Many details of Edgar Allan Poe’s scientific treatment of the universe in “Eureka” has flaws which we may today see as errors. However, the value of this masterpiece lies primarily in the concise method of fruitful thinking showcased throughout and the broad universal principles of order, beauty, goodness, and creativity which Poe makes intelligible to the reader.

“What I here propound is true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting. Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.”

–Edgar Poe, Preface to Eureka

Edgar Poe is known for many things, but an epistemological warrior is not usually one of them. However, it is only when one escapes from the narrow characterization of Poe as a “master of the macabre,” which has been pummeled into mass psyche for over 170 years, that we are able to begin to appreciate the universal character of Poe as both a renaissance man and political revolutionary who engaged in the highest form of cultural warfare in defense of America’s greatest founding principles and in opposition to all systems of empire.

Poe’s design for the Stylus.

Nowhere was this made more clear than in Poe’s last (and least known) essay, written mere months before the artist was bizarrely struck by a mysterious “sickness” which led to his death a few days later under extremely suspect circumstances, en route from Virginia to New York, where he had planned to set up a new type of magazine known as The Stylus. Having tirelessly collected $1,500 in subscriptions from supporters in Virginia, Poe was finally about to embark upon a new phase of his life’s mission, which he had described as “the one great purpose of my literary life,” adding “undoubtedly (unless I die) I will accomplish it.”

Poe’s creation of his own magazine would liberate him from the shackles of editorial constraints for the first time in his life. Following the guiding model of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack and his beloved Friedrich Schiller’s journal, Thalia, Poe’s new magazine was to provide a cultural mass education of the population using drama, poetry, science, and the arts, as well as acting, as a platform for great republican artists and thinkers to rally around during a time of profound crisis in America’s history, teetering as it was upon the precipice of dissolution which would explode within a matter of 12 years in the form of the Civil War.

Describing his new journal, Poe stated in his prospectus:

“The Stylus will include about one hundred royal octavo pages, in single column, per month; forming two thick volumes per year. In its mechanical appearance — in its typography, paper and binding — it will far surpass all American journals of its kind . . . It will discuss not only the Belles-Lettres, but, very thoroughly, the Fine Arts, with the Drama: and, more in brief, will give, each month, a Retrospect of our Political History. It will enlist the loftiest talent, but employ it not always in the loftiest — at least not always in the most pompous or Puritanical way. It will aim at affording a fair and not dishonorable field for the true intellect of the land, without reference to the mere prestige of celebrated names. It will support the general interests of the Republic of Letters, and insist upon regarding the world at large as the sole proper audience for the author. It will resist the dictation of Foreign Reviews. It will eschew the stilted dullness of our own Quarterlies, and while it may, if necessary, be no less learned, will deem it wiser to be less anonymous, and difficult to be more dishonest, than they.”

Poe’s intention to break the practice of anonymous authorship was especially important in the 1840s as magazines like the Southern Literary Messenger and Graham’s Magazine rarely published their authors’ names, and this anonymity made it extremely easy to slander and lie without remorse, to the detriment of the minds and morals of the population and thereby the nation’s moral fitness to survive (a modern analogue to this problem can be found in any issue of the London Economist featuring the prolific authorship of the “red square”).

While a fuller account of Poe’s lesser-known political activities from his 1830 involvement in France’s aborted second revolution through his 20 year career was brilliantly showcased by the pioneering research of Allan Salisbury (1949-1992) and delivered in a 2019 lecture by this author, for today’s purposes I would like to focus merely on Poe’s vision as outlined in his Stylus Prospectus and final essay known as Eureka.[1]

Eureka: A Prose Poem was intended by Poe to be the governing philosophical manifesto that would guide the spirit of the Stylus and was based upon a series of February 1848 lectures delivered by Poe in New York entitled, “The Cosmography of the Universe.”[2] A newspaper covering the lecture stated this directly:

We understand that the purpose of Poe’s lectures is to raise the necessary capital for the establishment of a magazine, which he proposes to call “The Stylus.” They who like literature without trammels, and criticism without gloves, should sent in their names forthwith as subscribers. If there be in the world a born anatomist of thought, it is Mr. Poe . . . The severe difficulties with which Mr. Poe has been visited within the last year, have left him in a position to devote himself, self-sacrificingly, to his new task . . . he will doubtless give it that most complete attention which alone can make such an enterprise successful.[3]

Since this little-known essay (usually left out of collected works of Poe) held such importance in the mind of its author, who went so far as to call it “the one great purpose in my literary life,” it is very much worth inspecting its contents with more than a little care. Before we do this, a few words of context are in order.

Uncovering the Real Edgar Poe

Poe had always been fascinated by the nature of mind, identity, and the harmonies or disharmonies that generate healthy and unhealthy states of being. Within his short stories, this exploration often focused upon the mind’s capacity to fall into perversions of its higher divine nature. In the same way that any doctor must inquire into the multifaceted nature of illness before coming to ever clearer concepts of health, so too must all of Poe’s “haunting” tales of macabre be inspected. Whether we are investigating the inner workings of the minds of protagonists of such tales as the “Imp of the Perverse,” “Tell Tale Heart,” “Cask of Amontilado,” “The Black Cat,”
 or “William Wilson,” Poe always brings the reader into an insight of the self-deluding mind of a sick soul—and most importantly how an ignorance to one’s own undiagnosed self-delusions always leads quite lawfully to one’s own downfall.[4]

Without such insight, no citizen could properly understand the potential for evil either within himself or the evil nature of political powers influencing nations, which every great thinker has recognized as a top-down fact shaping world history.

On this higher quality of evil of which any lover of freedom must be aware in order to navigate through the dangerous world of politics, Poe brilliantly laid the perverse and tragic oligarchical psyche bare in such stories as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death.”[5]

In the former story, a young and depressed nobleman named Roderick Usher invites a childhood friend to his family’s castle wherein Usher yearned to find a glimmer of that happiness last experienced during his childhood. Roderick embodies the stagnant and fixed psychological impulses of the European nobility as he finds himself stuck between two worlds: the new world of technological progress, optimism, and creative growth in which his friend lives, and which characterized in so many ways 19th century America, and the archaic fantasies of the past grandeur of Roderick’s high bloodline, embodied in the image of the derelict and crumbling castle. Ultimately, Roderick is unable to break from his hereditary roots and the disintegration of the castle with the sad barren twins inside (Roderick and his creepy sister) symbolize the end of oligarchical systems.

In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe performs a similar exposure of the self-destructive nature of oligarchs who may try to hide from the effects of plague that their rapacious systems of exploitation bring onto victim populations. Even hermetically-sealed as they are within their castles, living in orgiastic glamour, they ultimately cannot escape the destruction they wish was reserved for their slaves.

Within his stories, essays, and poems, Poe probes the depths of the human heart and mind, while his themes frequently orbit around mankind’s unique capacity to make creative discoveries. Following the guiding light of all great tragedians, it is the failure to make those discoveries that leads to the dismal outcomes often portrayed in his “morbid” stories.

As we shall soon come to see, Poe understood too well that not only does this “eureka power” distinguish mankind from other forms of animals, but it also gives mankind the ability to leap beyond the senses, and see with the mind’s eye where the invisible flaws exist within systems of laws of nations as well as systems of logic that we use to navigate our understanding of the universe. It is only by discoveries of these flaws which prevent our happiness and true creative nature from coming into being that true knowledge and solutions can be generated within one guided by a spirit of honesty. This capacity to recognize the failures of the mind to make the sorts of non-linear discoveries for which it was designed is the focus of many of Poe’s works, but the clearest example is to be found in his character Inspector Dupin, and the story of “The Purloined Letter.”[6]

Inspector Dupin: Archetype of the Creative Mind

In “The Purloined Letter,” Poe’s character Inspector C. Auguste Dupin embodies the highest calibre of creative, healthy mind, which is contrasted with the French prefect and an armada of police officers who are locked in the invisible cage of sterile deductive/inductive logic, forever unable to make a discovery and solve a mysterious criminal case. In the story, the exasperated prefect seeks the assistance of Dupin after weeks of painstakingly searching the home of a figure who is the prime suspect in the theft of a letter which holds vast political ramifications (and vast rewards if it is recovered). The inspector describes in agonizing detail how his officers have spent weeks taking apart every segment of the suspect’s home in search of the letter . . . but to no avail.

The prefect describes how his men have investigated every square inch of the residence:

“We took our time,” he said. “First, we examined the furniture in every room. We opened all the drawers. We looked under the rugs. We searched behind all the paintings on the walls. We opened every book. We removed the boards of the floor. We even took the tops off the tables to see if he had hidden the letter in the table legs. But we cannot find it. What do you advise me to do?”

Every technique of inquiry known to them has been exhausted and their failure has caused them to seek Dupin’s help.

After some days elapse, Dupin uncovers the letter and gives it to the prefect, who giddily pays Dupin the generous reward, leaving the inspector’s home, letter in hand. Dupin’s friend (and the story’s narrator) sits awestruck as to how this feat occurred. Dupin then explains how he was able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task by first sharing his insight into the failures of the thinking of the prefect and officers:

“The Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they would have hidden it. They are right in this much—that their own ingenuity is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own, and very usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle in their investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual emergency—by some extraordinary reward—they extend or exaggerate their old modes of practice, without touching their principles.”

While I will not ruin the story for you, as no summary could replace the subjective act of reading the work as Poe intended it, it is safe to say that Poe’s positive insight into the nature of the culprit gave him the power to discover what no deductive/inductive thinker could accomplish. Here Dupin notes that the culprit has won renown as both a poet and master of the differential calculus, stating:

“I know him well; he is both. As poet and mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect.”

It was Dupin’s insight into the failure of linear mathematical logic and the healthy maturation of scientific and aesthetic capacities that true creative leaps into discovery concepts may occur. Although expressed most transparently in “The Purloined Letter,” this theme is replicated beautifully in Poe’s short stories “Descent into the Maelstrom,” “The System of Dr. Tar and Professor Feather,” “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” “The Murders on the Rue Morgue,” and “the Gold Bug” . . . to name but a few.[7]

This brings us to the primary subject of our current investigation: “Eureka.”

A More Than Metaphysical Prose Poem

Poe chose to call his great essay “a Prose Poem” and subtitled it “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe,” dedicating it to the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

In the Preface of “Eureka,” Poe states provocatively:

I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: — let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem. What I here propound is true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting.” Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.

This essay courageously proposes to accomplish two herculean tasks which Poe had, up until this moment, accomplished only indirectly within his artistic works: 1) To demonstrate how the laws of man’s creative reason are in harmony with the laws organizing the entire universe and 2) That the best way to fall off of the path leading to an understanding of those laws of mind and creation are located in the two-fold beliefs in deductive and inductive reasoning. Like Plato’s Timaeus, or Cusa’s De Docta Ignorantia, many details of Poe’s scientific treatment of the universe has flaws which, 170 years later, we may review with 20/20 vision to be errors. However, the value of this masterpiece lies primarily in the concise method of fruitful thinking showcased throughout and the broad universal principles of Order, Beauty, Goodness, and creativity which Poe makes intelligible to the reader.

Within the opening pages, Poe establishes a coherence of the specific states of man and our perceptions with the general/universal states of the universe and warns the reader that this exercise will bring into question some of the most “reverenced of men,” saying:

I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical — of the Material and Spiritual Universe: — of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men.

Promising to resolve the apparent ancient paradox of the One, Many, and Infinite—in whose states exist all things, first treated by Plato, Poe says:

In illustration of this idea, I propose to take such a survey of the Universe that the mind may be able really to receive and to perceive an individual impression.

Calling the reader to imagine him or herself spinning around atop Mount Aetna so fast that the multitude of particulars become an increasing one, Poe then extends this image to the entirety of creation beyond the particulars of our earthly home, saying:

The Earth would be considered in its planetary relations alone. A man, in this view, becomes mankind; mankind a member of the cosmical family of Intelligences.

Since the very term “Universe” is so broad and often conceptualized in its purely material characteristics, Poe takes the time to define the term “universe” according to “the utmost conceivable expanse of space, with all things, spiritual and material, that can be imagined to exist within the compass of that expanse.”

Creeping and Crawling: False Reasoning Exposed

After establishing his motive, and definitions for his grand inquiry, Poe begins his narrative from the voice of a figure 1,000 years in the future reading a letter found floating in the ocean by an unnamed character who begins to serve as the poem’s narrator. This letter describes an age (much like our own) where the citizens of the earth were told they had two paths to follow in their pursuit of truth: Deductive/a priori and Inductive/a posteriori; the fathers of either path Poe identifies as Aristotle, Euclid, Emmanuel Kant, and Francis Bacon.

“Do you know that it is scarcely more than eight or nine hundred years ago since the metaphysicians first consented to relieve the people of the singular fancy that there exist but two practicable roads to Truth? Believe it if you can! It appears, however, that long, long ago, in the night of Time, there lived a Turkish philosopher called Aries and surnamed Tottle.” [Here, possibly, the letter-writer means Aristotle; the best names are wretchedly corrupted in two or three thousand years.] “The fame of this great man depended mainly upon his demonstration that sneezing is a natural provision, by means of which over-profound thinkers are enabled to expel superfluous ideas through the nose; but he obtained a scarcely less valuable celebrity as the founder, or at all events as the principal propagator, of what was termed the deductive or à priori philosophy. He started with what he maintained to be axioms, or self-evident truths: — and the now well understood fact that no truths are self-evident, really does not make in the slightest degree against his speculations: — it was sufficient for his purpose that the truths in question were evident at all. From axioms he proceeded, logically, to results. His most illustrious disciples were one Tuclid, a geometrician” [meaning Euclid] “and one Kant, a Dutchman, the originator of that species of Transcendentalism which, with the change merely of a C for a K, now bears his peculiar name.

“Well, Aries Tottle flourished supreme, until the advent of one Hog, surnamed ‘the Ettrick shepherd,’ who preached an entirely different system, which he called the à posteriori or inductive. His plan referred altogether to sensation. He proceeded by observing, analyzing, and classifying facts — instantiæ Naturæ, as they were somewhat affectedly called — and arranging them into general laws.”

Left to right: Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Paolo Sarpi. All three figures pioneered modes of deductive/inductive thinking which forever kept its practitioners barred from the realm of creative reason.

Having identified with biting humor those two false paths which lead to the corruption of minds and morals of those who are induced to adopt them, Poe then characterized them as forms of “creeping vs crawling.” Where Aristotle represented the a priori school of deductive reasoning (starting with unproven general assumptions then arranging sense perception—also known as creeping), Bacon represented the a posteriori school of inductive reasoning (starting with patterns in sense perception then making conclusions about general laws—also known as crawling). This path had been earlier pioneered by the Venetian Paolo Sarpi a few years earlier which Rising Tide President Cynthia Chung showcased in her Study on Schiller’s Ghostseer.[8]

Poe attacked either path as “plain, baseless, worthless and fantastic altogether as on account of their pompous and infatuate proscription of all other roads to Truth than the two narrow and crooked paths — the one of creeping and the other of crawling — to which, in their ignorant perversity, they have dared to confine the Soul — the Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition which are utterly incognizant of ‘path.’ ”

Within his essay Poe contrasts these stagnant modes with the more potent creative method of intuitive leaps that allow the soul to “soar” with his narrator, saying:

You can easily understand how restrictions so absurd on their very face must have operated, in those days, to retard the progress of true Science, which makes its most important advances — as all History will show — by seemingly intuitive leaps.

Soaring with Kepler

Poe then contrasts these false schools of thought with the exemplary mind of the musician-scientist Johannes Kepler’s musical discovery of universal gravitation as proof of the soul’s ability to soar above the shackles of logic, and leap intuitively into “eureka moments,” saying:

Kepler admitted that these laws he guessed — these laws whose investigation disclosed to the greatest of British astronomers that principle, the basis of all (existing) physical principle, in going behind which we enter at once the nebulous kingdom of Metaphysics. Yes! — these vital laws Kepler guessed — that it is to say, he imagined them. Had he been asked to point out either the deductive or inductive route by which he attained them, his reply might have been — ‘I know nothing about routes — but I do know the machinery of the Universe. Here it is. I grasped it with my soul — I reached it through mere dint of intuition.

The narrator of the letter continues to describe the heresy of Kepler’s method in the eyes of the scientific priesthood and quotes Kepler’s prayer from his Harmonice Mundi (1619), saying:

“Yes, Kepler was essentially a theorist; but this title, now of so much sanctity, was, in those ancient days, a designation of supreme contempt. It is only now that men begin to appreciate that divine old man — to sympathize with the prophetical and poetical rhapsody of his ever-memorable words. For my part,” continues the unknown correspondent, “I glow with a sacred fire when I even think of them, and feel that I shall never grow weary of their repetition: — in concluding this letter, let me have the real pleasure of transcribing them once again: — ‘I care not whether my work be read now or by posterity. I can afford to wait a century for readers when God himself has waited six thousand years for an observer. I triumph. I have stolen the golden secret of the Egyptians. I will indulge my sacred fury.’ ”[9]

Johannes Kepler and his musical model of the solar system from whence he derived his 3 planetary laws.

Poe was not ignorant to the political realities of apparently “scientific or philosophical” issues, and extended his ironical fire to the school of imperial Political Economists John Stewart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, who applied the radically reductionist sciences of creeping and crawling to the domain of global social control on behalf of the British Empire, to which they were both beholden.

Poe knew that through their radical adherence to the dual paths of “creeping” and “crawling,” these “political economists” denied not only creativity, but also the fact that humanity can uniquely translate the fruits of those creative discoveries into new forms of scientific and technological progress which have the effect of increasing our species’ ability to transcend our “limits to growth” (or as modern neo-Malthusians have termed our “carrying capacity”).

The British East India Company’s Thomas Malthus whose “principle of population” at right is a consequence of his commitment to the belief that only deductive/inductive reasoning exists, but not the sort of creative discoveries championed by Plato, Kepler, or Poe.

Tuning to the Mind of the Creator

Having cleared the field of false modes of reasoning, Poe prepares to finally begin his grand exploration of the universe, making the point that he will endeavor to apply a form of reasoning that takes advantage of both paths, yet is not limited to either, as he says he will at times move from the Earthly realm of senses (multiplicity) upward to the whole (oneness), and at times from the whole (oneness) downwards to the infinite array of particulars. Here Poe says:

This thesis admits a choice between two modes of discussion: — We may ascend or descend . . . In combining the two modes of discussion to which I have referred, I propose to avail myself of the advantages peculiar to each — and very especially of the iteration in detail which will be unavoidable as a consequence of the plan.

Poe next takes a moment to explore the often-misused meaning of the word “Infinite,” breaking it free of the shackles of a merely quantitative concept which forever eludes the human mind’s capacity to wrap around it, and instead re-defines it as a yearning towards something shared by all humanity:

Let us begin, then, at once, with that merest of words, “Infinity.” This, like “God,” “spirit,” and some other expressions of which the equivalents exist in all languages, is by no means the expression of an idea — but of an effort at one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception. Man needed a term by which to point out the direction of this effort — the cloud behind which lay, forever invisible, the object of this attempt. A word, in fine, was demanded, by means of which one human being might put himself in relation at once with another human being and with a certain tendency of the human intellect. Out of this demand arose the word, “Infinity;” which is thus the representative but of the thought of a thought.

By tying the concept of the infinite to a striving and thinking about the nature of thought, Poe introduces a profound philosophical idea of constant self-perfectibility which was shared by those founding fathers of America who established a nation around the concept of “a more perfect union.” An Aristotelian, Kantian, or Baconian would scoff at the notion—for how could something be “perfect” before it was improved? Absurd . . . every logician knows that something can only be A or not A, but never both!

Once the concept of “Infinite” is liberated from unbounded linearity, Poe details the dispute between the two schools of theologians who deal with the difficult term “Causality.” Of course, everyone knows that every “effect” can be “caused” by a previous “effect” in the material world ad infinitum, but Poe demands we break from such material considerations following Socrates’ lessons in the famous dialogue Phaedo (or “On the Immortality of the Soul”), and make the leap into final causes . . . which are uniquely located in the metaphysical domain of intentions and ideas.[10] Both Plato’s Socrates and Poe make the point that these intentions and ideas are themselves made possible by their participation in the greater mind of God, as creator of the universe as well as the self-reflective part of that universe we call “humanity.” Again exposing the false two paths that try to reduce cause by infinite material regressions on one extreme versus those lazy-minded theologians who skip all considerations of science in order give “God” credit for all effects (including the existence of evil), Poe says:

And what is a First Cause? An ultimate termination of causes. And what is an ultimate termination of causes? Finity — the Finite. Thus the one quibble, in two processes, by God knows how many philosophers, is made to support now Finity and now Infinity — could it not be brought to support something besides?

This something besides is again tackled by Poe’s paradoxical definition of the bounded Infiniteness of space in the Universe. Citing the example of the scientist philosopher Blaise Pascal, who himself derived this notion of the universe from the great theologian Nicholas of Cusa, and Plato’s Timaeus, Poe describes the universe’s general character as a geometric concept of a sphere without bounds.[11]

“It is a sphere,” he [Pascal] says, “of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference, nowhere.” But although this intended definition is, in fact, no definition of the Universe of stars, we may accept it, with some mental reservation, as a definition (rigorous enough for all practical purposes) of the Universe proper — that is to say, of the Universe of space. This latter, then, let us regard as “a sphere of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”

But HOW does this ironical concept of the universe and finite infiniteness assist us in comprehending the Mind of God? Again, the reductionist would scoff and conclude that Poe’s idea of God is an absurd self-contradiction—attempting to be both A and not A.

The reductionist continues his line of thinking: If God exists prior to the supposed beginning of the universe, then doesn’t it mean that this God is some type of composite with parts? Was this composite not itself created? Does it not itself exist in some form of pre-existent “universe” of space and time that already had existence? How were those created? Is this not absurd?

Here Poe recognizes the transcendental nature of God and Man by establishing that such paradoxes are the artifacts of attempting to extend laws of the material world into considerations of the divine and impose the bounded-finite concepts derived from our material world (Plato’s realm of Becoming) onto the Eternal realm of Being. Again following Plato’s Timaeus, Poe states that it is wiser to start with the simple (not compound) notions of creation that give meaning to all, and unity to the multitude array of multiplicity, and order to the infinite chaos of existence. Here he invokes concepts of Platonic forms and Leibniz’s Monad to infer what he calls his one assumption: that simplicity . . . that oneness, is primary to all creation. For without those simple states of being, then no categorization or generalizations upon which science and all practical thought exists would ever be possible.

Let me recur to the idea which I have already suggested as that alone which we can properly entertain of intuition. It is but the conviction arising from those inductions or deductions of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape our consciousness, elude our reason, or defy our capacity of expression. With this understanding, I now assert—that an intuition altogether irresistible, although inexpressible, forces me to the conclusion that what God originally created—that that Matter which, by dint of his Volition, he first made from his Spirit, or from Nihility, could have been nothing but Matter in its utmost conceivable state of—what?—of Simplicity? . . . In such arrangement, under such conditions, we most easily and immediately comprehend the subsequent most feasible carrying out to completion of any such design as that which I have suggested—the design of variety out of unity—diversity out of sameness—heterogeneity out of homogeneity—complexity out of simplicity—in a word, the utmost possible multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelative One.

What concepts of God, Will, and Time flow from this idea of Oneness? Poe breaks from all nihilistic impressions so popularly associated with him, saying:

That Nature and the God of Nature are distinct, no thinking being can long doubt. By the former we imply merely the laws of the latter. But with the very idea of God, omnipotent, omniscient, we entertain, also, the idea of the infallibility of his laws. With Him there being neither Past nor Future — with Him all being Now — do we not insult him in supposing his laws so contrived as not to provide for every possible contingency? — or, rather, what idea can we have of any possible contingency, except that it is at once a result and a manifestation of his laws? He who, divesting himself of prejudice, shall have the rare courage to think absolutely for himself, cannot fail to arrive, in the end, at the condensation of laws into Law — cannot fail of reaching the conclusion that each law of Nature is dependent at all points upon all other laws, and that all are but consequences of one primary exercise of the Divine Volition.

A Parting Poetic Thought

I would like to leave it to the reader to work through the body of Eureka on his own to properly appreciate the depth and power of Poe’s under-appreciated intellect and follow his treatment of such advanced topics as galaxy formation, the evolution of systems of galaxies, the science of vortices, electricity, Leibniz’s metaphysics, Keplerian gravitation, and the interconnection of spirit to matter. This study is, after all, not meant to be a substitute for Eureka, but rather an inspiration for all readers to dive into the profound depths of Poe’s metaphysical insights. Before ending this essay, I would like to leave off with Poe’s beautiful insight into the nature of Poetry as a governing principle of the Universe itself, where Truth becomes co-equal with Beauty, following Keats’ mandate from “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”[12]

It is the poetical essence of the Universe — of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: — thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth — true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but a absolute truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles which determine and control them.

In breaking the mind free from expectations of “pure logic,” Poe calls on mankind to awaken within our hearts those universal artistic principles that bring our species into ever greater tuning with both creation and the Creator.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

Notes:

[1] Allen Salisbury, “Edgar Allan Poe: The Lost Soul of America,” The Campaigner 14, no. 3 (June 1981): pp. 16-39; “Symposium: The Edgar A. Poe You Never Knew,” The Rising Tide Foundation.

[2] Edgar A. Poe, Eureka: A Prose Poem (New York, NY: Putnam, 1848).

[3] Eugene L. Didier, The Life and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, NY: W.J. Widdleton, 1879): p. 196.

[4] Edgar A. Poe, “The Imp of the Perverse,” published by PoeStories.com; “The Tell-tale Heart,” published by Rising Tide Foundation; “The Cask of Amontillado,” published by Owl Eyes; “The Black Cat,” published by PoeStories.com; “William Wilson,” published by PoeStories.com.

[5] Edgar A. Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” published by PoeStories.com; “The Masque of the Red Death,” published by Rising Tide Foundation.

[6] Edgar A. Poe, “The Purloined Letter,” published by Rising Tide Foundation.

[7] Edgar A. Poe, “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” published by Internet Archive; “The System of Dr. Tar and Professor Fether,” published by Rising Tide Foundation; “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” published by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore; “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore; “The Gold Bug,” published by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

[8] Cynthia Chung, “A Study of Schiller’s Ghost Seer Part I,” Rising Tide Foundation, n.d.

[9] To read Johannes Kepler’s “Harmonice Mundi,” click here.

[10] Plato, Phaedo, trans. Benjamin Jowett, The Internet Classics Archive.

[11] Plato, The Timaeus of Plato, ed. R.D. Archer-Hind (New York, NY: Macmillan and Co., 1888).

[12] John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Poetry Foundation.

The featured image is an 1845 portrait of Edgar Allan Poe by Frederick Stuart.

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