1/19/16

Edgar Allan Poe on Poetry, Dr. Johnson, and Shakespeare

In his "Letter to B——," Edgar Allan Poe, who was born 207 years ago today, imagines "immortal Shakespeare" scowling at Dr. Johnson's definition of poetry:
What is Poetry? — Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! [Corfu] “Give me,” I demanded of a scholar some time ago, “give me a definition of poetry?” “Très-volontiers;” and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakespeare! I imagined to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B——, think of poetry, and then think of Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then—and then think of the Tempest—the Midsummer Night’s Dream— Prospero —Oberon—and Titania!

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