Don’t we all love explorations of the mysterious, of the uncertain of nature? It’s theundeniable mark of the human being: wonder and fear. Last year, I really enjoyed reading speeches, pamphlets full of dreams and power. But then, drifting away from the raising political USA I found the more romantic, folkloric USA, the one we learn the least about. And I am here to talk about Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and Edgar Allan Poe. I’ll be honest: I’ll say nothing new about Poe.
With no doubt, Irving caught me with three stories. I am very sure you’ve heard of the Sleepy Hollow, perhaps Rip Van Wrinkle and The Devil and Tom Walker, the first two of which are adaptations of German folk tales to his immediate context, New York (wait! did you know he popularized the word “Gotham” to refer to New York, and that’s the origin of the name of the city in Batman?!). What I like the most about his writing is that even though he might seem to go into psychological characters, he doesn’t. He doesn’t try to reveal ONE character, but rather aspects of humans in general through one character. The Devil and Tom Walker, a story where a man encounters a devil in the swamps of Manhattan, talks about the guile for power and goods. Sell your soul to the devil has never been old, and will never get old.
Now, Willian Cullen Bryant marks the beginning of Romantic poetry in the US, moved by what he considered the connection between the self and the universe, a source of poetry directly linked to God that was part of everything. It is all about the power of human imagination to unveil mysteries of nature. Here are some verses of Thanatopsis that reflect on death:
Thine individual being, shalt thou go/ To mix forever with the elements/ To be a brother to the insensible rock/ And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain/ Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak/shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.
Last but not least, Poe.The horror, the wit, the transformation of natural phenomenons into supernatural ones…!Story after story, poem after poem. No questioning his mastery and his legacy. I read him until I got sick of him: after a while, his techniques get repetitive, but that doesn’t take any of his credits away. The one shocking thing is that sometimes he seemed too self-indulgent. Example: in Descent into the Maelstrom, the main character, a fisher with little or no academic background comes up with mathematicky terms right in the middle of the whirlpool. He justified it saying some scholar had taught him the words. Poe knew that vocabulary wasn’t realistic, but his smart, intellectual buttocks couldn’t avoid pouring all that geometry and logical thinking into the story. He just couldn’t. But that’s alright, he’s that awesome. If you haven’t read The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, The Bells, and some others, your life isn’t complete. You think it is, but it really isn’t. You can find the ebooks online for no cost, they are public property!
I’d better stop this because I have accumulated about eight more authors… See you soon!!!