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Edgar Allan Poe: Crazy Drunk or Brilliant Literaryist? (Is that a word I wo
“From childhood’s I have not been
As others were-I have not seen
As the others saw-I could not bring
My passions from a common spring
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow-I have not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone
I lov’d-I loved alone.” (Poe, Pg. 10)
This poem’s voice was filled of melancholy. And the author seemed sage and calm. Wouldn’t you like this writer if you met face to face? But what if I told you this was written by an insane drunk going by the name of Poe? Edgar Allan Poe? Who is Edgar Allan Poe? To you? To America?
Edgar Allan Poe was known for his excellent work as a literary critic, editor, author, and poet. He excelled in mystery, macabre, and horror. Not only that, he was credited as the inventor of the detective genre and even our beloved Sci-Fi! His famous work would have to be The Raven. His work was so dark and sometimes, even disturbing, readers have a hard time reading it. But what made him the way he is at the time? Who was Edgar Allan Poe?
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Unfortunately the tot was fatherless when he arrived into the world. His father had ditched him and his mother, unable to carry the burden of being a parent. Not even a year later, Poe’s mother died of tuberculosis after giving birth. Poe was separated by the remainder of his family and was “adopted” by John and Frances Allan. Why the quotations you ask? John and Frances never “officially” adopted him. As a child, Poe never really established a good relationship with his adopted father. However, the boy received excellent schooling in England. There, Poe, at age 12, was already creating his mature poetry. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester but was expelled after having issues with his gambling and drinking problems. At age 16, Poe enlisted in the army and attended Cadet School in West Point. However, he failed and was discharged.
Most people, when learning about Poe, wonder why he was such a troubled person. Critics believe that it all started when his father left him and his mother and when she died. The trauma he was experiencing when he was separated from his family messed him up. Also, his adopted father, Mr. Allan was a bit of a, well, a jerk. Mr. Allan never really understood Poe and this did not help them develop a good relationship with one and another.
Others asked why he married his thirteen year old cousin. In theory, he was losing most of his family. (Real father abandoned him, mother dead, siblings far away, and his adopted parents were never there) and he was clinging to the people he had left. Also, both sides of the families were experiencing financial problems and the only resolution was to join them together. Plus, back in the day, these marriages were quite common and “sociably acceptable” (Lemon) at the time. They didn’t know of the genetic issues it would cause them if the couple decided to have a child. Of course, there is no doubt that it seems more than strange to us now.
This is what everyone asks: How did Edgar Allan Poe change America’s literature? All the credit, believe it or not, goes to his troublesome childhood and drunkenness. “If he wasn’t so messed up, he wouldn’t have been so good.” (Lemon) Writers, unlike, other people, have the ability to turn emotions (For Poe’s case, depression) “into things that are beautiful.” (Lemon) Using these emotions, he created different plot lines and story lines, which affected horror greatly. His macabre revolutionized the whole genre of horror! He was responsible for creating the detective genre and beginning of science fiction. His poems that focused on verbal music made from the words he wrote, made people, like me, fall in love with his work. Like Ernest Hemingway, Poe “could say more in a sentence in a way than most people could say in a whole book.”
Though, through this kind of failure, neglect, and never getting Mr. Allan’s acceptance, Poe began his literary career. In Baltimore, he won a short story contest with the short story MS in a Bottle. This helped him open the door of the magazine world. In the magazine world, he was a proofreader, book reviewer, essayist, editor, and journalist. Although, he didn’t last long as a journalist. His gambling and drunkenness caused him to lose his many jobs, going along his trail of potential jobs. His skills were recognized, however his bad habits shadowed this.
When Poe turned 27, he married his 13 year old cousin Virginia Clem. The newlywed couple, plus the bride’s mother, moved to Fordham, New York. There Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. Her death, many believe, was the inspiration of one of his most popular poems Annabel Lee. This poem is about the death of beautiful, young maiden. It was written beautifully with the somber mood and “suitably musical language.” (Poe Pg. 6)
Despite this unsettling event in his life, Poe continued to write. He wrote The Raven, “one of Poe’s few poems of dramatic monologue.” (Poe, Pg. 5) The plot of this poem is about a man who lost his true love and goes completely nuts while talking to a raven. He also wrote The Bells. An ingenious poem that uses words to make bell-like sounds. “The Bells calls for, almost demands, a listening rather than a reading audience.” (Poe Pg.5) Throughout his life, Poe wrote a variety of stories and poetry: MS in a Bottle, Descent into the Maelstrom, Black Cat, Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, Berenice, Ligiea etc.
His most important, or most influential of these works was Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, and of course, The Raven. All of these works mirror Poe: All are exploring the darkness in the human mind, the absolute madness that Poe had obtained throughout his life. Ever heard the saying that you are what you eat? In the world of writers, its “You are what you write.” However, he had never committed a crime, but it makes you wonder: What the hell was Poe thinking?
In the Cask of Amontillado, the main character was a madman who buried his friend alive. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the main character kills his friend and buries him, meanwhile telling the reading audience that what he did was not crazy. Of course, we all know that this act is beyond crazy. In The Raven, like I had said before, was about a man who lost his true love and goes insane, then to go on an extra measure, commits suicide and succeeds. Like Annabel Lee, the inspiration of this poem could be from Poe’s own loss of his sweet Virginia. Poe’s life affects his work, as well as his work affecting readers.
After a while, he became engaged to Mrs. Shelton, his friend’s mother. From Richmond, he travelled to Baltimore to fetch Mrs. Clem for the wedding “where he encountered…no one knows.” (Wikipedia) He never made it to his own wedding. He was found in an alley, dirty, injured, and sick. He was then taken to the hospital where he died four days later on October 7, 1849. He was only 40. Despite all the wrongs and rights of his life, his death was unfortunate. Because like his poem Alone, he literally had died alone.
So who is Edgar Allan Poe really? He was a literary critic, editor, author, and poet. He was known for his phenomenal work in mystery, macabre, and horror. He is the inventor of the detective genre and the start of science fiction. He was a slightly arrogant and drunk madman. Or an insecure man who had a romantic image of his own belief. He was also known as a “Black Angel” –since he lived from hand to mouth because of a cruel and unappreciative world.” (Baudelaire, Poe, Pg. 5) Some called him a Byronic hero, a melancholy genius of lineage, but a lineage mysteriously associated with evil or scandal, who defies the insensitive world. I like to think of his as a tortured artist, that no one will completely love and understand until after he’s gone. One thing is for certain, Edgar Allan Poe was a madman…with pure artistic abilities of magical quality.
Edgar Allan Poe, who are you?
Edgar Allan Poe. 23 May 2011. 25 May 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe>.
Edgar Allan Poe. n.d. 13 May 2011 <http://www.enotes.com/authors/edgar-allan-poe>.
Lemon, Kevin. Edgar Allan Poe Love1321. 12 May 2011.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Tales and Poems. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 2002. 1-15.