Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet—To Science cover image

Even in this early work, Poe seems to have been considering—albeit a bit reluctantly—the possibility that he might align himself with those Romantics who celebrated the awesome revelations of the scientific imagination (among whom Percy Bysshe Shelley was the most outstanding) rather than those who viewed the intellectual and industrial revolutions with mournful regret. He never did resolve that dilemma, and that was greatly to the advantage of his work. No other nineteenth century American writer fled as far as he “to seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,” and the flight in question began in the poem which follows “Sonnet—to Science” in his collected works: the brilliantly bizarre “Al Aaraaf.”

The first footnote to “Al Aaraaf” links it to Tycho Brahe’s “new star,” which revealed once and for all that the heavens are not fixed and finished, but the imagery of the long poem is as rich and exotic as anything Poe was later to produce. Other footnotes set Classical references and scientific references side by side, but not as Erasmus Darwin might have done. Poe never lost the sense of a vital and violent struggle between the hallowed glories of mythology and the new revelations of science; he never could combine the two without a keen awareness that he was doing something paradoxical. But Poe was a very paradoxical man, and he took pride in that fact. He conceived of his own self as something deeply divided, echoed that division...

(The entire section is 600 words.)