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Edgar Allan Poe

Updated on October 23, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe was an American poet, novelist, and critic, came of a theatrical family and, on the death of his parents, was adopted by a John Allan. His first work was Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), published while he was at the University of Virginia, which, being involved in gambling debts, he left to enlist in the Army, from which he was honorably discharged as sergeant-major in 1829, his foster-father having secured him a commission.

Dismissed from West Point for deliberate breaches of minor regulations, Poe next published a third volume, Poems (1831). He became editor of various magazines and in 1845 won international fame with The Raven and Other Poems. Some other works were the Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and several splendid poems, including The Bells, and Annabel Lee, in which his mastery of metre and atmosphere is unsurpassed. His complete works were admirably translated by Baudelaire, and his reputation stands higher in France than elsewhere. His short stories are among the best ever written, and include such pioneer masterpieces of detective fiction as The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The Work of Edgar Allan Poe

His irresponsible behavior displeased his guardian and he was put into Mr Allan's office. Unable to endure business life, Poe soon left for Boston to make an effort at supporting himself by literature. He published Tamerlane and other Poems under a pseudonym in 1827. Becoming destitute, he enlisted in the army under an assumed name, but was bought out the following year by Mr Allan and appointed to a cadetship at the United States Military Academy. After six months he was courtmartialled and dismissed for neglect of duty. From this time onwards he made a scanty living by contributing to American journals. By the publication of such masterpieces as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840, and The Raven, 1844, he gained a very considerable reputation. He became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger of Baltimore, in which he initiated a style and freedom of criticism new to American readers, and later of Graham's Magazine.

He had married in 1836 his 14-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, a false statement as to her age being made at the time of the marriage. Their life was marked by poverty, which caused the bitterness evident in much of his work.

She died in their little cottage at Fordham, near New York City, in 1847. Annabel Lee, 1849, was written in memory of her. Except for Ulalume, 1847, and The Bells, 1849, his work was at an end. Visiting Baltimore in 1849 he became ill and died.

The world has produced few more subtle or successful poetic craftsmen, for his verse, though small in bulk, exhibits extraordinary powers of technique and knowledge of the subtleties of rhythm and syllabic change. Perhaps even more surprising was his ability to bring into play and weave into his tales and poems such an atmosphere of wonder and terror. He was the first to give a definition of a short story and one of the first to practice the art. In The Mystery of the Rue Morgue, 1841, and other tales he was the originator of the modern detective story. He was no less notable as a critic, analytical and knowledgeable in literature. Not given to light praise, he was among the first to celebrate Tennyson, Dickens and Hawthorne.


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    • Paige Masters profile image

      Paige Masters 7 years ago

      For me, the most memorable work by Edgar Allen Poe is The Tell-Tale Heart. The narrator is a person who is clearly insane, has committed murder after all, but still insists upon his sanity. I do find it fascinating this protagonist, after dismembering the body parts of his victim is clearly overcome with and paralyzed by his own guilt. You'd imagine a person capable of such an act wouldn't have a conscience, after all. At least he never tries to proclaim his innocence... nothing worse than that.

      I love the description of the old man with his “vulture eye”, the eye being the impetus for the murder. I wonder what it meant that the old man's eye was always closed with a thin film over it? Perhaps it meant some people just can't see others for who they truly are, in this case, that the protagonist was disturbed. Or, maybe it's just the opposite, that this vulture eye could actually see everything, all the flaws and character defects in another. Maybe that's why the narrator had to do away with him... the eye just knew too darn much.

      Nice job, Several Poets.