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Edgar Allan Poe: Troubled Times of a True American Poet
Edgar Allan Poe was an American poet and story-teller, whose work bears the mark of an original and romantic imagination. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His grandfather was a Revolutionary officer of an honored Baltimore family. Edgar’s father received his education in the law, but married an actress and himself went on the stage. His father disappeared, never knowing his son. Left an orphan at two years of age after the death of his mother, Poe was adopted by Mr. Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Virginia. He attended five years in a primary school in England, several years in a Richmond academy and one session at the University of Virginia. Mr. Allan removed Poe from school, possibly due to his son's extravagant losses at gambling.
Life After School
Poe then tried employment in a counting room, but soon quarreled with his foster father and left home. In 1827, he reappeared in Boston and published his first volume of poems. In desperate need of money, Poe enlisted in the army. After serving two years at Fort Moultrie and Fortress Monroe, he was honorably discharged through the intervention of Mr. Allan, who also obtained his entrance to West Point. Edgar Allan Poe’s deliberate unruliness there, followed by court-martial and dismissal within six months, turned his adopted parent against him.
Fruitful, Happy Times
The young writer was now on his own resources. In 1833, while living with his aunt, he won a $100 prize for the tale A Manuscript Found in a Bottle. This success brought him friends. Soon after his marriage to his beautiful young cousin, Virginia Clemm, he became connected with a Richmond periodical. Within a year, by his talks, poems and literary reviews, Poe greatly increased the magazine’s circulation. He worked tirelessly, and made this the most pleasant and fruitful period of his life. Soon, however, Poe was set adrift to serve briefly but brilliantly with The Gentleman’s Magazine, and several others, but always with the same result—dismissal for unjust criticisms in his articles or for irregularity due to intemperance.
The brightest part of his life story is his love for his wife, but the strain caused by her long illness and her death in 1847 exhausted Poe, who never recovered his former vitality. He began to drink more and more frequently. Alcohol was always a maddening poison to his system, and at length he was found unconscious in Baltimore where, on October 7, 1849, he died from his excesses. His burial place in that city is one of America’s literary shrines.
Poet and Critic
Poe’s great intellect was not balanced by a strong character, and every step in his life shows the tragedy of weak will. His work was of three kinds—critical, poetical and narrative. His was the first broad and really artistic criticism in America. Though sometimes farseeing and stimulating, it was fully as often woefully wrong. His remarks on Longfellow were particularly violent, but the older poet met them with uniform charity and was always unsparing in his praise of Poe’s work. Poe defined poetry, not as thought or as passion, but as music, and in this melody of words some of his own powers are unrivaled. The Raven, The Bells, Annabel Lee and Ulalume show his power at its height. By reason of this handful of short poems, he ranks among the truest poets American has ever produced.
Though Poe’s greatest fame rests on his poems, he is also known for his tales—Ligeia, William Wilson, The Gold Bug, The Purloined Letter, The Fall of the House of Usher. His realms of fancy are completely removed from actuality and consequently are as real in one land or century as in another. In his rather limited sphere, his unique genius has given him lasting and universal distinction.