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This Week in History
January 18-24, 2015

To Celebrate the Birthday of Edgar Allan Poe January 19

Poe, The Beautiful and the Sublime

January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849

By Gerald Belsky

Edgar Allan Poe.

To celebrate the birthday of that great American cultural warrior and patriotic political intelligence agent, Edgar Allan Poe,  let us focus on his commitment to the Beautiful and the  Sublime, and the associated highest form of love, Agape, as he expressed this combined idea in his final poem, “Annabel Lee”.

Allen Salisbury, author of “Edgar Allan Poe: The Lost Soul of America”, (see accompanying box) would appreciate that this year Poe's birthday falls on the same day that Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated, since both of these giants, both matyrs for true human freedom and creativity, were committed to this principle of agapic love and gave their lives for it. As we face the collapse of the British imperial system,  and the threat of global thermonuclear war, we also face the prospect of creating a new era of cooperation among nations  by joining with the BRICS, under a Hamiltonian credit system, if we can evoke this same principle of Agape, and, thus, revive the true soul of  America.

Schiller on the Beautiful and the Sublime

According to Friedrich Schiller, art must enoble man to develop this ability to act according to agapic love by cultivating the qualities of the beautiful and the sublime. Schiller described the relationship between the beautiful and the sublime in his  “On the Sublime” thusly:

Friedrich Schiller.

“There are two genii, which nature gave us as companions throughout life. The one, sociable and lovely, shortens the laborious journey for us through its lively play, makes the fetters of necessity light for us, and leads us amidst joy and jest up to the dangerous places, where one must act as pure spirits and lay aside everything bodily, as to cognition of truth and performance of duty. Here it abandons us, for only the world of sense is its province, beyond this its earthly wings can not carry it. But now the other one steps up, earnest and silent, and with stout arm it carries us over the dizzying depth.

“In the first of these genii one recognizes the feeling of the beautiful, in the second the feeling of the sublime. Indeed, the beautiful is already an expression of freedom, but not that which elevates us above the power of nature and releases us from every bodily influence, but rather that, which we enjoy within nature as men. We feel ourselves free with beauty, because the sensuous instincts harmonize with the law of reason; we feel ourselves free with the sublime, because the sensuous instincts have no influence upon the legislation of reason, because the mind acts here, as if it stood under no other than its own laws.

“The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is a combination of woefulness, which expresses itself in its highest degree as a shudder, and of joyfulness, which can rise up to enrapture, and, although it is not properly pleasure, is yet widely preferred to every pleasure by fine souls. This union of two contradictory sentiments in a single feeling proves our moral independence in an irrefutable manner…”

Although Schiller defined the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, he insisted in this essay that,

“Only when the sublime is wedded with the beautiful, and our receptivity for both has been cultivated in equal measure are we perfected citizens of nature, and without for this reason being its slaves and without frittering away our rights as citizens in the intelligible world.”  (1)

Poe Follows Schiller

Poe clearly studied Schiller, and applied his conceptions of the beautiful and the sublime in order to revive the soul of America, which he saw being degraded, as today, by the British Empire’s promotion of a culture based on sense certainty, ugliness and stupidity. (See, for example Poe’s “How to Write a Blackwood Article”.(2)) How can you otherwise explain why the British-controlled enraged drunken fool Andrew Jackson, who destroyed the Hamiltonian Second National Bank, would ever have been tolerated in America as President for two terms? (How did we tolerate the Bush and Obama administrations?)  In dealing with this cultural problem,  Poe certainly carried out through his poetry and short stories Schiller’s dictum  that, “it is through beauty that one achieves freedom.”

A literary critic, whose name I cannot remember, once pointed out that Poe references the section of Schiller’s “On the Sublime” cited above – “But now the other one steps up, earnest and silent, and with stout arm it carries us over the dizzying depth” - in the opening of his “A Descent Into the Maelstrom”.

Here Poe has his guide, an old man, who had led the narrator to the “summit of the loftiest crag” of the mountain on the Norwegian coast near a steep precipice overlooking  the ocean and the maelstrom below, after being “too much exhausted to speak” (“earnest and silent”), say, “Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?”(“the dizzying depth”). Poe’s narrator then exclaims, “ The ‘little cliff’ upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge-…(“the stout arm”). The narrator, so terrified by the “perilous position” of the old man, “clung to the shrubs” around him, afraid to even look up at the sky (not a very “stout arm”).

How did the guide make the discovery that cylindrical objects, such as a barrel, could float and not go down with the whirlpool? Only after he gave up his fear of death, and looked at the wondrous sight around him, so that he was no longer afraid, but fascinated with God’s creation. He was no longer controlled by nature, and even if he was going to die, he was free. He had achieved the sublime! And it was only then, that he was able to calmly reflect, and make his creative discovery.

Faced with the descent into the maelstrom of the crises we face today, of economic collapse and thermonuclear extinction, we can learn from Poe, if we are to achieve this sublime state of mind today in order to survive.  As Schiller pointed out in his essay “On the Sublime”, to achieve the sublime state of mind, when faced with real life crises, it is easier, if one has experienced this state of mind in art,  as preparation, before one has to in real life.

In his essay and public lecture, “The Poetic Principle”, Poe defined his idea of Beauty as “inclusive of the sublime”. His idea of Beauty, clearly “wedded to the sublime”, is described by Poe in the following way:

  “An immortal instinct, deep within the spirit of man, is thus, plainly, a sense of the Beautiful, it is which administers to his delight in the manifold forms, and sounds, and odours, and sentiments amid which he exists…But…mere repetition is not poetry…We have still a thirst unquenchable…This thirst belongs to the immortality of man, It is at once a consequence and an indication of his perennial existence…It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty before us – but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above. Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories beyond the grave, we struggle by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone…”

In his “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe wrote that “a poem is such, only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating, the soul…Beauty…is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation of the soul…” He makes clear that that Beauty, “inclusive of the sublime”, does not depend on the possession of beautiful objects in nature, because “the tone of its highest manifestation…is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariable excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.”

Annabel Lee

by Edgar A. Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
        In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
        By the name of Annabel Lee; —
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
        Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
        In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
        I and my Annabel Lee —
With a love that the wingéd seraphs in Heaven
        Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
        In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
        My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
        And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre,
        In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
        Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
        In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
        Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
        Of those who were older than we —
        Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
        Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
        Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
        Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
        Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
        In her sepulchre there by the sea —
        In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Annabel Lee

In no other poem of Poe is the Beautiful and the Sublime so beautifully wedded, as in his last poem, “Annabel Lee”.  With a musicality, which has been compared by some commentators to the ebb and flow of the sea (“the kingdom of the sea”), this relatively short poem, his most popular after “The Raven”, was written, as many of his poems were, with the intention that it would be recited aloud, in order to bring out that musicality, and evoke the metaphor in the mind of the listeners as the intended effect. (3)

However, for the adequate effect to be experienced, the musicality can not be sing-song, but must be conveyed through the person reciting the poem, to emphasize the necessary dissonances, which are explained below, through appropriate ironic pauses and emphasis. One must hear in the music of the poem, as conveyed through the recitation of words, the same unexpected dissonances that one hears in a great piece of music,  from the standpoint of the intended "unity of effect" of the piece as a whole, a quality  involved in composing the work itself, which Poe insisted upon in his "Philosophy of Composition"  Poetry must be recited as the great conductor  Wilhelm Furtwaengler understood any great piece of music must be performed, at each moment from the standpoint of the future outcome of the piece as a whole.

For many people, the poem seems to be about first the beauty of romantic love, then the loss of the  beloved, who died young, and finally the overcoming of that loss by the memory of the love of that beloved., which cannot die. This would be the simplest level of the sublime, but the poem is, in fact, far more complex.

Many commentators have, in fact, argued for years, about who is the woman that Poe is  immortalizing in the poem- is it his deceased wife, or this woman, or that woman whom he knew? -  but the truth is that Poe is not referring to any particular woman, but, rather, to a principle, which he wants us to discover.

The musicality of the poem, though seemingly about the loss of a beloved and the overcoming of that loss though love, has several dissonant notes, however,  which should force us to pause and reflect: what is Poe getting at? Is there something more here than what the poem, on first reading, seems to be about?

The first dissonance concerns the fact that “the love that was more than love” between the narrator and Annabel Lee was  “coveted” by the winged seraphs in Heaven. Why would winged seraphs in Heaven “covet” this love?

The next dissonance involves the fact that this coveting caused the wind to chill Annabel Lee so that

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
        My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
        And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre,
        In this kingdom by the sea.

Then, the next dissonance is that

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
        Went envying her and me—

What Angels are not half so happy in Heaven? After this, the following dissonance is heard:

Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
        In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
        Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

So, obviously, there is something that “all men know”, about the Angels in Heaven envying the love of the narrator and Annabel Lee, so that Annabel Lee is killed. There is a difference about simply dying and being killed, One is due to natural causes, and the other is murder, but a murder which “all men know”. So, this is not about Angels calling a beautiful person to Heaven because they so admire her. Furthermore, what kind of Angels would kill out of envy?

Then we hear, another dissonance,  that  “our love”, which has been envied by the Angels, is stronger than the love of both those who are older and wiser,

And neither the angels in Heaven above,
        Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
        Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —

And then, the final dissonance:

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
        In her sepulchre there by the sea —
        In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Is the narrator, who is lying down next to his bride, alive and  merely imagining himself in her tomb, or is he actually in the tomb, and speaking, thus, as if from the grave? Is “all the night tide” eternity? Has he not achieved Schiller's "wedding of the beautiful and the sublime"?  

Corinthians 1:13

1 Corinthians 13:1–13

The Way of Love

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Itidoes not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When we examine the poem in this way, we realize that the subject is not a particular woman, but a particular love, “a love that was more than love”, the highest form of love, agape. This is the love that corresponds to the Sublime, the love that Schiller’s Beautiful Soul embodies.

When we understand that Poe is writing about agapic love, and see  the references to the angels who “covet” and “envy” this love, we should realize that he is ironically commenting about Corinthians 1:13, which, of course begins, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” And, of course, “love does not envy.” (see full text of Corinthians 1:13 below).

Poe is also ironically referencing the section of Corinthians 1:13 that  reads, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I gave up childish ways”, when he says in his poem, “I was a child and she was a child, / In this kingdom by the sea;/ But we loved with a love that was more than love - / I and my Annabel Lee – ”.  So, despite the fact that he was a child, he had achieved agape. If he was a child at that time, then he is implying that since he is now no longer a child, since this was long ago, that as the biblical verse compares “childish ways” to seeing in a mirror “dimly”, and now knowing only “in part”, then he now knows “fully, even as I have been fully known.”

What Poe does in the poem, which Corinthians 1:13 does not do, is he identifies the evil forces, whether “angels or demons”, which envy this highest form of love and try to destroy it, but cannot defeat him and sever his soul from Beauty, because his love is stronger. He has achieved the Sublime, and wields it as a weapon to uplift mankind.

A Postscipt:   Speaking From the Grave

Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe.

“Annabel Lee” appeared in print on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe’s very mysterious death,   and with its sublime tone of overcoming the attempted murder of Beauty by “angels and demons” with the highest form of love, it was as if he were speaking from the grave.  To quote Poe on Beauty, he was speaking from the “glories beyond the grave”,  having attained “a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.”

Poe scholar and editor T.O. Mabbott has written that Poe, contrary to his normal practice, circulated this poem in manuscript to numerous friends and associates before it was scheduled for publication, ensuring that it would get wide circulation. At the same time he reportedly told his enemy Rufus Griswold, to whom he gave a copy for publication in an anthology to come out at the end of 1849, that this would be his last poem. Mabbott speculates that Poe thought this his last poem, because he supposedly knew that her had a “weak heart”. The day after Poe’s funeral, Griswold published the poem early along with a slanderous obituary.

But it appears that Poe, as the leading intelligence agent of the patriotic Society of the Cincinnatus networks, when he circulated this poem in the summer of 1849, knew that he was threatened with assassination, for he told at least two people in Philadelphia, when he stopped there at the end of June, 1849, that he was fleeing from people who wanted to kill him. Most so-called Poe scholars dismiss this as mere paranoia or hallucination by Poe.

Poe was clearly murdered in Baltimore, but much work needs to be done, to discover the circumstances of his death. Allen Salisbury, who made the groundbreaking discovery of who Poe really was, hypothesized that Poe was murdered as he was investigating certain political Jesuit networks in Baltimore who were allied with British intelligence circles, as part of the (un) Holy Alliance committed to destroy the American Republic. (4)

Poe's fellow patriotic political agent of the Society of the Cincinnati, Samuel F.B. Morse, had exposed the plots of the Jesuits against the United States on behalf of this Holy Alliance in his 1835 book, “Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States”, which was re-issued  in 1841.(5) 

In the buildup to the Civil War, Poe, as a political intelligence agent, committed to preserving the Union, would, of course, be very concerned with plots by both British intelligence circles and Jesuits in building up the secession movement in both the North and the South, around networks grouped around covert organizations, such as the Knights of the Golden Circle.  

The question to be asked, pending further investigation, is was Poe, as an “undercurrent” to his main theme of “Annabel Lee”, trying to tell us who his potential assassins might be? After all, “angels” who hate agape and are “not so happy in Heaven” are the “fallen angels”, who are the followers of Satan, and imply a certain “ecclesiastical” connection…Jesuit, Church of England, or both?

If Poe,  who believed in creating with his poetry “novel effects”,  and at the same  time insisted on “unity of effect” in his poetry,  knowing  that he was threatened with death, thus making this potentially his last poem,  would he not think of not only identifying the principle of how to defeat evil through agape, but subtly, perhaps, identify who that evil force might be?

Poe knew that it was through the Beautiful and the Sublime, and the associated agapic love , that this enemy can be defeated, and he has left this legacy in our hands to fulfill.

Allen Salisbury, A Trailblazer in the World of Ideas

EIRNS/Philip Ulanowsky
In-studio consulation with Lyndon LaRouche during TV show taping, Boston, 1988.

When Allen Salisbury passed away on Sept. 14, 1992, at the young age of 43, he had already bequeathed an enduring contribution to his friends in the LaRouche movement, and to posterity. Allen, who was known for his sense of humor and his fighting spirit, was a trailblazer in the world of ideas. In 1978, Allen authored “The Civil War and the American System: America’s Battle with Britain, 1860- 1876”, a book which was dedicated to reintroducing the nearly forgotten American System of political economy to this nation and the world. What Allen established in this groundbreaking work is, that the American Civil War was essentially a global war between the oligarchical British System of “free trade,” advanced by the British East India Company’s Adam Smith, and the republican American System, espoused by Alexander Hamilton, Mathew Carey, and his son Henry C. Carey, who was an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln.

Allen Salisbury displays a gift presented to him during a 1979 lecture tour.

Building on that foundation, in 1981 Allen published an article in our predecessor magazine, The Campaigner, on the American patriot Edgar Allan Poe, which we have reprinted in this issue of Fidelio. Allen defended Poe against his slanderers, and appealed to the American people to redeem Poe’s good name, lest the soul of the nation be lost beyond redemption. This issue of Fidelio represents our commitment to “keep fighting” the fight launched by Allen to save our nation’s soul. Not only did Allen fight to rediscover the historical roots of our nation, he was also a visionary with a sense of poetic irony. This quality of his beautiful soul led to his being Lyndon LaRouche’s leading collaborator in the direction and production of LaRouche’s televison broadcasts, of which perhaps the most memorable was entitled “The Woman on Mars.”

—William F. Wertz, Jr.



(1) Friedrich Schiller,  “On the Sublime”, Poet of Freedom, Volume 111,  Schiller Institute, Washington, D.C., 1990


(3) see Thomas Ollive Mabbott, editor, “Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Poems”, University of Illinois Press, Urbanna and Chicago, 2000,  pp. 468-481 for a discussion of “Annabel Lee”; see also, pp 409ff for a discussion of the musicality of “Ulalume”. Mabbott, who tracks down all the references he can find about the background of each of Poe's works, has, unfortunately little understanding of Poe's sense of irony or metaphor, as well as who and what Poe is attacking, since he has no understanding of who Poe really was, although he is committed to defending his slandered reputation.

(4) See Anton Chaitkin, “Treason in America”, which details the British intelligence side of this unholy alliance.