Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), American poet, critic, short story writer, and author of such macabre works as “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1840);
I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?
Contributing greatly to the genres of horror and science fiction, Poe is now considered the father of the modern detective story and highly lauded as a poet. Walt Whitman, in his essay titled “Edgar Poe’s Significance” wrote;
Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demoniac undertone behind every page. … There is an indescribable magnetism about the poet’s life and reminiscences, as well as the poems.
Poe’s psychologically thrilling tales examining the depths of the human psyche earned him much fame during his lifetime and after his death. His own life was marred by tragedy at an early age (his parents died before he was three years old) and in his oft-quoted works we can see his darkly passionate sensibilities—a tormented and sometimes neurotic obsession with death and violence and overall appreciation for the beautiful yet tragic mysteries of life. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.—“Elonora”. Poe’s literary criticisms of poetry and the art of short story writing include “The Poetic Principal” and “The Philosophy of Composition”. There have been numerous collections of his works published and many of them have been inspiration for popular television and film adaptations including “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”, and “The Raven”. He has been the subject of numerous biographers and has significantly influenced many other authors even into the 21st Century.
Edgar Poe was born on 19 January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins (1787-1811) and David Poe (1784-1810). He had a brother named William Henry (1807-1831) and sister Rosalie (1811-1874). After the death of his parents Edgar was taken in by Frances (d.1829) and John Allan (d.1834), a wealthy merchant in Richmond, Virginia.
Young Edgar traveled with the Allans to England in 1815 and attended school in Chelsea. In 1820 he was back in Richmond where he attended the University of Virginia and studied Latin and poetry and also loved to swim and act. While in school he became estranged from his foster father after accumulating gambling debts. Unable to pay them or support himself, Poe left school and enlisted in the United States Army where he served for two years. He had been writing poetry for some time and in 1827 “Dreams”—Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream! first appeared in the Baltimore North American, the same year his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems was published, at his own expense.
When Poe’s foster mother died in 1829 her deathbed wish was honoured by Edgar and stepfather John reconciling, though it was brief. Poe enlisted in the West Point Military Academy but was dismissed a year later. In 1829 his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems was published. The same year Poems (1831) was published Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm, mother of Virginia Eliza Clemm (1822-1847) who would become his wife at the age of thirteen. His brother Henry was also living in the Clemm household but he died of tuberculosis soon after Edgar moved in. In 1833, the Baltimore Saturday Visiter published some of his poems and he won a contest in it for his story “MS found in a Bottle”. In 1835 he became editor and contributor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Though not without his detractors and troubles with employers, it was the start of his career as respected critic and essayist. Other publications which he contributed to were Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (1839–1840), Graham’s Magazine (1841–1842), Evening Mirror, and Godey’s Lady’s Book.
After Virginia and Edgar married in Richmond in 1836 they moved to New York City. Poe’s only completed novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published in 1838. The story starts as an adventure for a young Nantucket stowaway on a whaling ship but soon turns into a chilling tale of mutiny, murder, and cannibalism.
It is with extreme reluctance that I dwell upon the appalling scene which ensued; a scene which, with its minutest details, no after events have been able to efface in the slightest degree from my memory, and whose stern recollection will embitter every future moment of my existence.—Ch. 12
Poe’s contributions to magazines were published as a collection in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840) which included “The Duc de L'Omelette”, “Bon-Bon” and “King Pest”. What some consider to be the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was published in 1841;
Now, brought to this conclusion in so unequivocal a manner as we are, it is not our part, as reasoners, to reject it on account of apparent impossibilities. It is only left for us to prove that these apparent ‘impossibilities’ are, in reality, not such.
Poe’s collection of poetry The Raven and Other Poems (1845) which gained him attention at home and abroad includes the wildly successful “The Raven” and “Eulalie” and “To Helen”;
Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand,
Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!
Poe continued to write poetry, critical essays and short stories including “Ulalume”, “Eureka” and “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846);
It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
Now living in their last place of residence, a cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx in New York City, Virginia died in 1847. Poe turned to alcohol more frequently and was purportedly displaying increasingly erratic behavior. A year later he became engaged to his teenage sweetheart from Richmond, Elmira Royster. In 1849 he embarked on a tour of poetry readings and lecturing, hoping to raise funds so he could start his magazine The Stylus.
There are conflicting accounts surrounding the last days of Edgar Allan Poe and the cause of his death. Some say he died from alcoholism, some claim he was murdered, and various diseases have also been attributed. Most say he was found unconscious in the street and admitted to the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He died soon after, on 7 October 1849, and was buried unceremoniously in an unmarked grave in the Old Westminster Burying Ground of Baltimore. On this original site now stands a stone with a carving of a raven and the inscription;
Quoth the Raven, Nevermore
Original Burial Place of
Edgar Allan Poe
October 9, 1849
November 17, 1875
Mrs. Marian Clemm, His Mother-In-Law
Lies Upon His Right And Virginia Poe
His Wife, Upon His Left. Under The
Monument Erected To Him In This
In a dedication ceremony in 1875, Poe’s remains were reinterred with Maria Clemm’s in the Poe Memorial Grave which stands in the cemetery’s corner at Fayette and Greene Streets. A bas-relief bust of Poe adorns the marble and granite monument which is simply inscribed with the birth and death dates of Poe (although his birthdate is wrong), Maria, and Virginia who, in 1885, was reinterred with her husband and mother. Letters from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Lord Alfred Tennyson were read, and Walt Whitman attended. The mysterious Poe Toaster visits Poe’s grave on his birthdays and leaves a partially filled bottle of cognac and three roses.
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.—A Dream within a Dream
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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