Monday, January 13, 2014

The Heart Laid Bare...

One of my goals for 2014 was that I read more. Another, longer-standing, goal is that I honor the spirit of one of my fave writers, Edgar A. Poe, on his birthday every January 19. To satisfy both aims, I chose to make this January, which marks Poe's 205th year, an all-Poe reading month. First on the list was The Unknown Poe: an anthology of fugitive writings by Edgar Allan Poe, with appreciations by Charles BAUDELAIRE, Stéphane MALLARMÉ, Paul VALÉRY, J.K. HUYSMANS & André BRETON, edited by Raymond FOYE. (Bit of a mouthful, that, eh?)

The book promises snatches of Poe's writing which are hard to find elsewhere. Though it's not a comprehensive collection, from this tidy little volume I derived great pleasure as I read some of Poe's witticisms, as well as an empathetic pity for the suffering revealed in his letters to those he considered trustworthy of such revelations. And it's on the subject of revelations that I write today.

In The Unknown Poe, I came across one of his "Marginalia" (ruminations and other fragments which he slipped into the various periodicals for which he worked) which struck me profoundly and I share with you here (via text believed to be in the public domain, posted on the most excellent website of The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore):
If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own — the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple — a few plain words — ”My Heart Laid Bare.” But — this little book must be true to its title.

Now, is it not very singular that, with the rabid thirst for notoriety which distinguishes so many of mankind — so many, too, who care not a fig what is thought of them after death, there should not be found one man having sufficient hardihood to write this little book? To write, I say. There are ten thousand men who, if the book were once written, would laugh at the notion of being disturbed by its publication during their life, and who could not even conceive why they should object to its being published after their death. But to write it — there is the rub. No man dare write it. No man ever will dare write it. No man could write it, even if he dared. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen. (
Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [part X],” Graham’s Magazine, January 1848, pp. 23-24.)
Numerous questions flooded my mind and I closed the book to ponder these words as my commuter train rumbled its speedy way north of Manhattan. Why would the paper blaze? Why would the pen catch fire? Is it because of the flaming rage which would have to grip an author for her to be capable of laying her heart bare to the world?

I say "rage" because I see the truth of Poe's assertion in me and in my blogging. In my previous post, my first of 2014, I initially filled a good third of the page with incensed verbiage, which, once written, I swiftly deleted in favor of the tamer opening which remains. I'd laid open a dark recess of my heart, roiling with fury, but I couldn't let it be seen. In part, I daren't expose the ugliness, the pathetic impotence, within me. I'm a writer of romance who'd just placed an ad on a website popular with her target readers, one which links to her blog. Did I really want the first thing these folks saw to be all this ick?

Not only they; but who the hell else would want to read it? No one admires weakness; God knows that point's been brought home to me, again and again. And it's not due to repeated, whiny, useless bitching which, when it's not followed by decisive action to bring about the desired change, is bound to try the patience of even a saint (and, I will admit, tries my own when I'm subjected to it, and I sure as fuck ain't no saint). No, I reference the near-immediate shutdowns from those claiming to love me best when I've unburdened myself to them on a matter for the very first time. Faced with their disdain, I've resealed my heart and lips. If those nearest and dearest to me can disparage my heartache so swiftly, so brutally, how much more would the world? Or would the world, because it is so far removed from my heart, be kinder to it?

Right, so: now I've just done what I'd sworn not to do last week. Encountering Poe's words this week, words so connected to this sore spot, encouraged me to uncover this darkness. I can't say I feel it's accomplished anything, but at the very least I feel a bit more authentic for having done it. And I'm about to go one better, though the coming words are also not my own.

As noted in The Unknown Poe's title, the book contains "appreciations" of Poe and his work by several French poets and writers. Perhaps the most notorious among them, Charles Baudelaire proved a great admirer of Poe, and defender of The Artist in general. In an introduction to one of his translations of Poe's works, presented in this book (and again on the EAP Society of Baltimore's website, slightly abridged here), Baudelaire laid out a series of ideas which have haunted me for some time, whether due to the depression my meds only just manage to keep at bay, or an overly developed artistic sensibility. Even if the latter, so bloody well be it: it's a relief to know that, at least once in time, another acknowledged the injustices perpetrated by the dark forces which surround us, and railed against them:
...many...bear the word Luckless written in mysterious characters in the sinuous folds of their foreheads. The blind angel of Expiation hovers for ever around them, punishing them with rods for the edification of others. It is in vain that their lives exhibit talents, virtues or graces. Society has for them a special anathema, accusing them even of those infirmities which its own persecutions have generated...Does there, then, exist some diabolic Providence which prepares misery from the cradle; which throws, and throws with premeditation, these spiritual and angelic natures into hostile ranks, as martyrs were once hurled into the arena? Can there, then, be holy souls destined to the sacrificial altar, compelled to march to death and glory across the very ruins of their lives! Will the nightmare of gloom eternally besiege these chosen souls? Vainly they may struggle, vainly conform themselves to the world, to its foresight, to its cunning; let them grow perfect in prudence, batten up every entry, nail down every window, against the shafts of Fate; still the Demon will enter by a key-hole; some fault will arise from the very perfection of their breastplate; some superlative quality will be the germ of their damnation...(Text: C. Baudelaire [trans. H. Curwen], “Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Works,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, London: John Camden Hotten, 1873, pp. 1-21)
Will the nightmare of gloom eternally besiege these chosen souls? A fine question, Charles. Perhaps you and Eddy have discovered the answer(s) lying beyond the veil. If so, some slight hint would not go amiss, whether by the encounter of some night-clad bird or slinky cat, or a flower wafting across my path. Is "surcease of sorrow" ever to be gained, in this lifetime? Or is the best which can be hoped for solely surcease of all earthly sensation?

8 comments:

  1. Congrats on your aim to read more! I think an all-Poe reading months sounds awesome. Enjoy! :)

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  2. You know, it's just a short train ride from NYC to Baltimore. You should go down there and check out his grave and the Poe museum.

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  3. Did you go to the Poe exhibit at The Morgan Library? It was fascinating that he was able to edit The Raven for each publication it appeared in- the endless edit. Egads. Sometimes, especially in winter, the dark recesses of our heart are all too easy to enter. You have the self-awareness to know you are there and do something about it. xx

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  4. When it comes to one laying their heart bare, I would surmise that Jack Nicholas said it best when he fervently and vehemently stated, "You can't handle the truth!"

    In that laying bare the heart, it isn't just the hearer of the truth who wouldn't be able to handle it, but the deliverer, in many cases.

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  5. There is definitely something cathartic about writing out your misery. I usually reserve my ranting for a journal entry or random word document that will promptly be erased, destroyed or tucked away so deeply no one will ever find it. (Including me.) That, or I channel those feelings into a composition, or moment in a story. --Ideally, that is. Sometimes I just forget and scream. =) Then I eat cheese.

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  6. I haven't read any Poe in a long time. It's taken on a Simpson-esque quality in my head. I think everything does after a while. =P

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  7. Wow! Amazing words to ponder! I'm a great fan of Poe, I feel like he was the one to open my eyes to the beauty in death and darkness. That book sounds like quite an acquisition, I'll look for it. I have at least three different anthologies claiming to be the most complete ever, yet none of them have any letters :-/

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  8. Lexa, thanks. It's been slow going, though.

    JoJo, it's totes on my "To-Do" list. :-)

    ramblingsofagrrlgenius, I did go! Dropped a bundle of money there, too, picking up souvenirs. As to self-awareness, yes, I've loads of that. The wisdom to do what's necessary to handle things, well...that's often out of my reach...

    Angela, very true.

    Crystal, LOL, I eat Häagen-Dazs! :-)

    Christine, I blame that Treehouse of Horror/Raven spoof. I can't think "Nevermore" without thinking, "Quoth the rave, 'Eat my shorts.'" :-D

    Georgina, that one's not complete, I don't think, but I did get a lot out of it.

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