POE has no truck with Indians or Nature. He makes no bones about Red Brothers and Wigwams.
He is absolutely concerned with the disintegration-processes of his own psyche. As we have said, the rhythm of American art-activity is dual.
(1) A disintegrating and sloughing of the old consciousness.
(2) The forming of a new consciousness underneath.
Fenimore Cooper has the two vibrations going on together. Poe has only one, only the disintegrative vibration. This makes him almost more a scientist than an artist.
Moralists have always wondered helplessly why Poe's 'morbid' tales need have been written. They need to be written because old things need to die and disintegrate, because the old write psyche has to be gradually broken down before anything else can come to pass.
Man must be stripped even of himself. And it is a painful, sometimes a ghastly process.
Poe had a pretty bitter doom. Doomed to seethe down his soul in a great continuous convulsion of disintegration, and doomed to register the process. And then doomed to be abused for it, when he had performed some of the bitterest tasks of human experience, that can be asked of a man. Necessary tasks, too. For the human soul must suffer its own disintegration, consciously, if ever it is to survive.
But Poe is rather a scientist than an artist. He is reducing his own self as a scientist reduces a salt in a crucible. It is an almost chemical analysis of the soul and consciousness. Whereas in true art there is always the double rhythm of creating and destroying.
This is why Poe calls his things 'tales'. They are a concatenation of cause and effect.
His best pieces, however, are not tales. They are more. They are ghastly stories of the human soul in its disruptive throes.
Moreover, they are 'love' stories.
Ligeia and The Fall of the House of Usher are really love stories.
Love is the mysterious vital attraction which draws things together, closer, closer together. For this reason sex is the actual crisis of love. For in sex the two blood-systems, in the male and female, concentrate and come into contact, the merest film intervening. Yet if the intervening film breaks down, it is death.
So there you are. There is a limit to everything. There is a limit to love.
The central law of all organic life is that each organism is intrinsically isolate and single in itself.
The moment its isolation breaks down, and there comes an actual mixing and confusion, death sets in.
This is true of every individual organism, from man to amoeba.
But the secondary law of all organic life is that each organism only lives through contact with other matter, assimilation, and contact with other life, which means assimilation of new vibrations, non-material. Each individual organism is vivified by intimate contact with fellow organisms: up to a certain point.
So man. He breathes the air into him, he swallows food and water. But more than this. He takes into him the life of his fellow men, with whom he comes into contact, and he gives back life to them. This contact draws nearer and nearer, as the intimacy increases. When it is a whole contact, we call it love. Men live by food, but die if they eat too much. Men live by love, but die, or cause death, if they love too much.
There are two loves: sacred and profane, spiritual and sensual.
In sensual love, it is the two blood-systems, the man's and the woman's, which sweep up into pure contact, and almost fuse. Almost mingle. Never quite. There is always the finest imaginable wall between the two blood-waves, through which pass unknown vibrations, forces, but through which the blood itself must never break, or it means bleeding.
In spiritual love, the contact is purely nervous. The nerves in the lovers are set vibrating in unison like two instruments. The pitch can rise higher and higher. But carry this too far, and the nerves begin to break, to bleed, as it were, and a form of death sets in.
The trouble about man is that he insists on being master of his own fate, and he insists on oneness. For instance, having discovered the ecstasy of spiritual love, he insists that he shall have this all the time, and nothing but this, for this is life. It is what he calls 'heightening' life. He wants his nerves to be set vibrating in the intense and exhilarating unison with the nerves of another being, and by this means he acquires an ecstasy of vision, he finds himself in glowing unison with all the universe.
But as a matter of fact this glowing unison is only a temporary thing, because the first law of life is that each organism is isolate in itself, it must return to its own isolation.
Yet man has tried the glow of unison, called love, and he likes it. It gives him his highest gratification. He wants it. He wants it all the time. He wants it and he will have it. He doesn't want to return to his own isolation. Or if he must, it is only as a prowling beast returns to its lair to rest and set out again.
This brings us to Edgar Allan Poe. The clue to him lies in the motto he chose for Ligeia, a quotation from the mystic Joseph Glanvill:
And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigour? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.
It is a profound saying: and a deadly one.
Because if God is a great will, then the universe is but an instrument.
I don't know what God is. But He is not simply a will. That is too simple. Too anthropomorphic. Because a man wants his own will, and nothing but his will, he needn't say that God is the same will, magnified ad infinitum.
For me, there may be one God, but He is nameless and unknowable.
For me, there are also many gods, that come into me and leave me again. And they have very various wills, I must say.
But the point is Poe.