1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Most Poetical Topic in the World

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Gannon, Mar 19, 2008.

    Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 'The Philosophy of Composition', 'I asked myself - "Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?" Death - was the obvious reply. "And when", I said, "is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?" ... "When it most closely allies itself to Beauty": the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.'

    Discuss.
     
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  2. zconstantine
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    zconstantine New Member

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    How did we skip from "most melancholy" to "most poetical"..?

    I would concede Poe's assertion that the death of a beautiful woman is an event which many would doubtless consider very melancholy (but what of the death of a child prodigy?), however, Poe's chop-logic falls short of assessing poetry's scope.

    While poetry often seeks to elicit emotional responses from its readers (and, to this end, one could attempt to wax poetic with writing which inspires a melancholy mood) there are many other moods to evoke.
     
  3. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree his logic is flawed as it is so subjective to assume:

    What is most melancholic = death
    When is death most poetical = when it set in Beauty
    Beauty = beautiful woman

    therefore - the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.

    This is of course questionable by the nature of subjectivity. To him however it may well be true, universally as he claims less so, though it would be hard to argue that the death or destruction of something beautiful is unpoetical - it just depends to what degree.

    You suggest a child prodigy - a child or the young of any sort death (providing they were not a terror like we all know some children can be) could just as easily equal the beautiful woman. Similarly an animal or a work of art. Interesting topic though if we attempt to shelve subjectivity.

    What is the most poetical topic in the world according to you?
     
  4. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    But surely there is far more beauty out there in the world than that of a beautiful woman.

    But what beauty does he speak of? Beauty that goes as far as being skin deep? Or inner beauty?

    Because the most beautiful woman (on the outside) in the world, can indeed, be the most hideous creature on the face of the planet below the surface, and then, she is no longer beautiful.
     
  5. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too true Torana but we then encroach on a secondary discussion

    1) what is the most poetical topic in the world
    2) what is beauty?

    I agree wholeheartely that beauty can be outward or inward or indeed both - therefore if Poe were not to know the woman and she were beautiful, perhaps his statement could be true. If Poe knew the woman and knew she was not beautiful inwardly perhaps he wouldn't attribute his statement to that woman, or indeed call that woman beautiful. Should Poe's woman be only inwardly beautiful it would only be he that knew she were beautiful and as he talks of universality, I would have to argue that Poe's beautiful woman would have to be recognised as such by all, and thus be atleast externally beautiful.

    A little like debating class and a little philosophical but then aren't all the best questions? Isn't the satisfactory and elusive definition of poetry, by definition, the most poetical subject in the world?
     
  6. TheArtfulWeber
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    TheArtfulWeber Senior Member

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    I can see the death of beautiful woman being a very poetic topic, but I have my own doubts about death being the exact topic that is most melancholy. The question is phrased to ask for the universal opinion of what the most melancholy topic is, but I think it is deeper than that. Death is only a state of being and to the person who is dead it might not be melancholy at all. I think that the exact emotion behind the conception of death is fear. People are afraid to die because it is the final frontier that men have not yet conquered. Fear is what drives humans to have the feelings that they do about things such as death. If fear is the root of death, than beauty can still be close to it, but in more ways than just one. The fear of loving a beauty. The fear of beauty dying.

    Or am I just crazy and have terrible ideas just for the sake of being different?
     
  7. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is the fear of loving beauty, as beauty will die, more melancholic than the death of beauty itself? Interesting. And Probably.

    Denying love on account of fear is the more pathetic and hence probably the more melancholy, as this option may well entail and supplement the inextricable demise of beauty. Thus, how closely linked are pathos and melancholy?

    Pathos inspires pity in the reader; melancholy is the result. ArtfulWeber you may be right.
     
  8. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that yes it is to be honest. For most fear the loss of their lovers, and losing a loved one to death, be it beauty or not, is far more melancholy then death of beauty alone.

    No matter what, the one who dies, is beautiful in every way, to the one they left behind, and that soul is forever sufferring great despair. So I would say that the fear of loving beauty, as beauty will undoubtably die, is far more melancholy than death of beauty by far.

    But then is it the most poetic topic in the world? I highly doubt it.
     
  9. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would not death of innocence be the most poetic and melancholy topic in the world?

    I mean not just death of new born innocence and innocence of youth, but any form of innocence?!

    When you look at it, death of beauty is tragic, yes, but death if innocence, especially newborn innocence and the death of any innocence, brings more desparity and suffrage into the hearts of people every single day then the death of any form of beauty that could ever exist in this world!

    SO wouldn't that make loss of innocence or death of innocence the most poetic and melancholy subject in the world to write about?
     
  10. TheArtfulWeber
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    TheArtfulWeber Senior Member

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    I think that is a very good point. William Blake uses the topic of innocence for his major works, but not in a direct way pertaining to the death of innocence. Then again, when could look at the situation of Adam and Eve. They were innocent in the garden, but when they ate the fruit they were no longer innocent. Was it a bad thing that they ate the fruit? Some could argue that is really wasn't a bad thing at all. Experience might be looked at as something more beautiful than innocence. In innocence, we do not know the world around us or at least understand it. With experience, we learn and gain wisdom. Having wisdom and being pure from all things that are evil could be considered a fair trade. Philip Pullman does a great job of promoting this idea in His Dark Materials.
     
  11. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    SO really loss of innocence or death of innocence could in fact be the most poetic topic and most melancholy topic in the world. I mean Adam and Eve lost innocence through eating the fruit, we all lose innocence one way or the other and all write about, in one way or the other. So to me it just makes sense that loss or death of innocence is in fact the most melancholy and most poetic topic in the world!
     
  12. TheArtfulWeber
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    TheArtfulWeber Senior Member

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    To you it could very well be melancholy, but losing innocence to me is not really a bad thing at all.
     
  13. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is a different debate entirely ArtfulWeber but an interesting thought nevertheless. Thanks you pair for attacking the topic so vivaciously.

    And as for innocence, the absolute loss of innocence displayed in Lord of the Flies could be used as a counter argument I'd say. Their loss may be our gain as a reader but does indeed induce melancholy in the form of the base indictment of human nature that the book highlights.
     
  14. TheArtfulWeber
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    TheArtfulWeber Senior Member

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    Is the death of a child more melancholy than a beautiful woman? I'm not saying a baby, but rather a 3-5 year old who is just discovering the world and developing personality. I find the death of a cute child to be more melancholy. A beautiful woman has already been able to live her life quite a bit, but death at a young age of a child who shows promise might be more melancholy. I think it really depends on what kind of poetry is in question though and the taste of the reader. The death of a beautiful woman is more melancholy than the death of a child if poetry is being read in a romantic way, but the death of a child might be more melancholy to people who are touched more by family relationships. I don't care if it takes a year, but we WILL find something to agree on!
     
  15. Hugowin
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    Hugowin New Member

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    Melancholy is sad. But what is it? The answer is oft twain: to the experiencing subject, melancholy does not necessarily exist at all in his experience; but as an object of consensus, it is but a word. If a mere word, how does one acquire its meaning? I will clarify my intentions, the meaning, by affixing my light upon Beauty himself (Beauty is a boy, of course. All great riddles are boys.)

    Beauty, let my light travel along your body, let me persevere and thus turn the semitranslucent veil of your face transparent with my own limpid breath, so that my discering eye may transpire your countenance, so that you should alight into me; or, tell me, are you beautiful? Are you ugly?

    In point of fact, there is a great truth in the saying: "mix not the subjective with the objective." Beauty is a crossword puzzle, the answers of which can be found on its very back, but also inside the leaves of grass, inside the forests that grow upon and next to that great grass; it can be found upon the mountaintops, and in the crumbling of the very mountain. There! Yonder, on that great desert, on it and inside that simoom, yes, inside the sea of blood! Be careful lest the howl of the storm lull you to sleep. Oh, in the jungles too, with their carnivorous plantlife and wailing toads, but also, my friends, inside your souls, also the spirit can be beautiful: be it a desolate desert of ash, carried like the earth carries her deserts, by animated or wretched bodies, or be it the sprouting life of the wall-climbing flower, climbing ever upwards, toward the sun - towards truth? You alone decide what is beautiful; or we decide together! Yet we do not change the world with our decision, not even the meaning of the word do we change. Thus have I revealed the essence of the grammar of our word: Beauty.
     
  16. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    So back to subjectivity are we? What makes one person experience melancholy may not for another, or certainly to the same degree. This holds true for beauty: one man sees graffitti, the next art. What Poe was trying to establish was a universal definiton for a concept bound in subjectivity and personal preference.

    What I would like to argue next is rather than attempt to pin down the universality of melancholy and beauty, is that poetry may ambivalently be the best medium in which to demonstrate these notions. Perhaps what Poe should have said is, 'How can we best represent the poetical topics of melancholy andf beauty despite their links and conflict? As they are poetical, in poetry of course.'

    Thus poetry is the most poetical topic in the word. Some would say this is obvious, other would say that is definitively so, others, Poe included I suspect, would say I'd missed the point entirely. And who would I be to argue? I, the melancholic and beautiful fool.
     
  17. TheArtfulWeber
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    TheArtfulWeber Senior Member

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    Well then, in your vanity, start the next topic to discuss. This has been the most interesting thread to me and seems more important than the typical agreement on book opinions found in the Book Discussion forum.
     
  18. Adelaide
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    Adelaide Member

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    I believe Poe said that because when a beautiful woman dies, especially before she has had time to grow old, she is remembered as only beautiful---as opposed to old, wrinkled, etc. Thus, she has immortal beauty and what's more poetic than that? ;)
     
  19. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    But looks are decieving...if she is beautiful on the outside and not the inside, how can she be bautiful?

    I mean beauty is what is beneath the surface, because even the most beautiful person on the outside, can be the most hideous beast on the inside!

    So how can that be more poetic Adelaide?
     
  20. draupnir
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    draupnir Member

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    Just my own thoughts, disagreeing with Poe, but is this such an obvious reply? Suffering that is endured because of the innate desire to cling to life would seem more melancholy to me. Death seen one way is an end of such suffering, a relief and release from it. And immortality would maybe be more melancholy than death.

    But I think the most melancholy topic is the unknown. It is what we can't know because our human minds can't comprehend it. And when is this at its most poetic?
    When we nevertheless try to comprehend and do so failingly.

    That has a more epic feel to it than a study of a single woman dying surely :p What do people think?
     

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