Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Echoic Effects in Poe's Poetic Double Economy-Of Memory: A Response to Hannes Bergthaller and Dennis Pahl

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Echoic Effects in Poe's Poetic Double Economy-Of Memory: A Response to Hannes Bergthaller and Dennis Pahl

Article excerpt

The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily borne away in memory. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus [...]. E. A. Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher" (148)1

This epigraph contains a subtle echo of a theme at the heart of Poe's aesthetic practice, mentioned among other places in "The Philosophy of Composition," regarding how melodic verse can elevate the soul through "the under or mystic current of its meaning." We do well to recall that Poe defines "the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty" ("The Poetic Principle" 185; Poe's original emphasis). Alert to the importance of this theme, Dennis Pahl refers to it in the first note of his response to Hannes Bergthaller's essay on the putative tension between Poe's "two distinct inflections of the notion of poetic economy" (Bergthaller 15). Pahl counters that, "[d]espite Poe's concern with aesthetic unity, we find in his writing irruptive ironies and 'under-current[s] of meaning' ("Philosophy" 70), which, inasmuch as they cannot be contained or 'kept down,' result in enriching while at the same time making problematic and unstable his otherwise unified narrative structures" (Pahl 24nl). These under-currents of meaning, `which in the Unes leading up to "The Haunted Palace" are qualified further as being "mystic," deserve closer scrutiny. For, as Pahl argues, "'Poe's economies,' despite Bergthaller's attempt to define them as coherent identities, are less unified and less stable than one might imagine" (Pahl 24nl). Less stable indeed because Poe maintained, as will be argued in what follows, that his experiments in verse moved his project beyond the sentimental and moral-infused poetry of his day which, as Bergthaller correctly observes, he regularly derided in print even going so far as to take on New England luminaries such as Emerson and Longfellow. Less stable still because on several occasions Poe inserted a previously published lyric into a new story, and not simply to assure that his poems reached a wider audience. After all he made the choice to remove the poem originally called "Catholic Hymn" (and later simply "Hymn") from "Morelia" (1839), a textual decision that even Rufus Griswold honored in his 1850 edition of Poe's Works.2

"The Haunted Palace" is a suitable place to launch my investigation, building on Bergthaller's apt focus on "The Fall of the House of Usher," because of what it can tell us about Poe's poetic economy by virtue of its having been resituated within the tale, as well as for what it has to reveal about the "under or mystic current of its meaning" as regards the dynamics of loss and memory. My critical engagement with Poe's work seeks to clarify how Poe, as a self-conscious litterateur, at once literally and emblematically went about "house management," as the etymology of the word "economy" historically denotes. Economy concerns the management of expenditure, and so I shall be discussing how this applies to Poe's special cache of treasured up linguistic resources and emblematic associations in a special House or Palace of Memory from which he drew his carefully stored and fastidiously husbanded materials as time and opportunity permitted. He did this, I will argue, to achieve a very particular end with respect to his thrifty use of key terms and images; namely, to depict and set in place a mirror world of ideas focused on drawing out and projecting his special understanding of "the contemplation of the Beautiful" which "alone" makes it "possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement, of the soul, which we recognize as the Poetic Sentiment" ("The Poetic Principle" 185; Poe's original emphasis). …

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