Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview
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SILENCE

Poe planned a collection of satirical stories which was to have been called "Tales of the Folio Club. "Poe scholars are not positive exactly which stories were to have been included, but they know that "Silence" was one of the group. So we have Poe's own word that "Silence" was supposed to be a satire. Yet its evocative and ritualistic language works so well that we think of it less as a satire than as Poe's demonstration that he could use another author's materials better than the author could. It is in addition an important exercise in the symbolic use of materials from myth.

The Folio Club tales were to have been the work of "Dunderheads." "Silence," like the others, uses material from then-current prose. But Poe does not seem just to be making fun of his sources or using them to tease popular editors or authors. A number of scholars noticed, for example, that Bulwer's "Monos and Daimonos, A Legend" is a source for "Silence." Many elements in "Silence"--even whole sentences--come from Bulwer. The Bulwer story is about a man whose father lived on a rock; it contains a sentence which begins, "As the Lord liveth, that fable which the Demon told you . . . ," while Poe writes, "As Allah liveth, that fable which the Demon told me. . . ." Yet "Silence" is not only a spoof of Bulwer's "Monos and Daimonos" it is at least partially a lesson in how powerful a tale one could produce from the same materials Bulwer used. Poe's tone seems undeniably serious; we would suggest that his intention is not simple.

Moreover, the Bulwer story is not all that Poe uses; clear echoes of Jacob Bryant 's Mythology (see the headnote to "Shadow") are audible, too. The connections between Bryant and "Silence" do much more than make a scholar's point--they enrich the story by showing what Poe had in mind as he played with myth and ritual. (1) Bryant explains the ancient custom of worshiping on a stone or upon high places: ". . . there is in the history of every oracular temple some legend about a stone; some reference to the word Petra." "Petra," indeed, is, in the "first ages," a name for the Sun Deity, Bryant explains, which was later applied to the Deity's temple, then to the other temples, then to temples erected on a rock, and finally to the rock itself. (2) Bryant says, ". . . the whole religion of the ancients consisted in . . . the worship of Daemons: . . . the souls of men deceased." These demons were supposed to have existed in the time of Cronus and were "guardians of mankind." (3) Poe's hippopotamus and water lilies (the lotus is a water lily) are explained in Bryant: "Hence the crocodile and the hippopotamus, were emblems of the Ark; because during the inundation of the Nile they rose with the waters, and were superior to the flood. The Lotus, that peculiar plant of

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