Once upon a midnight dreary, I suddenly rise still weak and weary, only to ponder the volumes of forgotten lore that I labored on the night before. A take on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." That poem is regarded as a masterpiece of literary prose and exemplifies the life of one of Americas greatest authors. When one hears the name of Poe so many conjure up images of the dark side of life and death. It is those Images of mayhem, and murder that have all been long associated with the writings of Edger Allen Poe. Actually, Poe even in his youth when just so young experienced the torment associated with the passing of loved ones. Poe's own short life was consumed trying to fill a void that only love, and companionship would fill. Through-out his life Poe managed briefly to fill that emptiness only to have it snatched away. So it came to be that in spite of all the misfortunes that befell upon him, it is through his macabre writings that has earned him ever lasting fame. Writings ignited by the turbulence surrounding the onslaught of disease, sorrow and death. Was it madness or genius that drove Poe to such literary heights? One may never know. Even his death is shrouded in mystery.
Literary classics in an age when the written word never earned enough to live on Poe was the first American writer to try to eak out an existence just by trying to sell his works. A most versatile and talented writer whose oeuvre includes short stories, volumes of poetry, books of scientific study and of course those literary classics such as "The Tell Tale Heart", "The Raven" and "The Fall Of The House of Usher" have all come from the genius of what some have called a Mad Man. Today, he is credited as the inventor of the modern day detective story. When Poe wrote The murders in the Rue Morgue it was the first foray into what is now known as detective fiction. The forerunner to all other detective novels like Sherlock Holmes. His reputation today is cemented by his numerous tales of terror and haunting lyric poetry.
When "Tamerlane and Other Poems" was published in 1827 it was the beginning of so many ingenious works by a man whose own life was cut short. Just as bizarre as the characters in so many of Poe's own stories that captured the imagination Poe himself was often seen as a morbid, mysterious figure. Even today many assume that even Poe was lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or hiding in crumbling castles when writing his tales of terror. Is this the Poe of legend? Not really. Much of what we know today about Edger Allen Poe is incorrect. In latter years he had a general demure of a quiet soft spoken man. When around strangers he always presented himself in a dignified reserved manner. But through-out his life the inner demons within led him into a constant battle with the bottle, and in allot of instances the bottle won.
Poe was born to a pair of traveling actors on January 19, 1809. The second of three children only to bear witness three years latter as his mother lay dying of tuberculosis. A disease associated with the conditions of the day in cities all over. It was that tragedy of his mothers death which lingered in subconscious thought that probably triggered the fascination with the macabre in his writings latter on. Even in his youth Poe had an innate gift whether it was artistic or the written words in poetry he composed. A gifted talented youth whose deep sensibility often led to conflicts all through-out his life.
When Poe was just three years old his mother and farther both died. A wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine were acquaintances of Poe's mother took young Poe in as one of their own. Early poetic verses found written in a young Poe’s handwriting on the backs of Allan’s ledger sheets reveal even at a young age the talent within. By the age of thirteen, Poe had compiled enough poetry to publish a book. As a youth he spent five years in England at some of the best schools they had to offer.
In 1826 Poe left Richmond to attend the University of Virginia. There he excelled in his classes but due to lack of financial support from John Allen Poe tried unsuccessfully to finance his schooling. In the end he accumulated considerable debt trying to gamble his way to prosperity. By the end of his first term Poe was so desperately poor that he burned his furniture just to keep warm. Humiliated by his poverty and furious with Allan for not providing enough funds in the first place, Poe returned to Richmond and visited the home of his fiancée Elmira Royster, only to discover that she had become engaged to another man. These tragic events in Poe's life gave root to the inspiration in so many of his writings.
The heartbroken Poe’s last few months in John Allan's mansion were punctuated with increasing hostility towards Allan. It wasn't soon after that Poe finally stormed out of the home in a quixotic quest to become a great poet and find adventure. He accomplished the first objective by publishing his first book Tamerlane when he was only eighteen, and to achieve the second goal he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later he heard that Frances Allan, the only mother he really had ever known, was dying of tuberculosis and wanted to see him before she died. By the time Poe returned to Richmond she had already been buried. It was only after the funeral that Poe and John Allan briefly reconciled. It was John Allen that got young Poe an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Before going to West Point, Poe published another volume of poetry. While at West Point the bitter frustration rose again when Poe heard that John Allen got married again without even the slightest consideration. There in the confines of West Point Poe wrote to Allan detailing all the wrongs Allan had committed against him and threatened to get himself expelled from the academy. After only eight months at West Point Poe was thrown out not because of failing his studies, quite the contrary he excelled in every one. What got him expelled is the fact that he refused to partake in the customs and activities all associated with West Point cadets. Through it all he managed to publish yet another book. Now broke and alone, Poe turned to Baltimore, his late father’s home, and called upon relatives in the city. There one of Poe’s cousins robbed him in the night, but another relative, Poe’s aunt Maria Clemm, welcomed him into her home. It was there that Poe's relationship with Clemm’s daughter Virginia grew into a romance that inspired more of his writings. A relationship and subsequent marriage that lasted for 11 years until her untimely death form tuberculosis at the tender age of 24.
While Poe was in Baltimore, John Allan died of tuberculosis leaving Poe out of his will. A will that left enormous sums to an illegitimate child John Allan had really never seen. By now Poe was living in poverty but had started publishing his short stories. Eventually one won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visitor. The connections Poe established through the contest allowed him to publish more stories and to eventually gain an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. It was at this magazine that Poe finally found his life’s work as a magazine writer. Within a few years Poe became dissatisfied with the paper primarily because of the continued lack of monetary support from the owners and having little or no editorial control. Poe left the paper and moved back to New York. The timing couldn't have been worse. The year was 1837. Financial difficulties plagued Poe all through-out his life.
After a year in New York, Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838 and wrote for a number of different magazines. In spite of his growing fame, Poe was still barely able to make a living. For the publication of his first book of short stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, he was only paid with twenty-five free copies of his book. He would soon become a champion for the cause of higher wages for writers as well as for an international copyright law. To change the face of the magazine industry, he proposed starting his own journal, but failed because of lack funds.
In the face of poverty Poe was still able to find solace at home with his wife and mother-in-law. But as there is in life there is death. Tragedy struck in 1842 when Poe’s wife contracted tuberculosis, the disease that had already claimed Poe’s mother, brother, foster mother and father. It was the death of his beloved wife that probably sealed his fate. "The Raven" published just a few years after is wife's death some would say was a ode in remembrance to a great love. It was always the women in Poe's life that inspired his great works of poetry. It was just two years after his wife's death that Poe was looking forward to staring his own magazine, the Stylus. He managed to acquire backers this time. With start up capital of over $1,500 to take with him to Philadelphia Poe stopped in Baltimore. His disappearance for five days to this day remains a mystery. Just as in his wondrous manuscripts life imitates fiction this time for no one really knows what happened to Poe or all that money he was supposed to be carrying. He was found in the bar room of a public house that was being used as a polling place for an election. The magazine editor Joseph Snodgrass sent Poe to Washington College Hospital, where Poe spent the last days of his life far from home and surrounded by strangers. Poe died on October 7, 1849 at the age of forty. The exact cause of Poe’s death remains a mystery even to this day.
Days after Poe’s death, his literary rival Rufus Griswold wrote a libelous obituary of the author in a misguided attempt at revenge for some of the offensive things Poe had said and written about him. Griswold followed the obituary with a memoir in which he portrayed Poe as a drunken, womanizing madman with no morals and no friends. Griswold’s attacks were meant to cause the public to dismiss Poe and his works, but the biography had exactly the opposite effect and instead drove the sales of Poe’s books higher than they had ever been during the author’s lifetime. Griswold’s distorted image of Poe created the Poe legend. A legend that continues to mystify and enchant us all.
Poe's literary reputation has continued to not only survive but flourish the premature burial given him by his literary executor, Rufus Griswold. Years after his death he became widely appreciated all around the world as the inventor of the detective story and a pioneer of the modern psychological tale. Poe's insights into the shadowy places of the human mind have inspired and attracted some of the finest artists and illustrators, including Edouard Manet and Arthur Rackham. His legacy is firmly embedded in pop culture as well, inspiring numerous works and references. Poe's legacy has only continued to grow.