Essay by Hanns Hienz Ewers and translated by Joe E. Bandel
|Edgar Allen Poe
By Hans Heinz Ewers
First published by Schuster & Loeffler, Berlin/Leipzig 1906
(English translation 2008 by Joe E. Bandel)
This booklet is dedicated to
Drunken Artist, dreamer, he believed dreams are the true reality just as Poe did. He wrote what he dreamed.
In the Alhambra
Hanns Heinz Ewers
My feet stride lightly upon the morning stones of the old way that I have so often traveled up through the sacred groves at Alhambra. I long for that vast world behind the jeweled gate where time flies. I wander so lightly in the dreamland, where the elms rustle, where the spring babbles, where a hundred nightingales sing out from the laurel bushes. I can certainly reflect upon my poet there.
You should not do it. Really not. You should not go there and read any book about an artist you love. How can a priest speak about God? You need to be careful, so very careful.
This is what you should do:
You love Firdusi? Don’t you know Goethe wrote about him? Good. First of all learn what he said about the Persian before you begin. Then after you have learned enough and are ready to write about your favorite, decide what he would have written, you will not be disappointed.
It doesn’t matter what the critics write about the artist you love. If the critics boast about him being a star or say he is only a wisp of mist- it doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if the critics know enough because you know. You are telling the truth about your artist.
I haven’t done it this way. I’ve got a few drops of thick flowing German thoroughness in my blood, a sense of duty.
Before I write about my favorite artist, what have others written before me?
Many have written about Edgar Allen. Only I’ve been disappointed, so very disappointed. There was just one able to grasp the spirit of him.
There was only Baudelaire. Baudelaire whose art came from hashish. How could he not grasp him, he who formed valuable art out of alcohol and laudanum.
Now I need to forget what the others have said. I must forget the horrible Griswold whose poisonous vomit is not a Poe biography.
“He drank too much, he drank too much, such a shame, he drank too much!”
Also I must forget the horrible fool Ingram who would defend my artist’s honor in return by stammering “He did not drink, really, he did not drink”.
Quick, before I forget I’ll put down the dates I have about him:
Edgar Allen Poe, born on 19 January 1809 in Boston. Irish family, long pedigree, Norman, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Italian blood. 1816 to England with his foster parents, a couple of years in a boarding school in Stoke-Newington, 1822 back to America, 1826 student in Richmond, then in Charlottesville, 1827 travel through Europe with unknown adventures, 1830 Cadet Officer at West Point, 1834 Head of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. 1836 married his cousin Virginia Clemm. He wrote. He lived in various places, in New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Fordham. He had a rough time. “He drank too much”, (said Griswold). “He does not drink”, (said Ingram). He died on 7 October in a hospital for the poor in Baltimore, forty years old.
So, these are the all-important dates. Now I can forget.
How difficult it is. For a long time I go along the elm lined avenue up to the royal palace. I turn left and enter the gate to the mighty tower of Justice. I am glad of the hand above that averts the evil eye. I think, this might keep my moralists outside. Now I am above, alone in the familiar spaces.
I know exactly where I want to go. Quick through the myrtle courtyard, through the hall of the Mocaraben into the courtyard of the twelve lions. Enter left into the room of the two sisters and through it to the Ajimeces. Now I’m there in Mirador de Daraxa, where Boabdil’s mother Aicha lived. I sit by a window looking out on the old cypress trees.
How hard it still is to forget! There go my moralists strolling in the garden. Two English hypocrites with round hats, short pipes, black jackets and reviews in their hands.
“He drinks too much”, hisses one.
“Oh no, he does not drink at all”, chimes the other.
I would like to knock their heads together!
“Go away you rats, go away! I’m sitting here dreaming about an artist I love. He sang in your language and you sticks know nothing about him!”
They left all right. Be certain of that. I am alone once more.
He drinks too much. He does not drink. That is how the Englanders argue about their poet. They let Milton starve, they steal Shakespeare’s entire life’s work, they scrabble with crooked fingers in Byron’s and Shelley’s family history, they vilify Rossetti and Swinburne, stick Wilde in prison and point their fingers at Charles Lamb and Poe. Because they drank!
I’m so glad that I’m a German! Germany’s great men are permitted to be indecent. Indecent—Certainly that means not as decent as the good citizens and moralists. The Germans say, “Goethe was a great poet.” They knew he had vices but did not consider them.
The Englanders say, “Byron was indecent, therefore he was not a great poet.”
Only in England could the repulsive moral preacher Kingsley create a household phrase about Heine.
“Don’t speak of him. He was a bad man!”
When no one listens, when people gather round to acknowledge the “indecent” English poet they love, the Englander is finally compelled to speak and then he will lie. He does not give up on his hypocrisy. He says then, “After further examination he was not at all indecent but of high morals, completely pure and completely blameless!
This is why the English liar could not take it any more and vindicated Wilde’s honor with a Saul to Paul conversion. The same with Poe and Ingram’s reply to Griswold.
“Oh no, He did not really drink!”
The English have only now after all this time officially recognized that Edgar Allan Poe was a decent man!
We however, never make a big deal of middle class and moralistic purity. We love him even if he drank. Still more, we love him because he drank. Even though toxins destroyed his body, great art sprang out of his life’s blood, that was his gift. The layman does not determine how great art originates. It comes from out of the artist himself. No one is permitted a say in this or a derogatory judgement or cut-down.
Only the few whose insight perceives the creative process because they love him, only they are permitted to watch in silence, to comment.
Wilde related the fairy tale of the lovely rose created from the heart’s blood of a dead nightingale. The fallow student looked and wondered, never had he seen such a marvelous blood red rose. But he had no idea how it was created.
Edgar Allen Poe
We admire the Tiger Orchid. Is the magnificent orchid less beautiful because it feeds on insects by slowly torturing them to death in the narrow way? We are joyed and amazed at the glorious lilies in the Park of Cintra. We have never seen any so large and so white! How does it happen that their exceptional beauty is owed to the clever gardener that fertilizes the ground not with pure water but with treatments of Guano, applied manure?
Sometimes a sympathetic smile comes at the wide country roads our art must travel by chance before it shines meagerly here and there like a lantern piercing the fog of intoxication. There are times when it only comes through the union of intoxication and art. Then it is the only way great inspiration can come out from within and make itself known. When this happens the highest place must be given to the scouts Hoffman, Baudelaire and Poe, who first worked consciously through intoxication to find their art.
Let’s be honest! Is there an artist that can go without stimulation? No one can do without their little stimulants, tea, tobacco, coffee, beer or what ever. Do these things hinder our inspiration of art or help shape its spirit more clearly?
They often help shape it more clearly.
Art is contrary to nature. A man that lives in abstinence keeping body and mind pure and whose ancestors also lived in abstinence for long generations has poisoned blood and can never become an artist! Not even God’s favor in life can awaken the ecstasy. Its spirit has been poisoned.
Nature and Art are the worst enemies. Where one exists the other is not possible.
In the best sense what precisely is an artist? A pioneer of culture in the new territory of the unconscious. In this holy sense how few deserve this proud name! Th. A. Hoffman deserves it and Jean Paul and Villiers and Baudelaire and most certainly Edgar Allan Poe. Griswold must admit to himself that this poet of the soul related in so many of his stories a secret land considered by no one before him and gave us a first glimpse of a new genre of literature.
This powerful land of the unconscious, the land of our eternal desire lies in gray hazy clouds. The beggar lies warm in the sun. The commoner crouches sated by the oven. But there are those whose desire is so immense that their inspiration must come bleeding out.
They must in triple protect their breast when they leave the land of consciousness and steer through the gray murderous flood back toward Avalon.
Many, many get dashed to ground without casting a single glimpse behind the clouds. Very few succeed at this journey. These discover new territory for the culture and the border of the unconscious is pushed back a little further.
The artists are these first great explorers. Then mankind may equip researchers to survey and investigate this new land. They send in officials and civil servants to organize and record-men of science.
It is certain that in addition to other ways the so-called poisons we call narcotics are capable of taking us across the threshold of consciousness. If anyone has success and gets solid footing on the “other side” they can metaphysically in a positive way create new works of art. They are in the finest sense an artist.
Maybe it is necessary to stress the truth that art can never converse naturally with self except while working through frenzy. Some form of stimulation is needed. Or another, that no intoxicant in the world can bring art out of a person that has none inside to begin with!
The Griswolds and Ingrams want less wine drinking, less opium smoking, less hashish eating. If they had their way no more art would be created!
But he who works through intoxication together with narcotics creates suitable conditions where ecstasy can be invoked. This highest level of ecstasy can be invoked in anyone according to his or her intelligence and capability.
Griswold was right. Edgar Allen Poe drank. And yes, he drank too much. His body reacted badly to alcohol. His addiction was hereditary, so he drank a lot. He drank too much. But his actions were deliberate. While in the intoxicated condition things came out in a frenzy that later, perhaps years later, were shaped into new works of valuable art. Such intoxication is no pleasure. It is a horrible agony where awareness is only of the yearning for the art blazing like the mark of Cain upon his brow.
It is a belittling lie of the narrow minded that artistic production is no work, that it is a joy. Those that say so and the large masses with their thankless thought chatter never have a hint or breath of the ecstasy that only the artistic condition produces. This frenzy is always an agony to experience even if the ecstasy at first brings delight.
It is said the mother cat has pleasure bringing her young into the world but they are only poor blind kittens. This may be the weekend chatter of the Buxtehuder Newspaper like the writer of “Berlin at night” who with pleasure puts his lines on paper.
A work of art is never born without pain.
I am going out. Through the enormous palace of the Roman Emperor Karl that led the German Nation. Cross through the mighty columned courtyard and out through the long avenue of white blooming acacia. Through the meadow covered with thousands of blue Irises.
A tower shows and the tomb of the princesses, the sultan’s daughters, Zayda, Zorayda and Zorahayda, appears at last before me. The Crusaders described these windows in song.
Over the valley on the hill I see the boundary where Boabdil gave his last sigh over the lost Granada. From the Generalife gardens I can clearly see the ancient cypress where the last Moorish king’s wife, the beautiful Hamet, brought disaster through her tryst with Abenceragen deep in the shadows.
Every stone here tells a sad tragic legend.
Down at the bottom of the valley the road continues on the long way to the cemetery. A pair of black goats graze on the green slopes. In back, under the prison tower sits a ragged customs agent in front of his filthy den. Long eared rabbits graze close to him and nearby seven cocks battle, pecking the ground or flying after each other, combs and black feathers plucked.
Far in the east glows the snow on the purple-red Sierra Nevada.
A troop of ragged Bengalis moves slowly across the valley bottom. Two carry a small child’s coffin on their shoulders open in the Spanish custom. Another shoulders the lid. The coffin is very simple, three yellow planks and two plain ones. But a small waxy face and dark hair appear out of the flowers, many flowers, red, yellow, white and blue flowers that have been placed inside.
No Priest, no relatives, no father or mother in the procession, only ragged Bengalis. Still, the dead child rests in such fresh blooming fragrance among so many colored flowers. How good they didn’t close her eyes! They look around curious at the colored flowers, at the old Moorish Palace and then back to the splendor of her flowers, this small dead maiden, so contented and fortunate to never again be alive.
Poe’s Cottage at Fordham
Edgar Allen Poe would sit here. How he dreamed. How the colorful stories would fly lightly around his head before landing. With a few quick words he built an Alhambra whose thick towers would withstand the rain and endure for centuries.
There might have been another way for him to reach ecstasy if he hadn’t drank. If he had been on the other side of New England this poor poet’s soul might have strongly penned more realistic prose in the manner of Washington Irving, the English model of morality.
With the magic of moonshine the dream of Alhambra was created and his stories have become world famous. Day by day I see strangers enter this sacred place, in their hand reviews and in their jacket pockets his book. This is how they read The Fall of the House of Usher or the Dionysian Last Days of Pompeii!
Can’t you perceive the influence of Lord Lytton or Irving’s spirit within this pair of beautiful stories? No, a whisper from a Catholic cemetery flows through the haunted Moorish palace in his soul. Although he was no famous poet, although he was only a common journalist, not Bulwar, not Irving created these beauties. He created Pompeii and the Alhambra in spite of them.
Poe’s ability was not enough for his burning desire. The only method that worked was to gather up everything he had inside using it to awaken and carry him into ecstasy. The entire amount of stimulation he surrounded himself with was barely able to lead him to this condition.
If this unhappy poet only once in his life received a kiss from the Muse it was through his beautiful wife, Virginia Clem. The moralists want to call this intoxication holy and divine while forcefully rebuking the poet’s other ecstasies, those from alcohol and from Opium, as unholy and devilish. They are equal! The valuable art that came forth from them was no less glorious.
The agony from the divinely consecrated ecstasy was scarcely inferior to the devilish! Where another was in paradise he was in hell, a passionate blissful hell whose flames were no less scorching. The hand of the poet was rich and Morella, Ligeia, Berenice and Lenore are all owed to the dying eyes of Virginia before her death was certain. He knew the gleaming red of her cheeks lied, knew it was a deception and that within the depths of her moist, shimmering eyes an unrelenting illness grinned out at him.
In the evening when he stroked her beloved locks he could sense, “She won’t live many more days” and in the morning, “Another day less”.
It was a dying person that his lips kissed, a dying person whose beautiful head lay next to him nights when he rested. When he was awakened by the rattle and laborious wheezing of her hard working lungs he would see the white linen shroud, see the cold drops of death sweat on her brow. The visible long drawn out death of his beloved took a year. That was the only “fortune” this luckless poet ever had.
Oh yes, the coronation of his dead spouse gave him fame, but it was the fame of fear, of silent grief, the despair behind the smiling mask: A paradise of torments. Virginia sank deeply into his soul and came out in his finest stories. Who can perceive which nameless agonies gave birth to her whisper?
Before the last thread of life snapped and the still wife was laid in the tomb Edgar Poe wrote his masterpiece The Raven. Nothing like that poem or like him had ever been seen before in world literature. I would like to scream in the faces of the English hypocrites.
“His ecstasy came out of the divine intoxication of a lost bleeding heart as well as the common intoxication that comes out of a wine bottle.”
Any psychiatrist that works with alcoholism can prove with ease that The Raven originated from a delirium. It’s just as easy for a psychologist to prove Lenore is owed to the poet’s other intoxication, Virginia.
Then compare the origins of these poems to the candid, wonderfully clear essay that Poe wrote. Every apostrophe, every line, every single syllable is founded in amazingly simple logic. It is almost as if he were solving a binomial equation! The theme certainly gives no mention of ecstasy and its origins out of his divine and not so divine intoxications.
He wrote his essay for New England magazine readers that wanted to know how to become poets and learn the speech of ecstasy. The massive hard work, the pure technique, the ability to edit, that is what art amounts to. It has never been more clearly stated than in this essay, American Poetry. It is a master example. Really.
Admittedly Godfather Schneider and others like him would never use the guide but for the artist it is the most valuable information there is. What he shows is that the divine ecstasy alone is not enough to create a perfect work of art. Hard work, despised technique, deliberation, the weight and tone of words are all indispensable.
The magnificent Alhambra was not created by the great ideas of Arab architects alone. Masons, donkey drivers, gardeners and painters each played their part.
Edgar Allen Poe was the first poet to speak with such candor and moderation of the pure craft of writing. Yes, and I will also say that even though he was an American, he was the first on the threshold of modern thinking. The shining proof of the full value of this artist is that he only speaks of technique and with no word mentions the intuition always mouthed by amateurs. Perhaps if he could have written more in the magazine for others to read, he might have been happy to tell about the intoxication technique. Never had anyone before him so analyzed their peculiar craft in such anatomical detail until each fiber was taken apart.
This is an alternative to the faith of the masses in the inspirational fables that persist in our days. Of the divine voice that dictated the Bible and the Master Artist’s inspiration made possible through God’s grace. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they painted, they wrote poems and more or less composed an immaculate spirit child that was placed into this world. That was so nice, so comfortable, that certainly some great artists themselves believed in this mysterious consecration.
The Thracian singer was called “Drunk with God” even though he was sober as Socrates. This idea in its original Dionysian form nearly coincides with our modern view of intoxication and ecstasy which became in the later Apollonistic view, “The Divine Anointing” of the Christian belief that has been in a position to take over and with great enthusiasm cloud clear thinking.
All the beautiful phrases from the square in Mount Olympus, the kiss of the Muse, the divine intoxication, the Artist’s “Grace of God”, and so on. Thank God we no longer in the slightest think of these and where they have originated.
It took courage to scatter such a luminous fog. Few, very few poems in world literature could tolerate such relentless scrutiny. Poe could dare take this step because he had created in The Raven a poem that was so pure, so complete. All others not as perfect, the small, the ridiculous, the sublime, are ripped to pieces.
My glance falls to the plaster on the walls of the hall. The eye can not follow all these arabesque and Kufic proverbs. It gets swallowed up and lost in the fantastic harmonies of the Moorish style.
Now this Arabic miracle of art is created out of gypsum, common gypsum. How ridiculous, how small, how absurd! But although created out of gypsum it loses nothing from its composition and is a complete work of art.
The common materials have been given life by the breath of the Spirit.
Art triumphs over nature, and this art is so great that recognition of the ridiculous common materials of its creation mean nothing.
Poe did not need this ancient fabrication any more. He saw how threadbare and tattered it was and boldly threw it aside. In Eureka he defined the concept of intuition in a few words as a “realization of truth” grounded in inductive and deductive reasoning so hidden in shadows that consciousness retreats from getting a grip on it or understanding of it and mocks our inability to put it into words.
Here lies a clearer understanding of the way art is created than that of his contemporaries. Those Poet-philosophers that claimed so-called “Intuition” was the opposite of philosophy. This is true in the limited narrow untheological and thoroughly modern sense and a special place has been made for the opposites, Aristotle and Bacon, placing them side by side together at the same time.
He was the greatest of these first men of modern spirit. He was a romantic, a dreamer, and a worshipper of reason who never let his feet leave solid earth.
Edgar Allan Poe was also first to openly speak on the technique of thinking a decade before Zolas’s “Genius is diligence”.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote of this in his forward to Eureka.
“To the few who love me and whom I love; to those who feel rather than to those who think. To the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities—I offer this book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the beauty that abounds in its truth: Constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone; let us say as a romance, or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a poem.
What I propound here is true: --Therefore it can not die; --or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will rise again to the Life Everlasting!”
Poe stood completely independent from Th. Gautier and his “L’art pour l’art” principle. His claim was more than Gautier’s, who only saw beauty with the eye of the painter and also lower than Gautier’s in that the external form alone revealed the beauty. First beauty, then truth. To truth, that was his correction without negating beauty. That is the highest claim of any art that has ever been framed. He spoke in waking life of the longing for true value and reality, the simple reality that only the dream could fulfill.
Also here is Poe-the Romantic- Pathfinder; revealed here as the first of the modern spirits. His claim was so ultra modern that even today only a small portion of the many great writers can understand this radical spirit that sprang out independently fifty years before Zola coined his technique of creation principle and more widely than Parnassier’s principle of art.
Among civilized people the fertilization of literature through Poe’s spirit is now in full bloom in this century. The past saw him only as an outsider like the ridiculous pair, Puke and Snot. Certainly as someone fortune has turned her back on unlike Jules Verne and Conan Doyle who made fortunes.
It is entirely certain Poe wrote these things for his daily bread. The travels of Gordon Pym and Hanns Pfaall …ect. It was only through the need for a hot noon meal that the criminal novels (for example: Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, The Gold Bug) originated. Poe knew what it was like to starve! So he wrote these things, made translations and scientific collaborations whenever possible.
Really, every single story, even his weakest, make all the adventures of Sherlock Holmes fade in comparison. Why does the large public, especially the English speaking, devour Doyle’s ridiculous Detective stories with enthusiasm and lay Poe’s aside? It doesn’t make sense!
Poe’s characters like Dostojewskys are so genuine, his composition so complete that the reader’s imagination is held captive in his net. That’s when the reader is helpless against the painful murderous horror and seized in cruel suspense. They are continuously white with tension.
In his popular imitators this is merely pleasant titillation. The reader always knows that it is all stupid nonsense. They stand apart from the story and prefer it that way!
But Poe takes the poor drip by the hair, drags them to the abyss and catapults them into hell! They lose hearing and vision and don’t know where they are anymore. That is why the average person that likes to sleep avoids Poe’s horrific nightmares and is attracted to the scenic heroes of Baker Street.
He wanted to write for the large masses and set his goal way too high. He wrote way over their heads and thought they would like to read him! Then he went from publisher to publisher trying to market intelligent works to people that only wanted to buy straw!
There will come a time when the world is ready for this poet’s gifts. There have already been many promising starts and we recognize the singular ways that Jean Paul, Th. Hoffman, Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe have contributed to the culture of art.
Such art can no longer be dressed in nationalistic colors. First of all we need to realize that Poe’s art was not for the people of America, but for the thin cultural layer whether it be German, Japanese, Latin or Jewish. We all wish and believe that no artist creates just for his people but for the entire world.
Velazquez and Cervantes are as completely unknown to the large masses in Spain as the English writers, Shakespeare and Byron, the French Rabelais and Moliere or the Dutch Rembrandt and Ruben are.
The German people don’t have the slightest idea who Goethe and Schiller were and have never even heard of Heine. We hear the small blunt questions of soldiers in the regiments, “Who was Bismark? Who was Goethe?” When will blissful blind trust finally open its eyes?
Entire worlds separate the people of culture in Germany from their fellow countrymen, which they see daily on the street. There is only water that separates them from the people of culture in America.
Heine perceived that Edgar Allan Poe was great and threw it in the faces of the German experts. Even in our day most artists, scholars and experts of national culture have such little understanding that they misinterpret Horaz’ refined “Odi Profanum”.
The artist that tries to create for his people strives for the impossible neglecting something much more accessible and higher, to create for the entire world. Over the Germans, over the British, over the French stands a higher nation to create for, the Nation of Culture. It alone is worthy of the artist. The awareness of Poe is as solidly grounded there as Goethe but in a different, not as modern sense.