Thursday, 21 November 2013

Poe, Rathbone, The Bells

Go straight to awesome, do not pass go, do not collect countless acquired expectations: That's the card Edgar Allan Poe drew from the community chest when he sat down to Literary Monopoly. Poe's talents were exercised during a time when his native literary establishment was exhibiting a stifling and torpid parochial self satisfaction (ring a bell, anyone?). So he decided to distance himself from it and focus his attention on the popular press, pretty much as Dickens did in London except that the Dickens was working in a much less clearly delineated literary environment.

I suppose you've heard of The Raven? Poe's most celebrated work of poetic verse, a work that is reviled in equal measure to that celebration. I assume I've left little doubt on which side of the fence of that divide I'm planted on. The Raven is quite a difficult piece to do justice to, I occasionally wonder how many fans of Poe, spend countless frustrating hours reciting it. Difficult as it is, there's one that's much harder, Poe's The Bells probably exemplifies Poe's preoccupation with iteration and refrain, some aspects that make it so challenging. I suppose it's this kind of demand that Poe fearlessly throws down the gauntlet for, that is one of the things make him so special. It's not that the average reader can't make a passable attempt at it, it doesn't have The Raven's vicarious intricacies, it's just the disparity between that on the page, and that which comes out of you mouth represents a gaping chasm. Fortunately the talents of one particular orator of renown were exercised on this verse and committed to vinyl quite a while ago. I'm referring to Basil Rathbone, who's readings of Poe's work are probably the best available, according to my estimation. Even more fortunately some kind person has uploaded a Youtube flick of that recording.

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