Monday, December 08, 2008

Fanny: An Interpretation

Fanny
by Edgar Allan Poe

The dying swan by northern lakes
Sings its wild death song, sweet and clear,
And as the solemn music breaks
O'er hill and glen dissolves in air;
Thus musical thy soft voice came,
Thus trembled on thy tongue my name.

Like sunburst through the ebon cloud,
Which veils the solemn midnight sky,
Piercing cold evening's sable shroud
Thus came the first glance of that eye;
But like adamantine rock,
My spirit met and braved the shock.

Let memory the boy recall
Who laid his heart upon thy shrine,
When far away his footsteps fall,
Think that he deem'd thy charms divine;
A victim of love's altar slain,
By witching eyes which looked disdain.


Why did Edgar Allan Poe write a poem about somebody's ass? That is what I thought when I read the title of this poem - Fanny. Poe, it seemed to me, had too much class to write about something so trashy. Although his other works tended to concern the macabre and the psycho-gruesome, his approach had seemed sophisticated. The fact is that old Edgar was a guy, and that "class" was feigned. You knew at some point his true nature would surface. And surface it did; in the form of Fanny. It's not a pretty sight.

Guys like women's asses. If we had the talent, I'm sure we would all write a poem or two praising them. Since the majority of us aren't as gifted as Poe, our verses are manifested in whistles, howls and grunts. Sadly, our efforts aren't as appreciated as of those who can paint with a quill. Fanny is no more than a primal grunt from Poe as he wallowed in the inescapable truth of his maleness.

After reading Fanny I was confused. Not one mention of a butt; not even a cheek. This surprised me, because the word "ass" has many words that rhyme with it: bass, class, gas, glass, lass, mass, etc.. It should have been simple to write a poem using all of those rhymes, not to mention the plethora of rhymes that go with butt, buns, tush, rump, rear end, derriere, gluteus maximus, buttocks and, of course, pooper and turd cutter. Yet, the words in the poem did not seem to live up to the title. I felt disappointed. Instead of giving up, I decided to dig deeper into the hidden meaning of the words on the page. To my delight, Poe, like the master that he was, came through for me.

With most poetry, the meaning is never blatant. Hence the need for interpretation. I gouged the lines of verse to discover Poe's true perspective on the posterior.

The poem presents itself in retrospection of a man looking back on his younger years when he tangled with his attraction to "Fanny", as described in the third stanza: "Let memory the boy recall". The event encoded in memory must have taken place some time in the past, "when far away his footsteps" fell. Obviously, he met someone with a remarkable backside, and he confused his lust for the butt with love for the person who wore the butt. He "deem'd thy charms divine". Literally translated, those charms were an ass made in heaven.

The second stanza describes his first rendezvous with the "Fanny". This gets a little disgusting, so bear with me. Remember, I did not write this poem. I am merely an observer. Also, keep in mind that Poe was bent toward the degenerate side.

In this stanza, he finds himself in the Arctic (I will explain why later), as evidenced by sunburst through the clouds in the "midnight sky". Sun and midnight rarely commingle unless you are near one of the earth's polar regions during the summer. My hunch tells me he was in the north; that's just the kind of guy Poe was. The appearance of the cloudy sky provokes his memory of the initial look at the bung in question: "Thus came the first glance of that eye." In many circles (at least the ones with which I am familiar), the anus is referred to as "the brown eye". Why Poe chose to use this uncouth analogy, one can only guess. So, I will.

At this point in the interpretation process, it helps to have knowledge of the personality of the author. Poe was not very smooth with the ladies. He had a hard time meeting them. One covert strategy he employed was to climb into the pit of the ladies outhouse, pretending to be searching for a lost wallet, with the hopes of initiating a chance encounter. As he was extremely shy, he generally went unnoticed as he floundered in the sewage, too afraid to fulfill his scheme. From this vantage point, Poe had direct view of "the brown eye", if you will. It was during one of these endeavors that he spotted the "eye" of worship and became infatuated with it. You could imagine how the lighting underneath an outhouse might resemble that of a northern evening sky, so I will not offer a graphic description. It is this parallel that stimulates the author's memory to this occasion.

The power of his infatuation or his "spirit"..."like the adamantine rock" vanquished his normal apprehensiveness as it "braved the shock". He pursued and seized the ass and the woman to whom it belonged. Like most relationships based on carnal attraction, this one failed. Focus switches from the single "eye" (her tush), which originally enticed him, to the "witching eyes that looked disdain". Disdain brought about when she finally learned of his cesspit meanderings, which also explained his interesting aroma. He should have known he could not keep his squalid past a secret forever. My guess is that one of his buddies, hopped up on mead, haphazardly blurted it out at a party. She dumped him, leaving him "a victim on love's altar slain".

With a broken soul and pain in his heart, he traveled to the North Pole to introspect. The first stanza begins at this point. After appropriating some of his pent up aggression on the skull of a swan, he takes time to reflect. As he listens from a distance to the wailing of the broken fowl, his retrospection begins. He realizes that the swan's "wild death song" (probably "Killed By Death", by Motorhead) echoes his waning state of being. "Thus trembled on thy tongue my name." I'm not sure if swans have tongues, but it doesn't matter. The metaphor works, and he probably got extra credit for using a personification. It would not have been as effective if he chose to write, "Thus trembled on thy BILL my name". That would have been silly, and Poe would have lost all credibility.

We now know what Poe is telling us. It's an idea that has been around for eons and can be summed up with the old proverb, "Don't let the little head do the thinking for the big head." This philosophy is never a main ingredient in a successful relationship, although it works well as a garnish. Poe's greatness allows him the ability to expand on this adage: "...unless you don't mind becoming distraught, moving to the North Pole and clubbing water fowl".

1 comment:

HR said...

Everyone knows he was writing about how great Baltimore is.