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Edgar Allen Poe’s Bicentennial

January 20, 2009

I know, I’m double-posting again. But when I saw on Rob’s blog that today is the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birthday, I felt I had to read a short story in his honour. And it doesn’t make much sense to post about it tomorrow, does it? :p

But before I talk about the story I chose (“The Fall of the House of Usher”), I want to briefly mention my favourite Poe poem: “The Bells.” It’s an incredible poem, and while of course all poetry needs to be read aloud to be appreciated, “The Bells” especially depends on that. I was introduced to it when we all had to memorise and recite a poem for my Intro to Writing Poetry class in college (no, I never thought I could be a poet; I needed an arts credit and I can’t draw to save my life)-one of the girls picked this one. The recitation was awesome. But in case you don’t feel like reading it aloud yourself, there’s always YouTube!

Now on to “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe is wonderful at building up a gothic sense of creepiness, but his style is highly formal, so it takes me at least a few paragraphs to really get into the rhythm. I loved stories like “The Cask of Amontillado” when I was in high school, but somehow I never got around to “Usher.” I thought I knew where the story was going, when I read this description of the hero:

Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eve, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

But Poe’s ending is actually different and quite ambiguous.

I love the way he handles the ending: the dramatic action is interspersed with passages of the book our narrator is reading from. It’s just a bunch of fun, and a little bit scary. :) If you haven’t read Poe before, you should definitely try him out!

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2009 4:32 pm

    I recently read some of his poems. It is amazing all of the stuff that he has written. My favorite poem was The Raven (I hope I have the title right) because it was nice and creepy :)

  2. January 20, 2009 8:20 pm

    I love Poe and so I’m starting a new weekly event – Poe Fridays (playing on Poetry Fridays).

    I hope that you stop by!

  3. January 20, 2009 10:29 pm

    I love The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s one of my favorite stories of Poe’s. I think Poe was the first author that I truly fell in love with. I remember reading his stories as a child and loving them and going to a play when I was 8 or 9 where they did plays of The Raven and The Telltale Heart. It was amazing. Still remember it. As for my favorite Poe poem, it would have to be Annabel Lee….that poem’s just incredible!

  4. January 20, 2009 11:36 pm

    There’s a Poe museum in my hometown and it was constructed when I was in high school. I begged my parents to take me. Unfortunately they never got around to it. Or maybe it was fortunate for my teny tiny social life.

  5. January 21, 2009 5:24 am

    I say the double posting is alright — especially since there may be another drought of “Striped Armchair” posts when you go back to school!

    I don’t like Poe anymore. I just don’t. Loved this particular story in high school, though.

  6. January 21, 2009 6:50 am

    Oh, oh, oh, Annie and I adore “The Bells”!!! In fact, out of the hundreds of poems Annie read during our poetry unit earlier this year, I think that was her very favorite! And I just never tired of listening to her read it to me.

    And by the way, double post to your heart’s content! The more Eva, the better!

  7. January 21, 2009 7:45 am

    “The Bells” introduced me to my favorite word: onomatopoeia! I actually once wrote a poem based on the structure of “The Bells” in high school on the beef industry. Nothing like the mooing of the cows….of course I also always think of that Monty Python sketch with the bells too…

    You did just inspired me to reread Poe. I have a collection of his works (“Tell Tale Heart” is the best) and it looks like I’ll be pulling it out again soon.

  8. January 21, 2009 7:46 am

    I read some Poe when I was young (maybe 11 or 12?), so I think I was too young to fully appreciate him. We have a volume of some of his stories sitting on our shelf, so one of these days I’ll give it a shot and see what I think.

    (As an aside, I always feel weird saying I’ve read a particular author or book/story when I remember essentially nothing about what I’ve read. In essence, it seems like that’s as good as not having read them in the first place!)

  9. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 21, 2009 8:05 am

    I have the old movie The House of Usher on my DVR. Mayabe I’ll have to finally get around to watching it. I read it in college, but that’s been awhile :)

  10. January 21, 2009 8:53 am

    Samantha, “The Raven” is great!

    Kristen, very cool!

    Chris, wow-that must have been an awesome, though creepy, play. :D “Annabel Lee” is another great one-I think I actually like his poetry more than his stories!

    Nik, lol!!

    Rebecca, that’s true! :)

    Debi, aww-you’re so sweet! And Annie has great taste. ;D

    Christina, that is a fun word. :D

    Steph, lol-I feel that way sometimes too!

    Stacy Buckeye, I bet the movie would be hilariously melodramatic. I could be wrong though!

  11. January 21, 2009 5:19 pm

    and you can buy stamps of Poe, too! Good for your letter writing adventure…

  12. January 22, 2009 9:25 pm

    Wow. Browsing through your blog makes me realize that I do not read nearly enough books!
    I thought I was a prolific reader!
    Have you read Matthew Pearl’s “The Poe Shadow”?
    I quite enjoyed it.
    But I liked his “The Dante Club”, better.
    He has a new one coming out soon, involving Dickens.

  13. January 24, 2009 7:30 am

    Care, very cool!

    Cipriano, lol-I’m sure you read enough books. :) I read and really enjoyed The Dante Club, but I haven’t tried The Poe Shadow. Thanks for the rec!

  14. January 25, 2009 10:01 am

    I had hoped his 200th would get more play than it did. Unfortunately for Mr. Poe and his fans, it fell right up against the inauguration. I’m due to spend a day reading short stories very soon…I think I’ll put Usher on my list.

  15. January 27, 2009 11:09 pm

    CB, yeah…the inauguration definitely upstaged poor Poe!

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