A touch of the poet is one of the striking tragicomedies of Eugene O'Neill. Through A touch of the poet, O'Neill proves that he can not only write good tragedy but also excellent drama, which comically tasteful.
The setting of A touch of the poet is from the morning till midnight of 27 July, 1828, in a forlorn tavern in the suburbs of Boston. Middle-aged Cornelius Melody is an immigrant from Ireland where he believes to have been a "gentleman". Although Melody is now degraded to a drunken owner of the dirty, cheap tavern, and actually supported by his hardworking wife and daughter, he refuses to realize his true self and narcissistically praises his manly, handsome self-image refl ected in the mirror. However, Melody's illusion of "being a gentleman" is shattered by the severe antagonism of the rich Harfords, of which his beautiful daughter, Sara, is going to be a member. Sara falls in love with Simon Harford, who is an heir to the rich Harford family.
"The uncanny" in Melody is "the repetition of the same thing", his recurrent illusion or self-deception of being a "gentleman". "Being a gentleman" is not uncanny, but what is uncanny is the difference between his present state as a shabby drunkard and his illusory past as a glorious, gallant gentleman. What is uncanny is elody's obsession with the past and his present state of being obsessed by the illusion of "being a gentleman".
When the symbol of Melody's glorious past and male vanity, the beautiful English military uniform, is torn by Harford’s subordinate men, Melody ultimately realizes that he was possessed of the past glory, void pride and illusion. Melody painfully learns that even in the U.S.A., a man without money or social status is not respected as a "gentleman". Deprived of all his pride, Melody is forced to recognize his poor social and financial status; however, instead of abandoning his aristocratic bravado, Melody is freed from the affectation of aristocracy and heroism and reveals his true self, that is, his easy bum nature. Despite Melody’s sudden transformation in
character, his faithful wife, Nora, proudly says, "I'll play any game he likes and give him love in it. Haven't I always? (She smiles.) Sure, I have no pride at all—except that". Eugene O'Neill depicts the foolishly old-fashioned dreamer, Cornelius Melody, with irony, humor and pathos.