Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”
~Edgar Allan Poe,
first stanza of “The Raven”
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was born to two traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. He was the second of three children, all who eventually became interested in writing. Edgar’s older brother William Henry Leonard Poe was a poet and his sister Rosalie Poe taught penmanship at a Richmond girls’ school. When Edgar was three, both of his parents had died and he and his siblings were split up to live with different families. Edgar was taking in by John and Frances Valentine Allan in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Allan was a wealthy tobacco merchant and wanted young Edgar to follow in his successful footsteps. Edgar’s childhood hero was the British romanticist poet Lord Byron whose famous poems include She Walks in Beauty and When We Two Parted . At the age of 13, Edgar had written enough poetry to publish a book but the headmaster at his school discouraged Mr. Allan from allowing Edgar to do so.
Mr. Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826 and he excelled in his classes. Mr. Allan sent Edgar to school with only 1/3 of the money that he needed to pay for school so Edgar turned to gambling to try to pay off his debts. During the winter of his first year in school, Edgar was so poor that he created a fire with his furniture to stay warm. Edgar became ashamed by his poverty and angry with Mr. Allan for not giving him enough money to begin with.
Edgar decided to leave school and return to Richmond to visit his fiancée Elmira Royster. When he arrived at her house, he discovered that she had become engaged to another man. Edgar’s heartbreak coupled with his anger and resentment towards Mr. Allan brought to life his wish to storm out of his home and become the great poet to which had always aspired. He left his home in a fury and published his first book titled, Tamerlane when he was 18.
Edgar enlisted in the United States Army in hopes of adding adventure to his life. He enrolled in the United Stated Military Academy at West Point after publishing his second volume of poetry. During his time there, he found out that Mr. Allan remarried soon after his wife died and did not tell Edgar about it nor invite him to the ceremony. Edgar was furious with Mr. Allan and wrote him a letter outlining all the wrongdoings that Edgar felt he had suffered from him. In his letter, Edgar threatened to get thrown out of West Point which Mr. Allan had helped him get into. Within 8 months, the academy expelled Mr. Poe. Soon after, he published another volume of poems. When Mr. Allan died, Edgar was completely left out of his will.
Still broke and alone, Edgar moved to Richmond and stayed with his real father’s family. He began publishing short stores and eventually earned an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger Magazine. With Edgar’s help, the Messenger became the most popular magazine in the southern states. Mr. Poe’s sensational stories and ferocious book reviews earned him a reputation as a fearless critic who insulted some of the most famous writers in the country and their works alike.
At the age of 27, Poe married his distant cousin Virginia who was only 14. Edgar shared the joys of his happy marriage in his poem “Eulalie”. He left his position at the Messenger and moved his family to New York and then Philadelphia in 1836 in search of a better paying job. Tragedy struck his household when in 1842 when Virginia contracted tuberculosis which had already killed Poe’s mother, brother, and foster-mother.
Published in 1945, “The Raven” skyrocketed Edgar to a household name. He now drew large crowds at his lectures and received higher pay. In 1846, he left Philadelphia for a cottage in the country because of Virginia’s bad health and rumors of an affair with a married woman. In 1847, Virginia died at age 24. Edgar was left devastated and unable to write for four months. He lived for only two more years after Virginia’s death and died from causes unknown on October 7, 1849 at the age of 40.
The tragedies met during his life fueled Edgar Allan Poe’s dark and mysterious style of writing. The “Tell-Tale Heart”,”The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” are spooky reads for Halloween. The blogger Sprinkle Bakes made a “Portrait of Poe in Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet” cake which looks so spooky! Especially with the blood-red velvet cake! Readings of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works are available for free through iTunes U. Search for The Works of Edgar Allan Poe through Lit2Go and the University of Southern Florida. I will be listening to the readings with my friends on Halloween night for sure!
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of
many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
~Edgar Allan Poe