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The Dark Night of Edgar Allan Poe
Before there was Eliot, Yeats and Frost there was Edgar Allan Poe; the dark knight of literature and prose. If there was a knight in shining armor that rescued desperate damsels in distress then Poe was the black horse sweltering, lathery and flaming in their despair. He was the villain that tore through the dark countryside with the damsel helplessly at his mercy. Edgar Allan Poe was the master of macabre and mystery.
Poe was the detective dangerously chasing after his prey in the cold unforgiving streets. Poe was the unlikely Raven in his own tumultuous life a dark poem spiraling into the abyss. From that same abyss came the genesis of his genius that would inspire not only writing but science and cryptography as well. Often hated and misunderstood later Poe’s shadow would cast itself deep down the corridor of poetic posterity.
In constant conflict with his peers while living the self proclaimed critic spared no one. In death the giants of the literary landscape lauded him with accolades as the instigator and inspiration of their own revelation. From Arthur Conan Doyle the mastermind of Sherlock Holmes to the wild imagination of H.G. Wells; Poe’s lucid mind found it’s way into the tapestry of their creativity each paying homage to the dark pen of Poe.
Shortly after his birth in the winter of 1809 both his parents were gone, his mother to sudden death and his father to abandonment. He was taken in by the affluent John and Frances Allan but strangely was never adopted. The next 30 years would find the fleeting shadow of Poe on the streets of New York City, England, Boston and Philadelphia chasing the elusive albatross of literary acceptance. From a stint in the military and grammar school in both Scotland and London the surreal clay of Poe’s imagination was being formed.
“Tamerlane” to “Annabel Lee” Poe’s unsuccessful bid at acceptance was always just out of reach. Public drunkenness led to his discharge as an assistant newspaper editor as alcohol stalked his steps throughout life like a late unwelcome guest. Finding only moderate success as a magazine editor he continued to publish his poetry when the release of The Raven plunged him into the mainstream at the age of 36.
He lost his Virginia to tuberculosis nearly 2 years to the day after The Raven screamed through the public conscience leaving him deplorable and depressed. Poe was just beginning to bask in the new found acceptance when his own raven came tapping and Poe was dead at 40. It was not until the twilight of his often tormented life that he tasted the dregs of success. The battle against addiction was a failing one despite the efforts Poe made joining a “temperance” group that advocated sobriety.
No one is certain the cause of his death after the distraught Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore wearing a stranger’s bedraggled clothes. Edgar Allan Poe never regained consciousness to explain his last dilapidating hours and died in the Washington College Hospital. A friend of Poe later wrote in his journal leaving a lamenting epitaph, “A bright but unsteady light has been awfully quenched…”
by Chad Taylor
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