Edgar Allan Poe can be considered as one of the greatest yet unhappiest American poets. The patron saint of the detective-fiction genre and a master of the horror tale, Poe first gained critical acclaim in England and France. He was one of the earliest practitioners of the short story and is further accredited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe was the first American writer to try earning a living through his writing alone, resulting in a financial difficulty in his life and career.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809, to parents who were traveling actors. His father David Poe Jr., who had abandoned the family died in 1810, while his mother, Elizabeth Hopkins Poe, died around a year later, leaving Poe and his two siblings. Edgar was taken into the home of John Frances Allan, a successful Richmond merchant, and the remaining children were adopted into other families. His elder brother, William Leonard Poe, died whilst young while his sister, Rosalie Poe, later became insane. A poet by nature, by the age of five, he could recite several passages of English poetry.
Edgar was raised partly in England, where he attended the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor School at Stoke Newington, which later became the setting for his story ‘William Wilson’. Though he was never legally adopted, Poe took Allan’s name for his middle name. In February 1826, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia to study languages. Poe was later expelled for lack of fees and for failure to pay his gambling debts, and he claimed that Allan had not given him enough money to register for classes and to acquire and furnish a dormitory. This led to a huge quarrel with his guardian, Allan, who refused to pay the debts and later disowned him. While at the University, Poe composed a number of tales, though little is known of his apprentice work. He travelled to Boston in April 1827, after learning that his fiancée Sarah had married Alexander Shelton (Hayes).
In 1826, Poe became engaged to a lady by the name Elmira Royster, but her parents later broke off the engagement. The following year, Poe enlisted in the U.S Army as a common soldier, and was posted in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. This provided the setting for ‘The Gold Bug’ and ‘The Balloon Hoax’, 1844. In 1827, Poe wrote ‘Tamerlane and Other Poems’, which he published at his own expense, and which sold extremely poorly. In 1830, he enlisted as an officer’s cadet at West Point, a federal service academy in West Point, New York. He was disgracefully discharged the next year for deliberate neglect of his duties, which in fact was a result of his own determination to be released.
For a brief period in 1833, Poe lived in Baltimore with his widowed aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe and Maria’s daughter, Virginia Eliza Clemm. He started his career as a staff member of various magazines after winning $50 for his short story ‘MS Found in a Bottle’. Between 1835 and 1837, he worked for the Southern Literary Messenger, where he was discharged, partly due to his alcoholism. He worked with the Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Philadelphia, between 1839 and 1840, and later on with Graham’s Magazine between 1842 and 1843. It was during these years that Poe wrote some of his best-known stories.
In 1836, Poe married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year old cousin. Virginia burst a blood vessel in 1842, and remained a virtual invalid until her demise from tuberculosis in 1847. Poe began to lose his struggle with alcohol and drugs after the death of his wife. He went on to have a number of romances, including an affair with another poet by the name Sarah Helen Whitman, and became again engaged to Elmira Royster in 1849. It was in this same year that he wrote the musical poem ‘Annabel Lee’, which was addressed to Virginia, and which tells of the death of a beautiful woman (Bayard).
Poe’s best-selling works during the early 1840’s was ‘The Conchologist’s First Book’. It sold very poorly due to its high prize and was based on, Poe’s friend, Thomas Wyatt’s work. Wyatt asked Poe to abridge the book and put his own name on its title page, and curiously, the book became a huge success with its first edition selling out in less than two months. It was the poem, ‘The Raven’, a dark poem of lost love, which brought Poe to national fame. It appeared in 1845 and has inspired a number of artists such as Gustave Dore’s melancholic illustrations (Hervey).
Poe suffered from bouts of madness and depression, and in 1848, he attempted to commit suicide. He disappeared for three days in September the following year after a drink at a friend’s birthday party, and on his way to visit his new fiancé in Richmond, Virginia. Poe left Richmond on September 27, on his way to New York. He had asked his mother-in-law to send him a letter addressed to the pseudonym E.S.T. Grey, in Philadelphia. Poe never reached New York but was instead found by Joseph W. Walker in a delirious condition in Baltimore, at Ryan’s inn and tarvena. He died at the Washington College Hospital on October 7, 1849, and was buried at the Westminster Presbyterian burial yard. His funeral was conducted by Reverend William T.D. Clemm, and only four mourners attended: his relatives Henry Herring and Neilson Poe, his former classmate Z. Collins Lee, and his colleague Dr. Joseph Snodgrass (Pearl).
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Though a deeply troubled man, Poe is one of the world’s most celebrated and controversial writers. Among the general public, Poe is primarily known for his mastery of the Gothic fiction, a literature genre that combines elements of both romance and horror. His short stories ‘Ligeia’ and ‘The Fall of The House of Usher’ are examples of this genre. Poe earned a reputation for his fascination with death, predominantly the death of women in his musical poems ‘The Bells’ and ‘Annabel Lee’. His most durable contribution to the popular culture has been his invention of the detective fiction, a literature genre in which a detective investigates a crime, often murder.
A number of incidents, including a suicide attempt hint that Poe suffered from some kind of mental illness. He untiringly explored subjects such as madness, self-destruction and imagination in his works such as ‘William Wilson’, ‘Ulalume’ and ‘The Imp of the Perverse’. Without a doubt, Poe is the only major American writer to outshine in fiction, poetry, and criticism. In an era when other poets were using literature to inculcate morals and pursue truth, Poe condemned what he termed as “the heresy of The Didactic”, and argued that truth is not the objective of literature. A close look at Poe’s work reveals almost no extended attention to universal or contemporary social issues such as national identity, slavery, democracy or community.
The poem ‘The City in The Sea’ was published in 1845, though an earlier version had been published in 1831 as ‘The Doomed City’. This poem takes into the depths of the ocean, gently descending stanza by stanza until reaching the bottom floor. One can only imagine that that this must be the lost, mysterious city of Atlantis, hauntingly beautiful with reflections of its former beauty. In the first stanza, Poe describes the center of this mystical city, the devil, as having raised himself ‘a throne’. This city is dark, bleak and deathly silent; no light may penetrate it from heaven. However, from the sea rises a beam that ‘gleans up the pinnacle far and free’, hinting that the sun pierces the devil’s fort. The city lingers for freedom, waiting for the breaking of the curse that holds it to the deep.
Poe describes how one small stir causes a ripple in the sea, demonstrating the sea’s horrid stillness. Though some places which are completely motionless seem to have a serene and peaceful feel, the adjectives he uses portray the image of a city without a soul. In this poem, Poe could be comparing the city and decomposing human bodies, as both are completely silent, motionless, lacking a soul. Poe speaks of the devil, which can only be equated to death, peering down from his ‘proud tower’, emphasizing that he is the ruler, held in high respect.
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Every experience that an individual will experience in life will affect how he or she expresses him/herself. If for example, an individual were orphaned at a young age and had a very hard childhood, in his later years, he most likely would not be telling very cheerful stories. It is only natural that such a person would feel the need to release all their anger, all their pain, letting everyone know what they had to go through in their life. Edgar Allan Poe is a perfect example of a person who experienced a sad, tormented childhood, who went on to express these issues in his collection of works.
In majority of his short stories and poems, Poe writes about death, horror, blood, and decay, all a way of expressing his tortured life. In ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, for example, Poe writes about how one man is driven insane by another man’s glass eye, plotting his murder burying him under the floor. In several of his other works, he uses different characters and objects to symbolize and foreshadow murder and eventually death. On analyzing several of his works, I discovered that Poe’s influence comes from three main topics: the father figure, his fascination with death, and the compulsive obsessions.
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John Allan was cold toward Poe. Though very successful and rich, he paid Poe him only a small allowance which drove Poe to gamble in order to try and sustain himself at the University. This led to a huge quarrel between the two, leading Poe to leave home and join the US army. Taking a closer look at his works, I noticed that Poe struggled to be a better person than Poe, ruining his chances of success, if only not to end up like his foster father. In almost all of his stories, at least one person has to die, revealing his fascination with death. We can probably trace this to the death of both of his parents while he was still very young, and his loving wife Virginia, about whom he wrote the musical poem ‘Annabel Lee’.
The massive popularity of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poems and short stories continues to highlight his creative brilliance. His mastery of romantic horror, detective fiction, and the voice of ‘The Raven’ is somewhat a mixed blessing. Today, we know, read and appreciate Poe on the basis of a moderately narrow body of work, more or less a dozen poems and only half as many tales. For the beginners, these favored texts offer easy entry to Poe’s uniquely horrifying world, and fascinating connections to facets of the poet’s tragically disordered life. Even Poe himself would certainly approve that the overall effect of all this is compelling.
This great poet wrote for the masses, using his learned artistry to reach out to the common people and to elevate their minds, while at the same time intensifying their emotional reactions. Almost a century and a half after his death, Poe stands without rival, and remains immeasurably enjoyable. In his normal frame of mind, at least, Poe would have been genuinely amused by the widespread admiration and fame he has attained in posterity.
With an utterly depressed soul, in his poem ‘The City in The Sea’, Poe reveals his emptiness, an unredeemed heart, a man with a tortured imagination. With death having marred his life at a tender age, with the death of his parents before he was even three, one can only imagine compare this poem with the poet’s life. Through this poem and his other works, we see his mysteriously passionate sensibilities. His tormented and occasional neurotic obsession with death helps us appreciate the tragic, yet beautiful mysteries of life.
One of the greatest contributors to the literature genres of horror and science fiction, today, Poe is highly lauded, not only s a poet, but as the father of the modern detective story. Poe’s art of short stories and his literary criticisms have been extensively published and have even inspired modern day popular television and film adaptations such as ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Black Cat’. This great poet has significantly influenced other artists even into the 21st century such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Though sometimes suffering from emotional instability and dependence, I see Poe as a highly complex character, a poet and writer capable of the strictest imaginative control, a man with immense intellectual insight. The structure in his writings in no doubt expresses Poe’s traumatic childhood, a member of a dysfunctional family. Most of his works reflect a continual motive of obsessive-compulsive behavior, which is easy to understand, if one takes the time to look at his life.
There is no doubt that Poe’s works go beyond entertainment, but are a reflection of his dark, shadowy life. Knowing that death was unavoidable, he tried to fight it, as though it was not a natural part of life. This is revealed in the poem ‘The City in The Sea’, where towards the end, he perceives the devil, death, to be powerless. Edgar Allan Poe was an intriguing man who spent his life following his passion, doing what he loved to do. Poe was, and still is, the dark side of every single one of us.
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