Did Transcendentalism affect Edgar Allan Poe&#39

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Did Transcendentalism affect Edgar Allan Poe’s writing?

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favoritethings eNotes educator | Certified Educator

Transcendentalism only affected Poe’s writing insomuch as he wanted to be different from the Transcendentalists. He strongly disliked Boston, the city of his birth, and he was dismissed by writers associated with Boston and Concord, Massachusetts. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously called Poe “a jingle man,” belittling Poe’s poetic accomplishments by implying that they were no better than a rhyming advertisement.

Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau often looked outward, to Nature, to humanity, to God. Poe,…

Transcendentalism only affected Poe’s writing insomuch as he wanted to be different from the Transcendentalists. He strongly disliked Boston, the city of his birth, and he was dismissed by writers associated with Boston and Concord, Massachusetts. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously called Poe “a jingle man,” belittling Poe’s poetic accomplishments by implying that they were no better than a rhyming advertisement.

Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau often looked outward, to Nature, to humanity, to God. Poe, however, preferred to turn his attention inward. He writes these darkly introspective stories that cut right to the quick, that get our hearts beating faster. He writes about how we are affected by the knowledge of our own mortality and the darkness within us that can find its way out. The Transcendentalists were more concerned with the light within, because it is what connects us to the goodness in the world around us. Poe seemed to find this somewhat ridiculous and Pollyanna-ish, and his stories, on the other hand, are characterized by the opposite—by the places to which we might be pushed when we are tested by our darkest impulses.

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jeff125 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

The transcendentalist literary movement was not likely to have influenced Poe’s work. His work bears little resemblance to the writing of transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Poe belonged, rather, to the Dark Romanticism school of literature; his work was published toward the end of the Romantic era. Other writers within this Dark Romanticism movement were Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

While transcendental writers valued being at one with nature and asceticism, Poe’s work was much more macabre in tone. Poe’s dark sense of humor often came out in stories like ” The Cask of Amontillado .” His work often had themes of death, murder, anxiety, and despair. Transcendentalism sought to inspire and uplift through a natural lifestyle. Meanwhile, Poe’s writing was interested in telling spooky tales, not prescriptive teachings.

Poe’s work was very influential to future movements like modernism and existentialism. One might even refer to his work as a kind of pre-existentialism. With his weird stories, alienated characters, and chaotic plot lines, it is not hard to see why.

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beateach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

Transcendentalism affected Edgar Allan Poe ’s literature because he abhorred it. Poe’s writing, considered part of the American Romantic period, was Dark Romantic. He wrote of evil and macabre subjects that included suffering and death, while the Transcendentalists wrote of spirituality and communing with the natural world. One of Poe’s tenets for writing was that a piece of literature is meant to be read in one sitting; therefore he wrote mostly poetry, prose, and essays. In one of his short stories, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” Poe shows his disapproval of Transcendentalism and its followers’ belief in spirituality. He mentions the movement in this short story and has the main character stand before the devil even as he states his disbelief in evil. In short, Poe had no tolerance for the beliefs of Transcendentalism, as demonstrated in his deep, dark literary work.

Further Reading:
http://www.feedbooks.com/book/798/never-bet-the-devil-you…

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Monday, April 27, 2009



Emerson, Transcendentalism, and Poe

Ralph Waldo Emerson has become the figurehead of American Transcendentalism. Even in his lifetime, he was the face of the movement, even though several others were important participants; many of those names are not commonly known today (anyone remember Orestes Brownson, Christopher Pearse Cranch, Frederick Henry Hedge, Sylvester Judd, Jones Very…?). Emerson was considered to be one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. However, when he died on April 27, 1882, not much of that mind was left.

Emerson suffered from some form of dementia, speculated by some to be Alzheimer’s. He certainly had aphasia — his memory could no longer find the words for simple objects and concepts. When he attended the funeral of his good friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow only a month before his own death, Emerson reportedly said something to the effect of: “Today we bury a great man. I do not remember his name.” Emerson was also forgetting his own name. When asked how he felt around this time, he once answered: “”Quite well; I have lost my mental faculties, but am perfectly well.”

These final years of Emerson aren’t often discussed.* Of course, Edgar A. Poe never knew Emerson at this late stage in his life. Poe knew of Emerson when he was in his prime. Poe, just like people today, saw Emerson as the icon of Transcendentalism – and that made him a target.

Poe’s utter dislike of Transcendentalism was no secret (he once took a swipe at Nathaniel Hawthorne , who he otherwise respected, simply for living in Concord, Massachusetts — the seat of the movement), and his particular disgust with Emerson was equally well-known. Poe chided the Concord Sage for writing that was purposely difficult to understand — “mysticism for mysticism’s sake,” as Poe referred to it. Poe also identified (and he was a bit right) that Emerson was “little more than a respectful imitation of [Thomas] Carlyle.”

Overall, Transcendentalism and its avowed idealism didn’t make sense to Poe (nor does it make sense to most high schoolers introduced to it). As he wrote, “They could not define their own position & cannot be expected that I can define them exactly.” However, he noted that their philosophy wasn’t inherently bad. “You mistake me in supposing I dislike the transcendentalists,” he wrote to friend Thomas Holley Chivers . “It is only the pretenders and sophists among them.” When the Transcendental community at Brook Farm began publishing their journal, The Harbinger, to promote their worldview, Poe wrote it was “conducted by an assemblage of well-read persons who mean no harm—and who, perhaps, can do no less.” True enough.

Eventually, Poe looped all of the Boston area with Transcendentalism (and a general Longfellow-like lack of originality). So, feel free to blame Emerson for at least part of Poe’s distaste for Boston in his adult years. Next month ( May 25 ), I’ll follow up with a battle of poetry, Emerson vs. Poe.

Perhaps ironically, today, the City of Boston dedicates ” Edgar Allan Poe Square ” at the intersection of Charles St. and Boylston St. near his original birthplace, directly across from the Boston Common. I’m sure the ceremony was scheduled on the anniversary of Emerson’s death by mere coincidence.

*I am of the opinion that Emersonians have, for years, been cleaning up his image. Hiding his struggle with dimentia – or the fact that he was not perfect – does not help him. It would be better to humanize him, rather than try to deify him.

3 comments:

Anonymous
said…

I agree that Emerson is cleaned up a lot. The more I read about him the more convinced I am that he was a dick.

Thanks for the info on Poe’s stance on transcendentalism. I always just took for granted that Poe simply hated them all but these quotes complicate that generalization.

Gina
said…

I look forward to the poetry slam — and I have little doubt who’ll win, in both my judgment and yours. 🙂 To my mind, Emerson was way overrated.

Rob Velella
said…

Well, Anonymous, those might be strong words. I think that, like most canonical individuals from the 19th century, Emerson is just more complicated than is often assumed. The depleting mental faculty at the end of his life was an example of that.

Gina, Emerson as a thinker is one thing, Emerson as a poet is another. As a philosopher, he’s fascinating, sometimes innovative, occasionally endearing. As for his poetry, well…


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The Anti-transcendentalists

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Edgar Allan Poe

on 10 February 2015

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Transcript of The Anti-transcendentalists

The Anti-transcendentalists
Work Cited
"Transcendentalism." Online-Literature.com. Jalic Inc., 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

"Edgar Allan Poe: Biography" egs.edu. European Graduate School, 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

Brulator, Megan. "Heaven on Earth: The Legacy of 19th Century Transcendentalism as an Ecumenical Philosophy of Nature." transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu. American Transcendentalism Web, 1999. Web. 09 Feb. 2015
Reasons for Ridicule
What Edgar Allan Poe had to say about Transcendentalism
Poe felt very strongly about transcendentalism he is quoted as calling them, “Frogpondians”
There are other accounts of his distaste, for instance Poe wrote several essays mocking their beliefs and published them in the various newspapers he wrote for
The two main problems Poe had with transcendentalists was their abstract spiritual ideas and their optimistic attitudes
His Dark Romanticist viewpoints lead him to believe that optimism is unrealistic thus his distaste
He had a personal vendetta against Henry Longfellow a major transcendentalist
The End
Nathaniel Hawthorn’s beliefs about Transcendentalism
Hawthorne was opposed to their utopian ideas because he did not believe in a perfect society
To oppose their utopian beliefs he wrote
The Blithedale Romance
, which was a dark romance novel, showing that a perfectly perfect society is not possible
Originally Hawthorne was less skeptical of transcendentalist beliefs but he later changed his viewpoints after spending copious amounts of time amongst them.
they believed in abolitionism
they were pacifists in government affairs
they lacked concrete ideas and maintained fairly abstract ones
Overview of Anti-Transcendentalism
In response to the basic beliefs of transcendentalists, anti-transcendentalists, ". . . declared such optimism naïve and unrealistic."

Instead, "The anti-transcendentalists reflected a more pessimistic attitude, focusing on man’s uncertainty and limited potential in the universe: Nature is vast and incomprehensible, a reflection of the struggle between good and evil. Humans are innately depraved and must struggle toward goodness. In fact, goodness is actually attainable only for a few, but evil is a huge morass into which any can slip."

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