Poe’s essay on “The Poetic Principle,”〖H. C., xxviii, 371ff.〗 written to serve as a lecture during the last year (1849) of his brief life, illustrates his conviction that “the truly imaginative mind is never otherwise than analytic.” As applied to Shelley, this dictum is far from true, but it expresses Poe’s idealization of his own extraordinary gift for logical analysis. He was a craftsman who was never weary of explaining the trade secrets of his art, and though his criticism is uneven in quality and uniformed by deep and accurate scholarship, he expounded certain critical principles with incomparable clearness.

In “The Poetic Principle,” together with some popularization of Coleridge, and some admixture no doubt of that “fudge” which Lowell thought so inextricably compounded with Poe’s “genius,” there will be found the famous definition of the “Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.” Poetry, according to Poe, excites, by elevating the soul. But as all excitements, by psychological necessity, are transient, it is only short poems that are truly poems at all. Such brief and indeterminate glimpses of the supernal loveliness, “the creation of supernal beauty,” is the poet’s struggle—and despair. If Poe’s formulation of the task and method of poetry lacks, as it doubtless does, universal validity, it is nevertheless a key to the understanding of his own exquisitely musical fragments of lyric verse.

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