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Eureka

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Eureka (1848) is a lengthy non-fiction work by American author Edgar Allan Poe which he subtitled “A Prose Poem“, though it has also been subtitled as “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe”. Adapted from a lecture he had presented, Eureka describes Poe’s intuitive conception of the nature of the universe with no scientific work done to reach his conclusions. He also discusses man’s relationship with God, whom he compares to an author. It is dedicated to the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.  Though it is generally considered a literary work, some of Poe’s ideas anticipate discoveries of the 20th century.  Indeed a critical analysis of the scientific content of Eureka reveals a non-causal correspondence with modern cosmology due to the assumption of an evolving Universe, but excludes the anachronistic anticipation of relativistic concepts such as black holes.

Eureka was received poorly in Poe’s day and generally described as absurd, even by friends. Modern critics continue to debate the significance of Eureka and some doubt its seriousness, in part because of Poe’s many incorrect assumptions and his comedic descriptions of well-known historical minds. Presented as a poem, many compare it with his fiction work, especially science fiction stories such as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar“. His attempts at discovering the truth also follow his own tradition of “ratiocination“, a term used in hisdetective fiction tales. Poe’s suggestion that the soul continues to thrive even after death also parallels with works in which characters reappear from beyond the grave such as “Ligeia“. The essay is oddly transcendental, considering Poe’s disdain for the movement. He considered it his greatest work and claimed it was more important than the discovery of gravity.

Eureka is Poe’s last major work and his longest non-fiction work at nearly 40,000 words in length.  The work has its origins in a lecture Poe presented on February 3, 1848, titled “On The Cosmography of the Universe” at the Society Library in New York.  He had expected an audience of hundreds; only 60 attended and were confused by the topic.  Poe had hoped the profits from the lecture would cover expenses for the production of his new journal The Stylus.

Eureka is Poe’s attempt at explaining the universe, using his general proposition “Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are”. In it, Poe discusses man’s relationship to God and the universe or, as he offers at the beginning: “I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical – of the Material and Spiritual Universe: of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny”. In keeping with this design, Poe concludes “that space and duration are one” and that matter and spirit are made of the same essence.  Poe suggests that people have a natural tendency to believe in themselves as infinite with nothing greater than their soul—such thoughts stem from man’s residual feelings from when each shared an original identity with God.  Ultimately individual consciousnesses will collapse back into a similar single mass, a “final ingathering” where the “myriads of individual Intelligences become blended”.  Likewise, Poe saw the universe itself as infinitely expanding and collapsing like a divine heartbeat which constantly rejuvenates itself, also implying a sort of deathlessness.  In fact, because the soul is a part of this constant throbbing, after dying, all people, in essence, become God.

Eureka, A Prose Poem (Wikipedia entry)

Full text from the 1848 edition

 

 

 

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