From time to time, Dan sketched out poems that, in a mere two or three stanzas, offered comments on favorite and not-so-favorite writers. Poe was a frequent target of Dan’s interest and wit, perhaps precisely because he never figured prominently in his scholarship. In one of the entries collected in Commonplace Book, Dan recalls reading Edgar Wagenknecht’s Poe biography: “What emerges thus far is the child-man who exhibits very early the shrill precocity of the gifted child but never ‘matures’ into adulthood.” Dan also notes that Poe shed tears over the death of Dickens’s Little Nell, an acceptable response in a world where “the paraphernalia of crying were more in evidence.” Today, the dead are “whisked away.” In Poe’s day, the “moribund man” (Poe) “lay among his relics and heard the music of mortality” (102).
Dan’s undated poem paints a slightly more critical picture of Poe as a writer immersed in space (a reference to Poe’s Eureka), who nevertheless intentionally limits the scope of his grand vision. As if afraid of his own courage, Poe lets his morbid curiosity populate that vast, frightening universe with playthings, “thuggish” fantasies of horror and destruction, which then take possession of him. Dan’s poem captures well the central irony of Poe’s work, where little terrors obfuscate and replace the central fear of annihilation and paint the charnel-house with palatable effigies of mortality.
E. A. Poe
Poet of space and time,
His terrors tossed
In the whirlpool of curiosity.
He braced himself for annihilation,
Contrived wax-work horrors.
Engrossed in hoaxes,
He fell afoul of thuggish fears
Seized the Prison-house.