Edgar Allan Poe

Comments & Themes

Last known daguerreotype of Poe

  • “Sonnet—To Science” is Poe’s version of the old Romantic complaint against Enlightenment rationality, as reflected in the intellectual prestige of science. Compare this poem with William Wordsworth’s “The World Is too Much with Us: Late and Soon” (1807). Note especially the references to classical mythology in both poems. Can you find other examples of this theme among Romantic writers?
  • Poe lost almost all of the important women in his life to death. It has often been said that in his stories and poems he attempted symbolically either to bring them back or to join them. Which of his poems might justify this opinion, and in what ways?
  • What various things could the city of “Eldorado” represent in the poem of the same name? Why is that legendary city an apt symbol for this poem?
  • Poe placed “The Haunted Palace” in “The Fall of the House of Usher” after that poem had been written. Perhaps this fact suggests some similarities, on some level, between the fictional character, Roderick Usher, and Poe. In any case, how does this poem, which describes the fall of reason, reflect the events, and especially the dénouement, of the story?
  • The final stanza of “Annabel Lee” could be read either figuratively or literally, and the difference between those two readings determines how we understand the mental and emotional state of the speaker. Discuss the psychological implications arising from the ambiguity of the ending of the poem.
  • Poe himself suggested that he did not intend his argument in “The Philosophy” to be taken to be literally true. But if this is so, then the essay could also be the kind of elaborate hoax that Poe enjoyed so much. In this respect, consider how the essay’s precise and rigid description of the process of poetic creation essentially contradicts the message of “Sonnet—To Science”. Do you think Poe is serious here or not, and why?
  • In T. S. Eliot’s opinion, Poe had the intellect of “a highly gifted young person before puberty”. Similarly, Henry James thought that an interest in Poe’s writing revealed “the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection”. On the other hand, many critics claim that Poe actually “discovered” the unconscious mind long before Freud and that his analyses of human psychology are profound and illuminating. Based on his depiction of the processes of mourning in “The Raven” and, possibly, obsessive love in “Annabel Lee”, which of these two critical opinion do you find more credible, and why?