…what a world of happiness their harmony foretells

It was a tradition that lasted 60 years.  And then it stopped in 2009.

Every January 19th (starting in 1949, or so it’s believed) a mysterious visitor, clad in black, his face obscured by a scarf, with a silver tipped cane in his hand, would furtively appear from the early morning shadows in the churchyard of Baltimore’s Westminster Church. He would leave three roses on the original (as opposed to “new”) gravestone of Edgar Allan Poe…then pour himself a glass of Martell cognac, raise a toast and, after leaving the bottle next to the roses, he would vanish back into the darkness.

Despite the presence of a growing crowd of reporters and Poe enthusiasts through the years, the man’s (or more likely father and son’s) identity remains a mystery. According to the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Society (who bore witness to every visitation from 1976 on) the “Toaster” as he came to be called, was stealthy and specific, always making a “certain” quiet gesture at the grave, always arranging the flowers in a certain, unique pattern.  When impostors (known as “Faux Toasters”) began to appear in the years after 2009, they were immediately recognized as such because:

  1. They arrived in full sight of those waiting to observe the spectacle,
  2. They didn’t used the “Toaster’s” specific gestures at the grave,
  3. They didn’t follow the precise pattern of the Toaster’s flower arrangement .

And of course there has been a great deal of “expert” interpretation throughout it all. The year 1949 is noteworthy as it marked the 100th anniversary of Poe’s perplexing death in 1849.  While January 19th is Poe’s birthday, and January 19th,  2009 marked his 200th birthday.

Which just goes to show the eternal effects of tortured genius. Certainly in his short, rather difficult life, Poe was all that.  He was also la literary pioneer in multiple fiction genres, including: Mystery, Macabre (yes), Detective Fiction and Science Fiction. And he was a well-respected literary critic.

Then there was Poetry, the “aesthetic art of literary language.”   Regardless of the opinions of those (sometimes pompous) Transcendentalists, who derisively referred to him as the “Jingle Man”  (…but then, he didn’t much like them either), Edgar Allan Poe was a masterful poet who adhered to strict mathematical reasoning within his work.

Noting that theorists have long used mathematics to understand musical form; he used similar calculated rhythms when employing assonance and alliteration. The world recognizes “The Raven” as a shining example, but here’s another marvel (for which he received $15 in 1848), that wasn’t published until after his death in 1849.

As performed by a truly authentic (and tortured) genius of the next century, the much lamented Phil Ochs, this slightly syncopated musical adaptation of  Poe’s “The Bells” was included on Ochs’ seminal 1964 album, “All the News That’s Fit to Sing”.   

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Saturday 15 June

The Bells

 Hear the sledges with the bells

Silver bells

What a world of merriment

Their melody foretells

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle

In the icy air of night

All the heavens seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight

Keeping time, time, time

With a sort of Runic rhyme

From the tintinnabulation

That so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells

 Hear the mellow wedding bells

Golden bells

What a world of happiness

Their harmony foretells

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight

Through the dances and the yells

And the rapture that impels

How it swells

How it dwells

On the future

How it tells

From the swinging and the ringing of the molten golden bells

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

Of the rhyming and the chiming of the bells

Hear the loud alarum bells

Brazen bells

What a tale of terror now

Their turbulence tells

Much too horrified to speak

Oh, they can only shriek

For all the ears to know

How the danger ebbs and flows

Leaping higher, higher, higher

With a desperate desire

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire

With the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

With the clamor and the clanging of the bells

 Hear the tolling of the bells

Iron bells

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels

For all the sound that floats

From the rust within our throats

And the people sit and groan

In their muffled monotone

And the tolling, tolling, tolling

Feels a glory in the rolling

From the throbbing and the sobbing

Of the melancholy bells

Oh, the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

Oh, the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

 Hear the sledges with the bells

Silver bells

What a world of merriment

Their melody foretells

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle

In the icy air of night

All the heavens seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight

Keeping time, time, time

With a sort of Runic rhyme

From the tintinnabulation

That so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells

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