Friday, July 10, 2009

6000 years ago

In a letter dated July 10, 1844, to friend and fellow poet Thomas Holley Chivers, Poe gave one of his most often quoted, profound-sounding-yet-elusive comments. He wrote: "Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago."

Some, who put little effort into it, read this as Poe's admission that he's not happy and is, perhaps, depressed. Such a juvenile interpretation strips the quote of its depth. The "active" nature of humanity Poe refers to refers to the changing cultural climate: the boom in industry, the sudden influx of writers and magazines, the movement from agrarian communities to urban centers, the growth of crime, etc. Does any of that stuff make mankind any happier or wiser?

Is it still true today? Our "activity" is now internet-driven. We make "friends" through Facebook, have "conversations" through e-mail, "meet" people through webcast conferences, and believe that any knowledge worth knowing is available for free on any given web page. Are we happier or wiser today?

Feel free to interpret in the comments.


Gina said...

I think your interpretation makes a lot of sense. Life is about more than the latest technological developments. (Even if they do help us create author blogs! :-) )

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gina ,and you. I marvel at how everyone thinks an electric gadget gives happiness. People are beginning to not relate to each other at all,and really don't care to. They would rather be attached to a device. That's their happiness. It's not working!!!

Rob Velella said...

Today being the birthday of Henry David Thoreau (who, so far as I know, had no interaction with Poe), we might want to consider his advice: "Simplify, simplify."

Anonymous said...

I find it disheartening that anyone reads this quote as superficially as this blog post suggests. I am not sure that I think Poe was referring specifically to the examples mentioned here but, certainly, he is commenting on the "progression" or "evolution," if you will, of society and culture. I suppose he makes a similar comment in his "Sonnet to Science."

Poe Forward said...

My favorite Poe quote. But the funniest Poe quote ever has to be "Democracy is
a very admirable form
of government -- for dogs." (Not that I agree with him, but the antebellum period being what it was. Funny stuff!)