So it’s happened. I’ve read Edgar Allan Poe of my own volition, unassigned.
I would never have considered this as a child, a pre-teen, a teenager, or even as a 20-something—as I am innately repelled by mass appeal, even if that appeal is justified. I’m not a snob. I’m just hard-wired by the movement of the stars to be skeptical of groups, and I have this uncontrollable reflex to do the opposite of what’s supposed to be done.
Now, I may have read one of Poe’s short stories in grade school, in fact, I know I did, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember a title or even the minutest detail of a plot. But interestingly enough, this life-long indifference was nowhere to be found on January 1, 2019 as I took a seemingly innocuous walk in a run-of-the-mill city park.
The park in my hometown is nice enough, but certainly nothing special – neither is the walk. I do it several times a week under the guise of exercise, but really it’s just an excuse to get outside [my head]. The park is surrounded by a hospital, an electrical supply, a fire station, and a butcher (where the sound of a screaming cow can occassionally be heard). I’ve counted at least five pecan trees. There are basketball courts, a playground, a water fountain, many squirrels, some birds – Jays, Scissortailed Fly-Catchers, and Killdeers are a few I know by name – and a concrete path that encircles it all (where I walk while listening to music).
There’s also a Free Little Library that I rarely pay attention to anymore – a little house-shaped structure where you either donate a book or take one. Ours is usually filled with filled romance novels or mediocre children’s books. However on the first day of 2019, its door was slightly ajar, revealing something somewhat atypical. On the top shelf was a very thick book that greatly contrasted the puny books on the lower one, and every time I walked past it, my curiosity about what it could be grew more and more.
What is it? With every lap, I took a guess.
A dictionary made the most sense and I felt this a pretty unexciting, if not straight-up lame, thing to share with the good citizens of Marshall, Texas. On my final lap around, I looked at the book one last time and walked to my car. But something in me didn’t accept this. So, I walked back and discovered an unabridged monster of Edgar Allan Poe’s work.
This shouldn’t have been surprising. It is exactly what you’d expect to find in the Free Little Library of a sleepy, retirement town, along with, say, Dean Koontz or a book of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. But I was still surprised, mostly by this uncanny feeling that the book was there specifically for me. So I took it. And when I got back to my car, I randomly opened it to The Colloquy of Monos and Una, eyes drawn to the opening question, “Born Again?”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the time or place to tell you what that meant to me.
But if I didn’t have my wits about me, I might’ve thrown the book across the car. Instead, I slowly closed it and sat quietly with it in my lap before I drove away.
“The Colloquy of Monos and Una” is not what I expected. Apparently, it’s not what many readers have expected because most seem to hate it. It isn’t a story but rather a post-death dialogue between two characters on the process of dying. It lacks the macabre quality that I had anticipated, offering more of a philosophical contemplation death, with a touch of politics thrown in for good measure.
Though the nature of the relationship between the characters is not elaborated upon, it is clear that they mean an awful lot to each other. Their names, Monos and Una, mean “one” in both Greek and Latin, respectively, alluding to, I imagine, the common belief that the afterlife is a return to a collective or oneness.
Monos succumbs to death’s call first, Una, some undisclosed time after, and it is Monos who details sinking into the “motionless torpor,” at Una’s request. Before going into his account of the physical aspects of transition, Monos beelines into a brief but passionate critique of the gospel of “progress” (couldn’t help but hear Flux Of Pink Indians every time I read these passages), Democracy, industrialization, Utilitarians, and humanity’s crimes against nature. It seems that death has enlightened him as to how we ought to live. Of course this is obviously Poe proselytizing via the voice of Monos. He champions poets, music and intuition, and condemns human logic for steamrolling them. This “vigorous intellect,” as he calls it, got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden, and we, who have inherited the baser aspects of the mind and its need to control, perpetuate this out-of-stepness with the natural laws of the universe, abandoning “poetry” for knowledge.
Not gonna lie, the rant resonates some, but what really resonates with me is the perspective put forth that death is merely a transformation of one’s consciousness. Monos compares death to dreaming several times throughout, and he also makes it known that sentience doesn’t stop or go away – it changes. I’ve had a couple brushes with death myself, both as an observer and as an experiencer of altered consciousness, and I’m hypothesizing that Poe either had a near-death experience or was adept at being out-of-body – maybe as a lucid dreamer, an astral traveler, or a substance abuser.
In no shape, form or fashion is this colloquy a display of Edgar Allan Poe’ storytelling prowess. It feels like something akin to a warning – a call to expand consciousness, an insistence on more mystery in life, a plea for the ineffable to inform the defined world of the living.
Life and death, knowledge and intuition, light and shadow, are all two sides of the Great One, who’s embodied reunion, according to Poe, may save us from self-destruction and usher in collective rebirth. Maybe this is nothing more than the paranoid rant of an unhinged mind, or maybe it’s the prophecy of someone who has seen beyond. Either way, I can’t say whether or not I’ll open this book again because for now, this feels like enough.
Have a read, if you dare.