Edgar Allan Poe

.. ive writing about topics he is familiar with. Poe is the poster child of Ernest Hemmingways philosophy: “Only write about what you know, and then dont write too damn much.” Another theme that frequents Poes literature, is the presence of a female. She is generally portrayed sympathetically and for the most part is dead, or dies in the course of the story. Ive already mentioned the “Black Cat”, which features a young wife brutally murdered by her husband. “Murders in the Rue Morge” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” were two detective style stories that featured women being killed.

Yet, there can be no better example of Poes women issues as well as his own mental instability than in a short story published in 1839. In “Fall of the House of Usher”, Roderick Usher has inadvertantly buried his sister, Madeline, believing her dead. It eventually comes to light that Madeline was buried prematurely when she arrives in time to die in her brothers arms. Again, this is an example of a women being mistreated, albeit accidentally, by a man. Though “Usher” is far more complex and compelling than merely that. Read as Poe describes the Usher house in the opening paragraph: .

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 –..I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves…Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn. After rereading the paragraph, the striking part becomes that Poe isnt merely describing a house, but a mind.

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It is clear to see that the bleak walls represent human skin even as the vacant eye-like windows symbolize human eyes. The white, decaying tree trunks are teeth and the “minute fungi” is clearing hair. That leaves only the “perceptible fissure” that splits the house in half unexplained. This is finally explained as the narrator flees the house in horror. The entire house literally cracks in half, while the families mind metaphorically cracks.

This fissure in the human mind mirrors Poe himself who long struggled with his own sanity. In addition to the enormous impact John Allan and Virginia had on Poes career, there is also another variable that has gone unmentioned. That would be William Henry, Poes older brother. Like both Virginia and his mother Elizabeth Poe, William died at age 24 of tuberculosis. Though it is impossible to determine exactly how close the two ever were, I can speculate that his death had at least some effect on Edgar.

In 1841, nine years after Williams death, Edgar wrote “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” In this tale, an aged Norwegian tells of his experience three years past, when his fishing boat became trapped in the Maelstrom, an enormous whirlpool “speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.” Though frightened by the chaos of the Maelstrom, the fisherman also wants to understand it, and is saddened that he will not live to tell anyone else the secrets he might discover. Through a systematic analysis of the events within the Maelstrom, the sailor gradually realizes that the world of the Maelstrom is not entirely anarchic; he recognizes certain physical “laws” that hold for the various objects whipping around the whirlpool, and understands how he might escape. Lashing himself to a cylindrical water-cask, he throws himself and the cask into the water; though his boat, carrying his brother, “plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below,” the cask remained secure until the whirlpool calmed. The Norwegian was safe, though “my hair, which had been raven black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed.” Though his escape is indeed very interesting the true focus of the tale is the relationship between the fisherman and his brother. His older brother at that, who perishes while he lives.

The fact that the fishermans entire “countenance had changed” would lead me to believe that Williams death drastically changed Edgars outlook on life. Perhaps not to the catastrophic level that Virginias did, but nonetheless had some impact. It should also be noted that though clearly all of these tragedies had significant impacts on Poe himself, it should also be mentioned that Poe wasnt the most stable person to begin with. It seems unfair to Death itself to blame everything Poe did on tragic events in his life. Variables like drinking must taken into account when considering his subject matter.

No documents of his pre-drinking era exist, so it is quite impossible to determine how developed his imagination was before his alcoholic delusions. As mentioned earlier, he was often found rambling to himself on the streets of Baltimore in inebriated states. Alcohol is mentioned repeatedly in his works (Black Cat, Cask of Amontillado..) so the possibility of that also influencing him seems a realistic option. Another aspect less talked about, but just as significant would have to be his addiction to opium. Though very taboo to his understudies and contemporaries, this hallucinogenic drug could easily have swayed his decision making and therefore his story writing material.

Thing like alcohol and drug abuse can quite easily effect an individuals performance, but again Poe is no normal individual. At age seventeen Poe wrote the Spirits of the Dead. Not a normal topic for any teen, regardless the theme is very different than most latter Poe works. The final stanza reads: The breeze, the breath of God, is still, And the mist upon the hill Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken, Is a symbol and a token. How it hangs upon the trees, A mystery of mysteries! Though this is one of Poes earliest pieces, it can be assumed that this poem doesnt carry the same melancholy tone that is typical of Poe.

It doesnt have to be assumed, because this poem deals more with the curiosity and mystery of adolescence than anything more serious. One should not think that Poes life was a completely horrific existence. Though he certainly was forced to deal with his share of controversy and death, he was also influenced in a positive way by the people he came in touch with. This isnt particularly obvious in his prose, but in his poetry it is more blatant. Take for instance his poem, The Dream.

Poe is speaking to the reader, of his mythical playland where everything is very surreal and very pleasant. There are no foreboding tones of death and decay. Clearly he has just as much potential to be cheerful and dreamy as he does morbid and pessimistic. Yet Poe chooses the more unpleasant tone as his centerpiece, not because it sells better or to please anyone in particular, but because that is how he stays true to himself as a writer. Not only in The Dream, but even in some of his short stories does Poe keep an upbeat and fun tone.

In both “Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” as well as “Gold Bug” Poe is so optimistic of humanity to the point of being really funny. A reader certainty wouldnt expect this of a gloomy, dismal author like Poe which is exactly what makes him so special. He is more famous for his terrifying accounts of death and revenge, but at the same time he has potential to change gears and write a piece that is so vastly different and just as appealing. There is no better summary of his life and work than the quotation from Francis Bacon, inscribed over the Poe Gate at West Point: “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.” Poe himself is indeed an exquisite beauty with his completely unconventional style and unorthodox techniques.

This, combined with his strangeness, has made Poe what he is; the most influential and talented American author of all time.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe By: James Williams In every story conceived from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, a scent of his essence had been molded into each to leave the reader with a better understanding of Poes life. Poe displayed his greatest lifes achievements and his worst disappointments in a series of stories created throughout his whole life. It is the goal of this research paper to reveal symbolic facts about his life and define these hidden maxims in a way that is easy to understand and beneficial to the reader. Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). Poes parents were David Poe, an actor based in Baltimore and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, an actress born in England, also based in Baltimore (540). Upon birth, Poe had been cursed. Shortly after his birth, Poes father abandoned the family and left Poe and his mother to fend for themselves. Not long after that, the cruel hands of fate had worked their horrid magic once again by claiming his mother. In 1811, when Poe was two, his mother passed away, leaving him with his second depressing loss (540). After his fathers cowardly retreat and mothers sudden death, Poe was left in the capable hand of his godfather, John Allan. John Allan was a wealthy merchant based in Richmond, Virginia with the means, knowledge and affluence to provide a good life for Poe (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). In 1815, Poe and his new family moved to England to provide Poe a classical education (which was finished out in Richmond. Upon returning from England in 1826, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). This was a magnificent feat for him, because Poe was only seventeen at the time while the normal age for attendance was nineteen (Quinn 130). For the first time, life had hit a high note and provided for him what seemed to be a path paved with gold. Upon entering college, Poe realized his path of gold was really a mountain of grief and disappointment. In no more time than it took Poe to unpack his bags, he was already involved in immoral acts of gambling and drinking. He developed gambling debts from 2,000 to 2,500 dollars, which caused some fraction between his godfather and himself (Quinn 130). After eleven months at the university, Poe dropped out due to his debts, but mostly for John Allans refusal to pay for them (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). No sooner then Poe was home, then he been invited to a party of Sarah Elmira Roysters, his sweetheart before college. When he arrived at the party, he learned that it was Elmiras engagement party, striking a dramatic blow to Poes heart (540). After John Allan and Poe had their quarrels over Poes gambling addiction, he joined the army under the alias of Edgar Allan Perry (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). In 1829, Poe was honorably discharged, but not before attaining the rank of Sergeant Major (540). A year later, John Allan scheduled an appointment for Poe with the West Point U.S. Military Academy (540). Poe had not been in the academy for a year when he was dismissed from West Point. It was after his military career when Poe starting to become a successful writer of poetry and short stories. In 1831, Poems included three of his greatest works: To Helen, The City in the Sea, and Israfel (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). When his poems failed to reach recognition, Poe began to write short stories such as MS. Found in a Bottle in 1833 (591). It was around this time when he married his fourteen-year old cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was a very influential character in Poes later works (591). In 1840, Poe published a collection of his first twenty-five stories called Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). Even when this collection failed to sale or gain recognition, Poe still kept a daily routine of working on literature. In 1843 he sold 300,000 copies of The Gold Bug (592). Also in 1843 Poe published one his greatest works, The Tell-Tale Heart (Poe Edgar Allan, Encarta Encyclopedia n. pag). Then again in 1845, Poe struck gold with his twelve stories in Tales and 30 poems in The Raven and Other Poems (592). In 1848, Poe explained his theories on the universe in his well-known piece, Eureka (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 592). In 1843, Poe wrote the timeless classic of The Tell-Tale Heart (Encarta N. pag). It was the poem, Raven that brought Poe the most recognition and finally provided a spot for him among Americas greatest writers. Writers and critics were bestowing great praises to him during this time. It was with his stories of mystery and murder featuring C. Auguste Dupin that inspired one critic to write, Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it? (Quinn 139). It is not enoughcertainly for literary criticism it is not enough to call his stories, strange, extraordinary, fantastic (Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the Short Story n. pag) is a perfect quote to summarize Poes works and their effect on critics and people. This period of tranquility and good tidings would turn out to be Poes last. In 1847, Virginia Clemm died of tuberculosis and in doing so added one more name to Poes list of lost loves (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). Her death had affected Poe more greatly than any other of his former loses. Poe was once quoted saying: Each time I felt all the agonies of her deathand at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitivenervous in a very unusual degree. During these fits of absolute unconsciously I drank, God only knows how often or how much. (Buranelli 38) Despite the tremendous agony Poe felt over Virginia Clemms death, he still passed a sigh of relief over her passing. In Poes belief, death should not be feared, but instead it should be sought (Quinn 137). As Poe had said in For Annie, The fever called Living is conquered at last (Buranelli 38). For Poe, when Virginia died she escaped the curse of life. In 1849, Poe met up with his former sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster and became engaged shortly after (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). As fate would have it, just days before his wedding, Poe stopped in Baltimore and disappeared. On October 3rd, 1849, Poe was found lying in a side street anesthetized (591). He was taken to a hospital where he lay unconscious on his bed. After four days of complete unconsciousness, Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7th, 1849 (Poe, Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica 540). The cause of his death had remained a mystery since then. Several theories have been presented before the public, but only one has the evidence to back up its claimrabies. All of Poes works of literature possess a link to his own lifes stories and events. His characters profiles possess biographical insights into his loved ones lives. Poe learned sometime in his life that a good story possesses real life events and those events are what gives his stories a scent of truth. In one particular case, Poe wrote a passage in his story of Marginalia that could only apply to a person such as himself: I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. This he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankindthat he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong. (Buranelli 23) Poe was a genius in the literary field and that gave him the grounds to say so. As he explains in this passage, his far superior ability to write pieces of literature caused a lot of friction between the modern day critics and writers and himself. This passage was an autobiographical account of his writing style and its effect on the society of the time. Along with writing about his style of writing, Poe also included autobiographical elements in his stories. These stories explained to the reader how Poe lived his life. The somber figure of Edgar Allan Poe stalks forever through the pages of his stories and poems. He is declared to have only one endlessly repeated male characterhimself. He is pictured as appearing and reappearing under the guises of his melancholic, neurasthenic, hallucinated, mad and half-mad protagonists: Roderick Usher, Egaeus, William Wilson, Cornelius Wyatt, Montresor, Hop-Frog, Metzengerstein. (Buranelli 19-20) Among these protagonists, the one Poe seems to represent more is the half-mad, Roderick Usher. In the story The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe presents himself through the morbidly uncanny Roderick Usher. All in all, he is an unbalanced man trying to maintain an equilibrium in his life (Partridge N. pag). Usher was also a man who realizes his insanity but struggles to grasp his lost sanity. In this passage Poe writes about the narrators description of Roderick Usher, but in doing so describes himself to his readers: A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than weblike softness and tenuitythese features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. (Poe 198) Poe also manages to describe his more unpopular personality traits when he refers to himself as a lost drunkard or the irreclaimable eater of opium (198). Poe also used his memory of past events and places to set the backdrop for his pieces of literature. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe uses his Gothic home as the backdrop and his family as its characters. Poe often drew upon his memory for his settings, as in The Fall of the House of Usher, which concerns the fate of a decayed aristocratic family and it moldering Gothic mansion (Buranelli 28). Poe knew the feelings that came to a person when confronted with a relic from their unpleasant past and with that knowledge he could write a story appealing to readers. Poe also used The Fall of the House of Usher to portray loved ones, such as his mother, to the reader. He could never bear to take about his mom frequently, because of the pain it put on his heart. To compensate for this he portrayed her through the guise of Lady Madeline (Buranelli 35). Lady Madeline was Ushers mysterious sister who in the end died without warning or reason. Poe also wrote a sonnet called To My Mother that appeared to be for his mother, but was indeed for his mother-in-law. Along with putting his mother in his tales, Poe also portrayed his lifes greatest love, Virginia Clemm. Virginia inspired such pieces as Eleanora and Annabel Lee (Buranelli 38). I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea; but we loved with a love that was more than loveI and my Annabel Lee; with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, in this kingdom by the sea, a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee; so that her highborn kinsman came and bore her away from me, to shut her up in a sepulchre in this kingdom by the seafor the moon never beams without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee; and the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee; and so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride, in the sepulchre there by the sea, in her tomb by the sounding sea. (Bloom 145) In this excerpt, Poe portrays to the reader his love for his wife. Annabelle Lee was written in 1849, just two years after Virginia Clemms death (Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). Poe was trying to explain her death and its importance to him. He never neglected to portray an aspect of his life before the readers, even when he was facing a loss. Poe is a man writhing in the mystery of his own undoing. He is a great dead soil progressing terribly down the long process of post-mortem activity in disintegrationyet Poe is hardly an artist. He is rather a supreme scientist. (Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the short story n. pag) In every story conceived from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, a scent of his essence had been molded into each to leave the reader with a better understanding of Poes life. Poe has used his greatest achievements, such as marriage and his worst times, such as his wifes death to help the reader better understand what his life has been like. Poe is a genius in the fact that he can captivate a reader with his true-to-life stories and then explains himself through allusions and hidden maxims. When a person reads works of Edgar Allan Poe, he is actually reading his autobiography. Bibliography Work Cited Bloom, Harold. The Tales of Poe. New York, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987: 121-145. Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. Boston: Twayne, 1977: 12-53. Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the Short Story. Online Available Http://www.cais.com/webweave/poe/poebio.htm. Partridge, Toby. Poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. Online Available Http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Congress/ 8953/poe.html. Poe, Edgar Allan. Encarta Encyclopedia. 2000 ed. Poe,Edgar Allan, Encyclopedia Britannica. 1995 ed., Vol. 9: 540-542. Poe, Edgar Allan. Fall of the House of Usher. Literature: The American Experience. Needham: Prentice Hall, 1996. 194-206. Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia. 1991 ed., Vol. 15: 591-592. Quinn, Patrick F. Four Views of Edgar Poe. Jahrbuch Fur Amerikastudien. 1960 ed., Vol. 5: 128-146. Word Count: 2330 Words
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