Fifty years after the death of Edgar Allan Poe, American admirers of Poe planned a memorial volume, and the organizer of the volume, Sara Sigourney Rice, began to spread the news of the project. The French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who had fervently admired Poe most of his life, offered to contribute to the volume. His poem “The Tomb of Edgar Poe” appeared in the volume; it was later revised for appearance in Mallarmé’s own works.
The poem is a sonnet. The octave, the first eight lines, outlines the career of Poe; the last six lines, the sestet, expresses Mallarmé’s indignation at the treatment of Poe at the hands of his contemporaries and concludes with a prediction of the future of Poe’s reputation. In the first quatrain, Mallarmé declares that Poe frightened his century because of the presence of death in his voice.
The first line, “Such as into himself eternity changed him,” suggests that death has purged Poe of all accidental and neutral features and has left only the essential Poe. The following three lines say that Poe, like all great creators, actually forced his civilization into existence, as with a naked sword. The century, however, limited and uncreative, remained terrified of the voice that created it, since that strange voice was filled with death. The next four lines describe Poe’s contemporaries as recoiling from the poet (“the angel”) like a Hydra, a mythical monster with many heads. They try to slander...
(The entire section is 401 words.)