Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Poe, Edgar Allan (1809–1849)
Author:
Earhart, Amy E.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Whitman's appreciation of Edgar Allan Poe's work as author and editor is barely a footnote in the larger studies of Walt Whitman. Though scholars have argued that Whitman's early work was thematically and lyrically influenced by Poe and that Whitman was well aware of Poe and his work, in his final discussion of Poe in Specimen Days (1882) he remains undecided and ambiguous about its quality.

An essay by Whitman entitled "Heart-Music and Art-Music" was reprinted as "Art-Singing and Heart-Singing" in the Broadway Journal, which was edited by Poe at the time, on 29 November 1845. The essay responded to the American music Whitman had heard in New York. Poe's editorial footnote acknowledged Whitman's lack of "scientific knowledge of music" yet noted that he agreed "with our correspondent throughout." Shortly after the article was published, Poe and Whitman met for the first and only time, during which meeting Whitman collected his fee for the article. In Specimen Days Whitman notes that he had "a distinct and pleasing remembrance" of Poe as a kind but jaded man (Whitman 17).

Several references to Poe and his work were included by Whitman in the Daily Eagle. Not only did he reprint Poe's "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" in the paper, but satires of Poe's work as well, including the unsigned "A Jig in Prose," a parody of "The Raven." Whitman also included notices on Poe's death, his wife's sickness, and her subsequent death.

Whitman attended Poe's reburial and monument dedication, the ceremony of which was held in Baltimore in 1875. Though Whitman sat on the platform during the ceremony, he refused to speak publicly on Poe's work or life. Later commenting in Specimen Days, Whitman expressed his divided sentiments on Poe, citing "an indescribable magnetism" about Poe, but concluding that while the excessive rhyming and "demoniac undertone" of his work dazzled, they provided "no heat" (Whitman 231). However, in a 16 November 1875 Washington Star article, Whitman recognizes Poe's status in literary history.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Fussell, Paul. "The Persistent Itchings of Poe and Whitman." Southern Review ns 3 (1967): 235–247.

Price, Kenneth M. Whitman and Tradition: The Poet in His Century. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990.

Thomas, Dwight. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: Hall, 1987.

Whitman, Walt. Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. Vol. 1. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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