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Edgar Allan Poe - The Secret Poet

by Linda Mambo

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 as Edgar Poe. He was the second son to Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe. Both parents were actors, and shortly after Poe's birth, his father deserted his family around 1810. Edgar became an orphan before the age of three years, when his mother died on December 8, 1811 in Richmond, Virginia at the age of twenty-four years. His father died at the age of twenty-seven years old. After his mother's death, the childless couple, John and Frances Allan, took in Poe; his paternal grandparents took in brother William Henry; and foster parents cared for sister Rosalie. Allan was a strict and unemotional tobacco merchant and his wife was overindulgent. Poe was educated by the Allan's aid, in private academies, excelling in Latin, in writing verse and declamation. However, regardless of his education, he was looked down upon by the upper class of society, perhaps because Poe was never legally adopted by the Allan's, nonetheless he was regarded as an outsider by the Richmond elite. However, being the child of former actor's could have also added to his reputation of not fitting in with Richmond's culture at that time.

Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849 outside a voting place in Baltimore. The cause of death remains unknown. He lived and died as a man of mystery and his life is as mysterious today as it was when he lived it. "The mystery of Poe the man and the artist has fascinated biographers" (Ljungguist 591). It was because of his life experiences by economic troubles, being hurt by his enemies, and haunted by nightmares and visions, that Edgar Allan Poe is today considered one of America's greatest poets, short-story writers, and literary critics. "Yet out of the very frustrations and failures of his personal life came his artistic successes" (591+). In direct response to his direct concerns as a reviewer and censor, William Carlow Williams asserts, Poe developed a firm sense of literary construction and method: "His concern, the apex of his immaculate attack, was to detach a ‘method' from the smear of common usage—it is the work of nine tenths of his critism" (221). Edgar Allan Poe was in fact born before his time!

The loss of his mother at an early age definitely affected Poe, "The angels, whispering to one another, Can find, among their burning terms of love, None so devotional as that of ‘Mother'" (To My Mother). In Tamerlane, he not only wrote about his father, but he wrote about his mother too. He had more respect for his mother than he did for his father. In Tamerlane he speaks much nicer of his mother. "O, she was worthy of all love! Love – as in infancy was mine – ‘Twas such as angel minds above Might envy; her young heart the shrine on which my every hope and thought…" (Tamerlane). He thought of life with his mother and how it might have been.

In 1831 Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Maria Clemm. There he fell in love and married her daughter and his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was not even fourteen at the time. Ten years later she also died of tuberculosis. He dearly loved his wife and after she died his life just went to pieces. In "The Raven", the character is morning over the death of "Lenore" when a raven visits him. Poe used the raven because it is a bird that feeds on dead flesh – a symbol of death. "Thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee Respite – and Nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!" (The Raven). Lenore is thought of to be a representation of Poe's deceased wife Virginia. He did not want to get over the loss of his wife. "Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit they bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take they form from off my door!" (The Raven). In the poem, To My Mother, Poe writes about his own mother taking care of Virginia in heaven and becoming her mother as well. The death and mourning of his wife did, in fact, come out in his writing. Poe is very lonely at this point in his life and misses his wife Virginia. "For ‘mid the earnest cares and woes That crowd around my earthly path, (Sad path, Alas, where grows Not even a lonely rose!)" (To One Departed). Death is a time in life that scares Poe and he thinks of it as being evil, because the two women he loved dearly died. He did not always think of death as being an evil thing. In Tamerlane, Poe knew that death was a part of life and he seemed content with the idea of dying. "Father, I firmly do believe – I know – for Death, who comes for me…. Else how, when in the holy grove" (Tamerlane).

Over the years, Poe's works have endured much criticism as well as much praise. Many professionals who have researched Poe's life and his writings feel that many of his writings strongly show reflections on Poe's real life. One critic and friend wrote, "Poe's attraction to the problem of death is so conspicuous that the reticence of modern criticism on the subject seems inexplicable" (Kennedy 3). Various critics believed his interests in such dark subjects were due to early traumatic experiences (5). Many modern critics of Poe fail to realize that although Poe's tales took an unusual perspective, at the time, death was looked at as being an elaborate celebration, it wasn't more acceptable, but it was more of a subject of quiet fascination (17). Kennedy also wrote, "I have never known, nor read of anyone, whose life so curiously illustrated that two fold existence of the spiritual and the carnal disputing the control of the man, which has often been made the theme of fiction. His was debauched by the most groveling appetites and exalted by the richest conception of genius" (Bohner 197). Poe was forever being misunderstood in his words on paper. He was perceived as being a lonely dark man, but inside his spirit, he had a burning desire to be loved.

Edgar Allan Poe has a way with words and a pen. The beauty he bestowed to the literary world has touched the hearts of many, mine included. Since Poe's short stories first began to appear in the 1830's, readers have been intrigued by the nature of the man or the mind that produced them. Critics still wonder today if Poe was demonic or demented as the protagonists of his horror tales, and as analytical or psychic as the heroes of his detective and mystery stories. Contrary to popular critics legends of alcoholism, Poe was neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict, though he did struggle during much of his adult life against a tendency to drink heavily during periods of depression and anxiety. Poe is a highly complex character and was capable of the strictest artistic control and intellectual insight, at other times suffering from emotional instability and dependence.

Poe's writing helped him cope with his troubles and explore new territory in literature. His interest in the supernatural, retribution, and perverse cause them to be included in his burial motifs; therefore sustaining his interest. The supernatural is the phenomena of the unexplained and Poe was overwhelmed by it's mystique. With this comes an atmosphere of mystery and arousal of fear. To Poe, death in itself became the supreme mystery. Poe illustrates his views of the supernatural in The Black Cat. Not only does this fictional tale keep his readers on edge with fear, but it also keeps them guessing about the author's state of mind that wrote it. Poe's intrigue in the supernatural and reincarnation may have been in that of his own immortality. Many of Poe's literary works deal with the source of wickedness as depicted in The Black Cat. He uses perversity to shock, and disgust the reader hoping to bring the reader to a different level of cognition. Some literary critics have portrayed him as being a true "sociopath", and psychotic; however, I believe their judgment to be unfounded. It's true Poe had many problems, and I feel what he put on paper to be from the intellectual mind of a genius! Edgar Allan Poe was born to this world a century too soon. He was misunderstood in every way throughout his life. His only longing in life was to be loved, only to have that fulfillment ripped away twice in his life, first his mother and than his wife Virginia. Clearly these events created so deep an impact on Poe that his writings reflect a tendency of lonely, desperate, and erratic tones, which parallel the nature of his behaviors.

The standard trademark of Poe's writings is that it evokes disturbing images and emotions, which instill a sense of loneliness. He has the ability to create a mirror image of himself in every short story and poem. The sadness, which plagued Poe throughout his life, laid the framework for all of his writings. Without such a motivation, Poe may have created equally beautiful works yet they would not have instilled a sense of the life he led so clearly. They leave behind a photographic image of the man he was!

Poe's free and out of the ordinary style is very successful in incorporating the supernatural, perverse, and retribution into his work. He maintains his interest as well as the reader's by including subjects that are not prevalent. It is shocking, disturbing, and challenging to read. Some of Poe's literature has obvious relations to his own life, and how he coped with the problems that faced him. Having problems in ones life can escalate the soul to accomplish great things as he did. Poe's lifestyle is very much a part of style!

According to Vincent Buranelli's Edgar Allan Poe: "Even though Poe is often looked upon as a gifted psychopath who is describing with consummate artistry his personal instabilities and abnormalities the fact remains that his superiority is more than a matter of art. There is a violent realism in his macabre writings unequaled by the Americans who worked in the same genre" (17). I think that Harold Bloom summed it up best when he said, "Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives" (7).