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How cryptography and poetry are linked


Having an epiphany about Edgar Allan Poe
Richard Wilbur Poet
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I had an epiphany at Monte Cassino where we were all dug into the ground in the valley which led to the monastery of Monte Cassino. One spent much time underground under those circumstances, and I did a bit of reading. I happened to have, I don't know why, a paperback volume of Edgar Allan Poe and lying there under somewhat scary circumstances, dozing off and waking up repeatedly, I found myself understanding some things about Poe which I had never understood before. I noticed that in his tales, though some of them were about sea voyages and some of them were about land travels and some of them were about finding one's way through buildings, there was... there was always a stage at which one was proceeding by winding paths or winding streams or winding interiors. And the winding paths I noticed always culminated in a vortex of some kind, a maelstrom sometimes, at other times a maelstrom of fire. It began to appear to me that what Poe was doing was finding concrete ways of expressing the stages of the mind entering sleep and approaching the visionary condition. As time went on, I refined my sense of that discovery and convinced myself that I had really been right about it and ultimately, years later, did a good deal of writing and teaching about Edgar Allan Poe.

Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: Montecassino, Edgar Allan Poe

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008