Mr. Ellison and Emily; The Poetic Sentiment and Representations of Paradise
A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!
The conception of “Paradise” is an interaction with the imagination. At first the Artist dreams or wanders across the image of a realm profoundly remote from the more tangible external reality ongoing through their lives. Then they recreate the location with the medium of their choosing. So when humanity is given an individualized “Eden,” they recognize in it something of their own dreams. Paradise thus becomes a shared creation. Yet the actual act of communication is so openly critical of its own ability to communicate an absolute truth that with Poe you get a very complicated message and as a result begin to wonder if it was even worth bringing Mr. Ellison up in the first place. That is because we are consuming the product of the Artist and not really of ourselves; we are each individual islands attempting to describe the beauty of our particular land mass with a language that is unlike that which we know to exist in the natural world. The primal language is only rendered truthfully when the work is able to remind humanity of their own imagination; linking us all together by way of showing the profound distance we may travel in our minds — only we’re working with words and images, not the real thing.
Both Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson spent a large amount of time writing about these ideas on the imagination and its effects upon language. Poe does so in his short story “The Domain of Arnheim; or The Landscape Garden.,” while Emily Dickinson scatters her ideology across her entire portfolio/diaries.
To make things clear, with Arnheim, Poe is not concerned with saying that man’s best representation of the Paradise which exists in the imagination is that which uses the natural world itself to communicate the presence of the sublime. He is a writer, and seemed to think of himself as the best writer; a “king” of words, some might say (Dickinson 522). His motive is derived strictly from an inclination towards the subject; it is a bias or a fetish. Just as “MS. Found in a Bottle” is more about the unknowability of reality than about someone who actually had the horror of seeing the edge of the world and the edge of his sanity, “Arnheim” is about the inability of language to truly capture the essence or meaning of life. However, because of the honesty in which it criticizes the creation of the metaphor “Paradise,” the work actually becomes a lasting creation circulating throughout the oversoul, or the connected consciousness of men; that which the transcendentalists will so strongly take upon their banner soon thereafter. Ironically, the complexity of the story seems to be more about the difficulty of its creation, and yet it clearly creates a rich image of a landscape and its creation, something that Poe seemed to dream of in multiples ways. The story does not give a clear characterization of the rich artist who uses the materials of the world to create his everlasting masterpiece, because like all of Poe’s characters Mr. Ellison represents a universal mind — one that opens itself up to analysis as well as criticism.
Emily Dickinson carries on the omnipotence of character by creating poetry that Poe would have died to be able to duplicate. The narrative voice anchoring her work is of the most honest and despairingly beautiful commentary on what Poe would describe as the “disease of humanity.” What Emily is able to do in a few lines, if speaking hyperbolically, is just as philosophically rich as a volume of Poe’s work. For the sake of remembrance, the analytically rich section of Arnheim, as well as perhaps the most simple to understand, will be quoted here at length:
Ellison became neither musician nor poet; although no man lived more profoundly enamored of music and poetry. Under other circumstances than those which invested him, it is not impossible that he would have become a painter. Sculpture, although in its nature rigorously poetical was too limited in its extent and consequences, to have occupied, at any time, much of his attention. And I have now mentioned all the provinces in which the common understanding of the poetic sentiment has declared it capable of expatiating. But Ellison maintained that the richest, the truest, and most natural, if not altogether the most extensive province, had been unaccountably neglected. No definition had spoken of the landscape-gardener as of the poet; yet it seemed to my friend that the creation of the landscape-garden offered to the proper Muse the most magnificent of opportunities. Here, indeed, was the fairest field for the display of imagination in the endless combining of forms of novel beauty; the elements to enter into combination being, by a vast superiority, the most glorious which the earth could afford. In the multiform and multicolor of the flowers and the trees, he recognised the most direct and energetic efforts of Nature at physical loveliness. And in the direction or concentration of this effort — or, more properly, in its adaptation to the eyes which were to behold it on earth — he perceived that he should be employing the best means — laboring to the greatest advantage — in the fulfilment, not only of his own destiny as poet, but of the august purposes for which the Deity had implanted the poetic sentiment in man. (Poe 607)
And the poem which will be particularly helpful to understanding what Poe was trying to communicate is as follows;
Of Paradise’ existence
All we know
Is the uncertain certainty –
But its vicinity, infer,
By its Bisecting Messenger –
While Poe writes a character with poetic sentiment, Emily Dickinson truly held the “august” propensity for genius which Mr. Ellison is depicted as possessing. This is not to say that Poe was not amazingly ingenious, but he seemed to need a narrative frame in which to anchor his wandering mind, whereas Dickinson died still wandering, without the only structure poetry can have beyond its life in the circle of human beings surrounding the artist: widespread fanship, which is something that Poe seemed to have at some times and sometimes not. Mr. Ellison is allowed to create his Eden because of an extremely healthy inheritance. A poet alone writes words that undulate their influence of verse and meaning into the coming generations but at times not their own. They are also less tied down to the need for narrative structure that authors of prose tend to work with, whether they really want to or not. The implications for this poem to work with the text provided by Poe thirty years before will be more clear in the following analysis.
“Paradise’s existence,” is the “physical loveliness,” with which Mr. Ellison is obsessed. But for his Eden to be created, he seems to think that his ambition enough would insure his legacy, and that pure economy and an eye for the correct aesthetics would allow for his Paradise to be made. If Poe is being critical of this then we know he has at least some poetic sentiment; that which Dickinson simply exudes as if she was born with it. But if Poe thinks that he himself created the Landscape Garden he should know that the story was effective to a certain extent, whereas the five lines from Dickinson are capable of capturing his thesis and more beautifully too. This is because Arnheim is wonderful philosophically, but it lacks pathos. The idea that the imagination is a machine which not only processes the natural world into metaphor and meaning but is itself made of that which it produces, and is self sustaining, is absolutely incredible. But the painting provided by Magritte entitled “The Domain of Arnheim” shows that the mountain is conceived in the image of a bird while a bird’s eggs lie at the forefront. The mountain serves as the frame to the imagination of man just as the narrator is the frame to Mr. Ellison and his creation, but the garden is right in front of you by the end of the story just as the metaphor B-I-R-D is in front of you also with the nest full of eggs. Dickinson however does not sacrifice feeling for symbolism. The division lies in the idea that poetry makes sense on a primal level because of its honesty and disconnection from the illusions which society creates in order to maintain order. Poe was in a way indentured to narrative form whereas Emily simply states “All we know, is the uncertain certainty -” or that the meaning to life, whether it be to recreate Paradise in order to achieve immortality, or to prepare for what lies on the other side of death by practising humility and admitting that we really don’t know a damn thing, we have to use symbols in order to talk about anything that goes on inside the universe of the individual mind and in the life of individuals in general.
So of Paradise’s existence Dickinson states; “But its vicinity, infer, By its dissecting messenger.” Both Arnheim and the immortality that Emily evokes are the results of the interaction of the senses and the codification of the objects in which we perceive. The place or the state of being of Paradise, because they are interchangeable when reading these texts side by side, exists only in the mind. So the mind is the “dissecting messenger.” In Arnheim, Mr. Ellison’s ambition to recreate his dreams is resolved by focusing upon the material in which he will create a tangible Paradise, whereas Emily’s narrator is able to remain in a state of doubt and also express a more accurate philosophical truth which carries the essence that poetry naturally generates when done right, and which is extremely difficult to pull off in prose.
The emphasis upon what Poe seemed to lack and what Dickinson seemed to inherently radiate in her body of work, is not to hold poetry upon a pedestal. It is to show the evolution of thought that was perhaps only accomplished by Poe starting in the maelstrom of Mr. Ellison’s “ambition.” Someone had to spew up the thought that humanity might not really know that communication and language are illusions of the real thing in order for a poet like Emily to exist. The hoarding of these poems to the vast majority of the world was necessary because people would probably think that she was insane for putting the words “Paradise” and “uncertain” so close to each other. The great authors have at many times had to hide the radical nature of their thought behind the facade of narrative. The great poets hide nothing, and are thus more vulnerable to be psychologically broken down by the condition or disease of humanity because without people saying that your poetry is good it becomes incredibly hard to not think of yourself as being the only one who sees the injustice and absurd despair that being able to see past society’s illusions creates in an artist.
The meaning of both works hinges upon the idea of the “bisecting messenger,” (Dickinson 540). While the narrative of Arnheim can be noted for the density of its meaning, much of the writing is filler for a story to be written instead of a piece of philosophy. The dissecting nature of language which Emily writes of so profoundly can be more easily seen, especially if we return to the painting by Magritte. The metaphor of the bird exists both in the mountainside and in the eggs in the forefront of the painting. Its subject matter is both hypothetically and literally cut in half. Paradise may be a creation of the mind duplicated in the attempt of artists to remain in the hearts and minds of men beyond the death of their corporeal frame, but it is as inherent to the human mind as food is to the body. You see so much mental instability in artists that it is hard not to realize that living without the illusions of society which so stealthily forms your identity, is incredibly hard on the emotions as has been established through the course of human Art. Many have chosen to kill themselves and face the darkness rather than to continue and try and find reasons to live. Poets especially create such profound work that it is hard not to get to a point where you think you have said all you can say. At least fiction writers can bounce from world to world recreating narratives over and over. Poets are particularly hard on themselves, but of course so are fiction writers at times; with Poe I’m not so sure that he was as upset with life later on in his career after his poetry and ability to write a short story became common knowledge.
But the story of Arnheim simply ends with the description of the landscape garden created with the “august purposes for which the Deity had implanted the poetic sentiment in man.” There is no problem that occurs as a result of a mortal chasing immortality, something that is incredibly troublesome to someone who has read a lot of Dickinson. The uncertainty of life is simply absent from Arnheim whereas this theme has incredible influence in most of Poe’s stories. This seems to indicate that Poe intended the story to be semi-autobiographical but mostly an exercise of the intelligence, or if he was like Coleridge it was simple one of many fuzzy visions like Xanadu. But Poe thought himself a poet at one point in his life. Mr. Ellison may be a representation of his own poetic sentiment. But what is really accomplished if you just speak of an ingenious artist. You have to dedicate the entirety of your work to not only the didacticism of language but its inherent and sublime beauty. The difficulty resides in being able to hold these two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time. Poets seem to use the dissonance as a muse, while writers of prose construct reality as a mirror would construct your face, they also pretend that the mirror is actually not your face but a mirror. Which it is. . . but most obviously it also is not.
Dickinson says that you cannot cut through the meaning of thought. It is language which does the cutting. And she does not pretend to be master of her Paradise. If Eden, Xanadu, the Landscape Garden, or Magritte’s ledge to the view of the eagle shaped mountain, you are always a slave to the medium in which you represent your personal dreams and images. Emily took possession of the word Paradise just as Poe took possession of the word Arnheim, but she also took hold of We and if she hid from the world at all it was in her own garden. Her poetry is incredibly brutal and yet accurate to the emotion and to the poetic sentiment that Poe could only put into the vessel of Mr. Ellison.
I believe it is only right to end with the poem that followed the Magritte painting; two years before the poem about language and imagination and the “Bisecting Messenger,” Emily wrote;
A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clow –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!
Works Cited Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and H. J. Jackson. “Kubla Khan.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Major Works. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. N. pag. Print. Dickinson, Emily, and R. W. Franklin. “1356.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1999. 522. Print. Dickinson, Emily, and R. W. Franklin. “1421.” The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1999. 540. Print. Magritte, Rene. The Domain of Arnheim. 1962. Gouache on Paper. WikiPaintings. Web. 9 May 2013. <http://uploads4.wikipaintings.org/images/rene-magritte/the-domain-of-arnheim-196 (1).jpg>. Poe, Edgar A. “The Domain ofArnheim or The Landscape Garden.” Complete Tales and Poems; Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Vintage, 1975. 604-15. Print.