Edgar Allen Poe, born in January 1849, liked to weave tales of mystery and macabre. And he often delved into the inner workings of a sick man’s mind often using rich symbolism to signify his character’s insanity in works such as the Fall of the House of Usher in which a grand old house falls one wall, one brick at a time as the master of the house himself goes insane. He also wrote such gut-grabbing stories as Murders in the Rue Morgue, a real murder mystery, so Poe is credited as being both the father of the detective story and the short story. The Tell-Tale Heart is another detective story in which the perpetrator of a murder thinks in his mind that he hears the heart of his victim beating under the floorboards of his house where he is buried as Poe’s character is being questioned a homicide detective, so as a result of his guilt he confesses his crime to the police.
Poe was also quite a poet and wrote his masterpiece The Raven about the loss of one of his two ladies great lady loves, his dearly departed 14-year-old child bride, Virginia Clemm Poe. And although the poem gives the reader a ghostly feel with its incessant rapping and tapping of the raven on the window pane and the nightly shadows dancing in the room and the dying embers in the fireplace, the poem itself was inspired by an actual bird, the beloved pet that Charles Dickens kept in his barn and enjoyed. But on so many levels it’s mostly about the memories of the wife, who he had so tragically lost to tuberculosis, haunting him with the rapping, tapping in his mind. The Raven is a really long poem so for the purposes of this blog, I am only going to quote a few key verses here.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered,
weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly
there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, tapping at my chamber door-
“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, tapping at my
Only this and nothing more.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in bleak
And each dying ember wrought its ghost
upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow-vainly I had
sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow-sorrow
for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad uncertain rustling of each
Thrilled me-filled me with fantastic terrors
never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I
“Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my
This it is and nothing more.
Poe was a man well acquainted with loss, death, and sorrow. Both his parents were dead by the time he was three years old, leaving himself and his two siblings destitute and orphaned. So he was taken in as a foster child by a pair of distant relatives and raised in Richmond Virginia. He was a good student throughout the lower grades, however, unfortunately, he failed in college due to a growing gambling addiction and misuse of alcohol. He then suffered a further loss when he was at the age of sixteen when his 15-year-old lover,, Sarah Elmira, married another man because her father vehemently disapproved of Poe and his status as a penniless orphan and with his gambling problems. But later on in life, the couple rekindled the romance flame after the deaths of their respective spouses. But a marriage between the pair was never to be because Poe himself died of mysterious causes at Church Home and Hospitals in Baltimore Maryland before the nuptials, with some saying he died of alcoholism and others theorizing that Poe himself was murdered and thus a character in a real life mystery.
Poe was such a man of shadows and sorrows and inspiration that some doctors today theorize that he may have been bipolar was quite a mad, inspired and genius poet indeed.