, “Holy Moley!”
“What are all those numbers for?”
“Hush!” he said,“And I will tell you what my numbers all are for.
I’m a Rating
Nothing More!”


And so on, for seven more stanzas, most of which I can’t get out of my head.
(Oh, and Katisha – thanks!)

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear me tell the Poe-haters to get bent. The man was a freakin’ genius. Sure, he could be something of a melodramatic hack (consider how much of The Tell-Tale Heart is devoted to a guy standing in a hallway, doing nothing), but he wrote some rockin’ poetry and prose.

The Cask of Amontillado is downright terrifying, particularly on repeated readings, when one concentrates not so much on what my namesake is doing as why he is doing it (hint: there’s no good reason, he’s just a sociopath). Ditto Hop-Frog and The Premature Burial: genuinely terrifying, and their enduring appeal is more than merited. And Poe invented the modern detective story, for all intents and purposes.

I’ve watched just about all of the recently released DVDs of Roger Corman’s authoritative “adaptations” of Poe works starring the incomparable Vincent Price, and Poe’s rep should be more than secured by these films alone. Sure, they’ve got nothing to do with the original literature, but the concept and the mood are there, and the contribution to popular culture is pretty amazing. Particularly considering the legacies of Poe’s peers; when was the last time you saw a lurid, atmospheric adaptation of a Hawthorne or Melville story filmed in glorious, blood-soaked Technicolor and starring Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price?

Finally, no less a literary figure than Vladimir Nabokov saw fit to toss in an homage to EAP in Lolita (“I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea”). If it was good enough for one of the greatest English-language novelists ever, I ain’t gonna argue.

Oh, and the best parody of The Raven is still the Simpsons version, if only for the part where Homer clenches his teeth and mutters “take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door,” getting increasingly cranky as he does so. Really humanizes the ooky spookiness of the poem (or Poe-m, heh heh).

Giants fan, Gorgon Heap? :smiley:

The Ravens (whatever you may want to say about them) show a really cool video/text montage at the beginning of home games that’s got lines of “The Raven” fading in and out with all these intense images of the team and (what else?) ravens. Ominous music, the works. It works really well artistically, even if it is a tad, um, melodramatic.

Just wanted to mention that as a sort of mainstreaming of Poe’s work, though I guess “The Raven” doesn’t really need it in the first place.

Yeah. I can never read the poem anymore without hearing some of those lines in Homer’s inflection… :wink:

And I think Cask is pretty scary just thinking about what he’s doing. But then, I’m claustrophobic.

And to those who praised the Skelton link – glad you liked it! It amused me. :wink:

You are in error. Fortunato had ventured insult upon injury.
Need I remind you of your own crest? A foot d’or in a field azure, the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heal. The motto- Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.

Hey, I like the prose. In fact, as far as I can tell, everyone who has posted in the thread likes the prose. There’s been some high praise for it.

But please, I beg of you, point me to one rockin’ poem of Poe’s. One. One is all I ask. Just one poem which does not suffer from the melodramatic self-consciousness of being a POEM. One poem which escapes Poe’s calipers, metronome and aural sutures to be itself instead of a decorative piece of oral embroidery, a sampler. Show me a poem that’ll spike itself into my forehead like a January wind, or ache in my bones the way water aches between autumn hills – that’s the kinda poem I consider rockin’.

Another Simpson’s bow to Poe: The diarama episode with Lisa’s line from “The Tell Tale Heart.” She does it perfectly.

I love Poe and must get that Annoted Edition.

James Russell Lowell once said about EAP: “Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge.” That sounds about right, with most of the fudge coming from his poetry. However, that one part of The Bells is way cuh-reepy:

And the people -ah, the people -
They that dwell up in the steeple,

In fact, the whole fourth stanza kinda gives me the heebie-jeebies. And I’ve always loved the rhythm of “keeping time, time, time/In a sort of runic rhyme.”

In general, you’re right, though, Fatwater Fewl. Poe’s poetry generally wouldn’t be poetry using Emily Dickinson’s definition.

His prose is another matter, however. That’s the three fifths, right there. Montresor: it’s interesting that you consider the standing in the hallway part of “Tell-Tale Heart” to be melodramatic. To me, the telling of that brought realism into the story. I suppose it depends on whether you’ve ever stood frozen like that …

Good call! I did have Emily Dick’s definition of poetry in the back of my mind. For those who don’t know it, here’s what she said:

Yeah, it’s a powerful paralysis and The Tell-Tale heart does nail it.

It does have a certain emotional realism to it; I just remember reading it as a child, page after page (seemingly) of the narrator describing his fevered emotions, and eventually having to go back and skim what I just read to make sure that I hadn’t missed something (like an actual murder) and that yup, he’s still just standing there, freakin’ himself out.

Fair enough. I just always felt that a major part of the appeal of the story was the implication that Fortunato’s insults/injuries had, given what little else we find out about the narrator, likely been something pretty minor: the Renaissance Venetian equivalent of parking in Montresor’s parking spot or taking his sandwich out of the fridge. Its hard to envision something that legitimately would justify vengeance on that scale, without the perpetrator at least having some idea that he’s screwed up somehow. Unless, of course, the narrator is a profoundly amoral nutjob. Hence my username, obviously.

And yes, I had neglected the motto, although since no one learns Latin anymore, I expect that in future annotated editions, it will be translated to “Watch It, Jerk.”

Tell you what, take Poe’s prose and insert random carriage returns. Then you’ll get the blank verse you’re looking for, just like the masterpieces you find in high school produced literary magazines.

Me, I like the idea of sticking to a structure (in Poe’s case, tight internal rhyming and meter) and having the genius to make it work, rather than the cloying pretty language of blank verse that’s only typeset to make it look like there is some underlying structure.

Dammit, I want a POEM to be a POEM.


Let POE be POE.

There is a line or two about the Lady Montressor, is there not? Long have I entertained the theory that Fortunato, the fool, the drunkard, the ass, has lain with Montressor’s wife. Fortunato does not suspect that Montressor knows. He greets him smiling and laughing, thinking his secret safe. But, Montressor knows. He too smiles, and pretends ignorance. Until he may revenge himself.

Gosh, all this attention! Who’d have thought I’d be such a big star after one night at the Pallas, huh?


Seriously, I have a monster of a book called The Unabridged EAP, it has everything he published in chronological order by date of publication. I’ll get the ISBN if anyone is interested.

It’s an interesting read. Remember that Poe had to sing for his supper, so some of his material has a distinct “paying the bills” quality, but the good stuff is IMHO as good as it gets.

Is there a writer with a better eye for a punchy lead? Of stories or poems where you can you instantly recall the first line, how many are by Poe? “The Raven”, “Annabel Lee”, “Tell-tale Heart”, and “Cask of Amontillado” all just reach out and drag you into the tale. Conversely, some of his stories have a coy, seductive, indirect way of leading you into the plot. He was a genius at packaging stories in different formats to emulate, for example, a scholarly work or a chatty letter, or a breathless newspaper dispatch

Oh, and God bless the internet…



Tell you what, Poe’s “tight internal rhyming and meter” tend to make his poetry predictable and monotonous because of its almost complete invariance.

Blank verse has nothing to do with carriage returns. Its most common form is the unrhymed five-accented line known as iambic pentameter – a form some guy named Shakespeare was known to use, although he often added extra syllables to lines to change things up, to keep the readers or listeners on their toes.

The other varieties of blank verse also have definable metrical structures. Blank verse is called blank for its lack of end rhyme, not for its lack of rhythm.

Meter and rhyme are not the be-all and and end-all of poetry. There are other kinds of structures for verse (perhaps as many as there are possible poems). What they all do is provide a frame on which the poet builds variances in tone and pitch.

The finest verse results from the poet’s ability to maintain a tension in a poem while working in, off, or around a chosen form; the tension arises from the torque which words (through their various meanings and associations) apply to each other and to the reader or listener as the poet exerts pressure through structural adjustments. This does not require a metrical structure; it can be done through the use of opposing ideas and images as they play off each other and change each other through the tension created by their varying proximity throughout a poem.

I’m not so sure about that, Fatwater Fewl. What I mean is that, yes, Poe’s adherence to rhythm and rhyme do contribute to what one astute poster called “melodramatic self-consciousness.” (Oh, wait, that was you.) I don’t think it’s the whole story, though.

Take Robert Frost, for instance. Much of his work relies heavily on internal rhythms and end rhymes, but when I think about “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I see the naked trees, the moonlight sparks in the snow, etc., and I feel the draw of those woods. When I read Poe’s poetry, I think about–Poe.

More than any other form of literature, a poem has two authors, the writer and the reader. Its meaning is not complete until both have contributed their parts.* When I read a poem by EAP, I am often locked out of that process. I cannot feel about the situation because I am stuck thinking about the poem, its structure, the word choice, etc., and I get the feeling that when he was writing the poem he was doing the same thing.
*Footnote: Sometimes the two don’t agree. Frost supposedly said that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was not about death at all, to which I personally say, “Riiiigggghhhhtt, Bob.”

The Raven is a beautifull poem. If the late 19 and mthe 20 century have teached us something is that in matters of poetry the “form” is not essential. That’s why Edgar Allan Poe wrote some magnificent but imperfect poems.
The above is, of course, my opinion.

I think we pretty much agree, skeptic_ev.

And that’s a fine observation you make about a poem’s two authors.

The difference between Poe and Frost is that Frost is willing to sacrifice the form to the poem, while Poe sacrifices the poem to the form.

For instance, in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” (a poem on which my opinion has changed completely in the last 6 months as my appreciation of Frost’s work in general has risen), Frost’s narrator is conversational, his language simple and direct; yet it manages to convey those things you mention with a power which is not only able to make us to see the scene unfolding in our minds, but to allow us to become the narrator if we choose to give ourselves over to the poem.

I said the language was simple, and it is. But the poem is not simple; neither in technique nor effect.

The rhyme scheme itself seems deceptively simple: aaba. Yet when looking more closely it turns out to actually be: aaba // bbcb // ccdc // dddd. And that last stanza’s construction is what finally lifts the poem into greatness – the repetition in the last two lines turns a lovely bit of pastoral poetry into a metaphorical and metaphysical window on the infinite and unknowable blank beyond.*

I say “finally lifts” because the process begins in the first stanza with the mellow ‘oh’ sound of its rhymes in tune with the narrator’s conversational tone. And it’s in the first stanza that the higher pitched “here” appears.

In the second stanza, the “eer” sound’s resemblance to a squeal builds tension as its rhyme works against the narrator’s laconic tone. And, again, another sound appears, the harsher, almost discordant “ache” sound which becomes the third stanza’s end-rhyme, where, against the speaker’s same level tone, it inserts the emotional sense of the verb “ache” through the use of its sound.

*So, in a sense, Frost is right when he says it’s not about death – it can be read as being about what’s beyond death, or about questioning if there’s anything beyond death … in which case, the second " And miles to go before I sleep" is about only having this life; therefore its responsibilities and joys etc are hugely pressing because they are all there is.