The Politics of Poe

789 Words4 Pages
The Politics of Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is known as the pioneer of the American short story, as well as a brilliant artist in poetry. His works are often tragic, or have a dark theme. Two often overlooked facets of Poe as a writer, however, are the political aspect of his works, and how far ahead he was of his time, with some material being applicable to present day situations, as exemplified by Sonnet to Science, The City in the Sea, and The Masque of the Red Death.

The City in the Sea tells of a great city, with “…shrines and palaces and towers… [which] …resemble nothing that is ours” (6-8). This may be a representation of metropolises at the time, for instance Philadelphia or New York City, or more likely Baltimore, where he lived at the time the poem was originally published, 1831. The description given of the city, with “…the good and the bad and the worst and the best”(4) and “Up domesup spiresup kingly halls”(17) along with multiple descriptions of a dismal atmosphere and the sea, are reminiscent of present day Manhattan Island, or Seattle. A tale of doom warns of “Hell, rising from a thousand thrones/ Shall do it reverence.(52-53) for the city. This is how many people today feel about New York City, Los Angeles, and other megalopolises. This could be a warning to the nineteenth century cities.

The proverbial calm before the storm is vividly, yet tragically depicted when “…no ripples curl, alas!”(36), “No swellings tell of winds may be/[…] on seas less hideously serene.”(38-40). “But lo, a stir is in the air!/ The wavethere is a movement there!”(42-43). The storm has hit! The repeated use of exclamation marks in an otherwise relatively “serenely” punctuated poem gives an even more dramatic effect to the storm, strengthening the idea of peril.

Though the “era of good feelings” was still prevalent during the time when the poem was first written, the civil war was beginning to brew. A division was beginning to form over the issue of slavery. This calm before the storm, and the storm that hits, as well as the built up city depicted, sings a premonition of the civil war.

The Sonnet-To Science not only tells of the dangers in Poe’s time, but could easily be applied today.
Open Document