The other day I found a treasure at a used bookstore. It is this book, selected Prose and Poetry of Poe, with the introduction by W.H.Auden.
Now, I haven’t started on the Poe part yet, but I am suffused with joy at the introduction. Must say, the more I know Auden, the more I put him at my imaginary dinner table in heaven. I’d like to spend just an hour or so in his company, if he’d let me.
His gentle yet critical view of Poe’s work is filled with a shared amazement at how Poe persisted, his gaps, his utter failures bounded by spectacularly odd successes.
Poe’s development as a critic “never ..to his potential full stature” is compared to Baudelaire’s –
Think of the subjecs that Beaudelaire was granted – Delacroix, Constantin Guys, Wagner- and hen he kind of books Poe was asked to review:
Mephistopheles in England , or the Confessions of a Prime Minister
The Christian Florist…
Dashes at Life with a Free Pencil …
One is astounded that he managed to remain a rational critic at all, let alone such a good one.>
In terms of Poe’s character, which was described as romantically doomed, Auden points out that this is not the case, “it turns out he was only the kid of fellow whom one hesitates to invite to a party because after two drinks he is apt to become tiresome, an unmanly sort of man whose love life seems to have been largely confined to crying in laps and playing house, that his weaknesses were of the unromantic kind for which our age has the least tolerance, perhaps because they are typical of ourselves.”
On second thought, I might be afraid to have Auden at my dinner table. I would be terrified to bore him, to hear this damning with faint praise I’ve dreaded all my life.
On the other hand, he makes me want to read Poe, not the usual Raven or Casks, but Gordon Pym , Ligeia and The Man of the Crowdand his other poetry, in ever knew of the existence of these stories, poor ignorant me. I know I will be richer for the experience of reading them.
So glad I found this book, and so many others, in a serendipitous way. Second hand bookstores are mystical treasure troves, and I hope they never ever cease to be.