On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known work met its public for the first time. It was an odd piece about a black bird with a penchant for repetition and a man pining for a lost love named Lenore—whose name, conveniently, rhymed with nevermore. “The Raven” involved complexity of rhyme amid a setting of supernatural fear and horror. Its publication dramatically increased Poe’s popularity, but only moderately affected his life: he died four years later in October, 1849. He was forty.
Seems that, like the narrator of “The Raven,” we’re all pondering “weak and weary” these days. Barack Obama used to talk about “teachable moments,” but those have been supplanted by Trump’s “ponderable moments”—in which we wonder aloud how we ever got here.
Sometimes we internalize these ponderable moments, and there’s one coming up tomorrow. I mean, of course, the State of the Union address. Now we all know that the state of the union is essentially a dog’s breakfast at this point, but when I was teaching I used to remind my students it was their civic duty to watch it.
I don’t think I could say that today. It’s not that I would oppose everything the president says (though that appears likely) but the person who delivers any speech at such an august occasion must possess at least a shred of credibility. Donald Trump has none, and I don’t think he can reclaim it in the next thirty-three hours; in fact with a day and a half to go, he is bound to lie at least eight more times—if current trends hold.
And yet, if I don’t watch it, how can I comment intelligently or at least knowledgeably?
•I could read the transcript afterwards, but I probably won’t.
•I could watch it closed-captioned so that I wouldn’t have to hear his Stepford-Wives monotone, but I probably wouldn’t.
•I could follow Twitter comments, and although good tweets inject some humor into it, in the end he’s still going to be president.
Or there’s Poe—no stranger to depravity and horror. He just never thought the president of the United States would embody those two characteristics.
So then, what to do?
•Maybe a quick read-through of “The Raven” followed by “The Fall of the House of Usher” would cheer you up: if we can’t rely on premature burial and a hint of incest to take our minds off even worse things, where are we?
•If you plan to make the evening tolerable with a little Cabernet or Pinot Noir, may I recommend “The Cask of Amontillado.” Yes, Amontillado is a sherry, but let’s not nitpick; after all, the tale has not only that claustrophobic interment, but also adds a dollop of drunkenness. Cheers!
•And if Trump is still babbling when you’ve gone through your readings, then finish with “The Masque of the Red Death,” an unpleasant little narrative featuring a disease in which blood oozes from the pores, ruining an otherwise festive evening and leaving its victims…well…indisposed. It ends “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Now I haven’t read Trump’s text for tomorrow night, but I’d imagine it ends pretty much like that.