Marjorie Perloff at the Times Literary Supplement:
Aldous Huxley, who wrote one of the funniest pastiches, assumed, as did many of his Modernist contemporaries, that Poe’s French admirers praised his work largely because they had no ear for English and thus couldn’t hear what Harold Bloom, in a scathing indictment, calls “Poe’s palpable vulgarity”. But wrong as Bloom may be about “French Poe”, his essay “Inescapable Poe”, which was first published in the New York Review of Books as a review of the Library of America two-volumeCollected Edition of Poe’s poetry and prose, is perhaps the most vigorous version of the argument against the poetry that McGann’s book is designed to dispel, even though he unaccountably makes no reference to it. The authority of “French Poe”, Bloom declares, “vanishes utterly when confronted by what Poe actually wrote”. And he begins by citing four lines from “For Annie”: “Sadly I know I am shorn of my strength, / And no muscle I move / As I lie at full length – / But no matter! – I feel I am better at length”. Bloom concludes, “These dreadful lines are by no means unrepresentative of Poe’s verse”. Taken out of context and exhibited without comment, the lines may well seem weak, but as the argument unfolds, what really worries Bloom is less Poe’s diction or rhythm than the notion that his entire oeuvre is a “hymn to negativity”: “Poe, seeking to avoid Emersonianism, ends with only one fact, and it is more a wish than a fact: ‘I will to be the Abyss.’ This metaphysical despair . . . cannot be refuted, because it is myth, and Poe backed the myth with his life as well as his work”. Indeed, so murky is Poe’s vision that there were at least eleven nineteenth-century American poets (not counting Emily Dickinson and Whitman) who were better than Poe: in chronological order – Willian Cullen Bryant, Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Jones Very, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Henry Timrod and Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. “Poe scrambles for twelfth place with Sidney Lanier”. This is an eccentric judgement and Bloom knows it, turning it slightly on its side at the end of his essay when he acknowledges that Poe, or at least the myth of Poe, is “central to the American canon”: Hart Crane, for example, places Poe squarely in “The Tunnel” section of The Bridge, where the descent into the “interborough fissures of the mind” of the subway symbolizes the loss of the Emersonian vision of Self-Reliance.