Edgar Allan Poe died on this date in 1849, after a violent bout of drinking left him delirious.
Poe’s mysterious death is recounted at length on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website. “Shrouded in opinion and contradiction, the essential details Of Poe’s final days leave us with more questions than answers,” the site says.
In his writing, Poe was fascinated with death. He once wrote:
"My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!"
The death of a beautiful woman was a particular obsession of Poe’s. At the end of the beautiful poem, “Annabel Lee,” the narrator says that he lies down beside his departed bride, “In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
The shadow of death hangs over Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.” The raven has come to tell the narrator that death is irrevocable, but he, the narrator, knows that there is something more abysmal than death: despair.
"Quoth the Raven nevermore" is Poe's epitaph. It would have been elegant for Poe's last word to have been "Nevermore," in answer to the question he was asked on his deathbed ("Would you like to see your friends?"), but his dying utterance was probably the much more somber, "Lord help my poor soul."
Poe once wrote a story called “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” (Maybe J. K. Rowlings was a fan of Poe.) In this tale, the narrator asks M. Valdemar, who has a fatal illness, if he will allow himself to be put in an hypnotic trance just before death, with the object of learning whether communication with the deceased is possible, or, as Poe puts it, whether “the encroachments of death might be arrested by the process.” The doctors have determined just about precisely when M. Valdemar will expire, and the narrator goes to work several hours before. Valdemar succumbs to his mesmeric efforts, and though he appears to die (his limbs grow “as rigid and cold as marble”), he cries out.
“The voice seemed to reach our ears from a vast distance,” Poe writes, “or from some vast cavern within the earth.”
The small group gathered around the deathbed is horrified, naturally, especially as M. Valdemar croaks “I am dead.” The experiment has succeeded, but now the subject is in limbo between life and death.
Read the story to see how things turn out.
Some verse (doggerel) about Poe:
Poe, with his outlook macabre,
Could never hold a real job;
His poems, stories and stuff
Never made him enough.
No one wanted to read
Of becoming worm feed.