Edgar Allan Poe
December 8, 1926
The recent revival of interest in Poe has brought to light a good deal of new information about him and supplied us for the first time with a serious interpretation of his personal career, but it has so far entirely failed to explain why we should still want to read him.
To teach is always to be in the middle of the next story. This realization strikes me anew every autumn, as the days lose more light and my students accelerate into the end-of-semester scramble. Then, suddenly, it’s finished. But, as the old year breathes out all around me in a welter of regret, missed opportunities, and diminished returns, I already have my eye on the next class, the next batch of students, the chance to do it all again—maybe better.
The hero sails to far exotic shores, returns in triumph with a princess and a prize. This is the archetypal European Quest whose classic formulation is the Myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece. The theme has minor variations—as when the fleece becomes a Holy Grail—but the center remains: despite the setbacks and the losses he may suffer on the way, the hero brings his treasure-laden Argo back to port. The quest succeeds. Thus when the Renaissance explorers left to seek great riches in the lands beyond horizons on the west, their ultimate success seemed foreordained.