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Edgar Allan Poe

(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849 / Boston)

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An Enigma


"Seldom we find," says Solomon Don Dunce,
"Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
Through all the flimsy things we see at once
As easily as through a Naples bonnet-
Trash of all trash!- how can a lady don it?
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff-
Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it."
And, veritably, Sol is right enough.
The general tuckermanities are arrant
Bubbles- ephemeral and so transparent-
But this is, now- you may depend upon it-
Stable, opaque, immortal- all by dint
Of the dear names that he concealed within 't.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Comments about this poem (An Enigma by Edgar Allan Poe )

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  • Bronze Star - 6,001 Points Frank Avon (10/26/2014 2:59:00 AM)

    OK, I've got the code figured out. The poem is a sonnet with a 'hidden' meaning. A sonnet has fourteen lines. This one is dedicated to Sarah Anna Lewis, a fellow poet who apparently assisted Poe and was special to him. Her name has fourteen letters. The first letter of the first line is the first letter of her name - S; the second letter of the second line is the second letter of her name - a; etc., etc., etc. Don't count spaces or punctuation marks. Thus the dear names that Poe concealed within his sonnet (the 'stable, opaque, immortal' meaning of his poem) are SARAH ANNA LEWIS - a name that he was determined would be immortalized in his poem.

    His sonnet, by the way, is more or less Petrarchan, but of course Poe is not about to follow anyone else's form exactly. He must give it his own twist; hence, the rhyme scheme instead of the traditional ABBA ABBA CDCDCD is ABAB BCCB CDDB EE. That's Poe for you, and I must admit I like this poem better than the generally much-loved 'Annabel Lee' or even 'The Raven.' At least its rhythms and rhymes don't pounce at you and bounce around; the imagery is quite imaginative (e.g., flimsy as a Naples bonnet): and most important, the overt meaning is expressed in lines that are an apt description of many, many 'sophisticated' poems from the time of Elizabeth I to the time of Elizabeth II:

    Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
    Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.

    Finally, notice that it's the Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnet that Poe pokes fun at; even Poe must have realized that Shakespeare's English sonnets were neither flimsy, ephemeral, nor transparent. And even Shakespeare has fun with the imagery and language of Elizabethan sonnets in #130, 'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun....'

    But, no, I'm not adding this one to my list of favorite poems - at least, not yet. It has to grow on me first. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,001 Points Frank Avon (10/26/2014 1:06:00 AM)

    This may turn out to be my favorite Poe poem (I'm not as big a fan of his as most readers are) : the sound, for instance, is better than his usual duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah BOOM-BOOM.

    It may. But not yet. First, would someone explain the last line:

    Of the dear names that he concealed within 't. I suspect this is another 'Gold Bug.' (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 90 Points Nancy Oyula (6/25/2014 8:37:00 AM)

    The poem in itself is an enigma. Took me a moment before I got it, but this being Poe's work it had to be written this way. Lovely (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,756 Points * Sunprincess * (3/15/2014 8:33:00 AM)

    Seldom we find, says Solomon Don Dunce,
    Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
    Through all the flimsy things we see at once
    As easily as through a Naples bonnet-
    ......great lines...enjoyed immensely.. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Cambridge Keenan (7/14/2013 10:51:00 PM)

    nothing much has changed from Poe's time til today...everyone still seeks meaning somewhere or another...really who can judge their answers... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Aradia Megido (4/27/2013 3:13:00 PM)

    i think i sort of understand this poem

    it's like he's saying

    how in many poems

    things sound clever and witty and meaningful

    but many of them are as nonsensical as this one

    they appear to be meaningful

    but if you look hard enough you can see right through them

    like an enigma

    which is

    the title

    yeah (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Carlos Echeverria (10/26/2012 10:54:00 AM)

    DEAR NAMES HE CONCEALED WITHIN IT...Poe is boasting of his talent(and ensuing immortality (fame)) through parody. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Webster (1/19/2010 10:46:00 AM)

    'how dare to 'appreciate' poet like poe who was once a drunkard poet? '

    Hmm... no, you still don't make sense. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Herman Chiu (10/26/2009 7:24:00 PM)

    Interesting enigma - it has a good point considering the writing of many pretentious authors, along with the hidden message Mr. Ahearn pointed out (thank you; I would not have seen that) . I will admit to not fully understanding his point here, and will therefore not give a rating. However, I would like to stress that Poe was not one for writing any idea directly (as is the way with most poets) , let alone an enigma. Laziness to pursue further meaning in any piece of work is no basis to accuse a cleverly written piece of being too abstract or pointless. As long as the writing pertains logically to the central idea, and it does not have inappropriate references, there is nothing 'killed' here - only an unappreciated style, fitted around the rigid structure of a sonnet. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Harmon (10/26/2009 4:27:00 PM)

    Are you intending your last two sentences to be insults aimed indirectly, but personally, at me, Mr. Ahearn? Or did you intend them to be direct, and therefore frontal, assaults? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Harmon (10/26/2009 1:58:00 PM)

    No one questions the meaning of the title.
    Perhaps, the perplexing part is why Poe thought anyone but him (and his dedicatee, Sarah Anna Lewis) would have any esthetic interest in figuring out the 'enigma'. Once figured out, what is the insight, truth, beauty, or point of the poem which lends itself to a rereading, which most good poems, by the very nature of their being good, entice us to do?

    As I said, in poetry, cleverness kills. And, I believe, the word is 'critics'. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Harmon (10/26/2009 9:30:00 AM)

    A fine storyteller (especially for younger teens) . An interesting novelist. Aside from a few poems, not the greatest poet. In poetry, cleverness kills. I agree with Kevin. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Guybrush Threepwood (10/26/2009 8:49:00 AM)

    Isn't it funny how the concerns intelligent men had concerning art and society way back in the day are often the exact concerns we have today? Goes to show how good intelligent men are at changing things they don't like in society and art-or maybe that's just writers. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (10/26/2009 6:38:00 AM)

    This poem needs about a dozen footnotes to be comprehensible. It sounds clever, and is well-written, but do I want to pursue its meaning further? No! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (10/26/2009 1:46:00 AM)

    Yes, truly Poe says the present trend in poetry writing in the past itself! Only trash, trivial and nonsense are taking a large portion of poetry making it impossible to say even an half profound idea ever! Indeed it is an enigma now! (Report) Reply

Read all 28 comments »

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