Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Like a procession of moonlight clouds

By the time The Raven and Other Poems had been published in 1845, Poe was a well-known figure in American writing. Though his earliest fame (infamy?) was more for his criticism, publishing a certain poem about a black bird with limited vocabulary established him as one of the most talked about poets in the United States. It was because of that instant fame that The Raven and Other Poems was published — and some big-name critics sunk their teeth into it.

One such critique was published in the Daily Tribune in New York on November 26, 1845. The critic, Margaret Fuller, commented on Poe's introduction (in which he called his poems "trifles"). She agreed. "The productions in this volume indicate a power to do something far better. With the exception of The Raven, which seems intended chiefly to show the writer's artistic skill, and is in the way a rare and finished specimen, they are fragments... almost all of which leave us something to desire or demand."

Among the "fragments" in the book were "To One in Paradise" (which she said "breathe[s] a passionate sadness") and "The Haunted Palace" (she referred to its "dignity"). The review printed in full the poem "Israfel," presumably as a specimen which she particularly liked.

Overall, Margaret Fuller deemed Poe's poems as:
a sweep of images, thronging and distant like a procession of moonlight clouds on the horizon, but like them characteristic and harmonious one with another, according to their office. The descriptive power is greatest when it takes a shape not unlike an incantation, as in the first part of "The Sleeper."
Fuller's overall positive review is somewhat surprising, considering the personal quarrel with Poe she got herself involved with. By the way, she was only about one year younger than Poe — which means next year, 2010, is her bicentennial. For information on celebrations in honor of her 200th, visit


Anonymous said...

"Fuller's overall positive review is somewhat surprising, considering the personal quarrel".


Surprising too is the Poe's positive judgment on Margaret's works expressed on "'The literati of New York" in Godey's Lady's Books" in the year 1846.

Far from its black legend, Poe was a gentleman.

Rob Velella said...

I don't think being a "gentleman" is as important as him being serious about criticism. I've said elsewhere that both Fuller and Poe were sincere critics at a time when "critics" could be bribed with money and favors (or they simply "puffed" for no reason at all). Fuller and Poe are unique. It shows that they both saw literary criticism as something important and respect-worthy. The two of them reviewed each other often, never pulled punches, and were very fair in their assessments. Even amidst the praise, they were sure to point out the bad.

Anonymous said...

Being gentleman could be important for her if Margaret's works were not not worthy of Poe's positive criticism.

Rob Velella said...

I disagree with you. By "gentleman," I assume you mean someone who is polite and sophisticated, maybe someone who is especially kind to ladies. As a critic, being a "gentleman" would imply following the old adage "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Well, when Poe really didn't like someone's writing, he wasn't known for being a "gentleman" critic.

Elsewhere he called Margaret Fuller a "busybody" and an old maid. He also tore into Elizabeth Ellet, calling her "heartless, unnatural, venomous, dishonorable." Gentlemanly? Definitely not. A sincere opinion? I'd say so, and that's my point.