how did poe use romanticism? i need examples, : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread


-- Anonymous, April 16, 2001



If you are expecting an easy answer to this question, you will be disappointed. Firstly, there are two distinct aspects to Romanticism: the philosophy underpinning it and its literary manifestations. Secondly, Poe would appear to have changed his mind about Romanticism between his earliest poetry and his later prose and non-fiction.

In order to write a convincing essay on this subject you will, therefore, need to summarise the key aspects of the Romantic project starting with its German origins in the Schlegel brothers which Poe received mediated through Coleridge. Important points will include its Idealism, and thus rejection of Materialism, its relationship with Nature and its problematising of the scientific method of inquiry.

The best way of demonstrating Poe's early relationship with Romanticism is to analyse 'Sonnet to Science' (1827) which could be usefully compared with Wordsworth's 'The Tables Turned' (1798). It is worth knowing that the sonnet had been out of fashion in England since the early 17th century and was revived by the English Romantics to serve their purposes.

Another early piece which is illuminating is his 'Drake-Halleck Review' (1836) which is notable in this context for his praise of Shelley. If you have space, it is worth looking at Shelley's 'A Defence of Poetry' in order to look at how Poe probably envisioned the role of the poet in this phase of his life.

Another importance of the Romantics can be observed by looking at how Poe drew on key images from Coleridge (notably the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798)) in order to construct such stories as 'MS Found in a Bottle'. By looking at Poe's literary influences and his adoption of Romantic philosophy about poetry, you would have a good grasp of the importance of this movement in the first phase of his writing career.

However, by the mid 1840s it is clear that Poe has abandoned the Romantic project. In particular, I recommend reading his 1845 review of Elizabeth Barrett to see how he attacks the Romantic poets for obscurity and being too philosophical. He now claims, against Shelley, that the poet should write for a general audience, even if certain critical standards are not to be abandoned. As an extended example of this new anti-Romantic vision see 'The Philosophy of Composition' for Poe's view of the relationship between poet and readership.

For how his new view of Romanticism works in practice, two pieces spring to mind: 'The Island of the Fay' and 'The Elk'. Although there is a great deal of debate about how anti-Romantic these stories are, it is clear that they problematise any simplistic understanding of Nature which 'Sonnet to Science' may have represented. In particular, 'The Elk' has a twist in the tale which completely undermines the reader's expectations of what they have been reading.

I realise that this may be more complicated than you were hoping for a last minute essay (I used to leave essays to the 11th hour too), but perhaps it might serve as a cautionary reminder about leaving enough time to do the research.

Good luck!

-- Anonymous, April 16, 2001

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