“The true genius shudders at incompleteness – and usually prefers silence to saying something which is not everything it should be.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps one of the most renown Gothic, melancholic and alcoholic American writers of all time.
Like many great writers, he was also fairly introverted.
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts. The son of two actors, Poe never knew his family. His father left early in his life and his mother died when he was three years old. Adopted by the Allan family who were successful tobacco merchants (where he received his middle name), he was separated from his elder brother and younger sister.
With no interest in the family business, Poe didn’t get along with his adoptive father John Allan, and was closest to his adoptive mother Frances Allan. After deciding to study at University, Poe turned to gambling for financial support, as his adoptive father didn’t approve of his studies. Eventually Poe dropped out of university due to the massive debt he had heaped up from gambling.
During his time at University his neighbor and fiancée Elmira Royster became engaged to someone else. Heartbroken at 18, he joined West Point military academy achieving a high rank, but was expelled after two years for using a false name and age to enlist. During his enlistment time his adoptive mother Frances, who Poe was close to, fell ill and died. His adoptive father failed to tell him.
At the age of 22, Poe moved in with his aunty Maria and cousin Virginia in Baltimore for four years, to concentrate on his writing career. It was here where Poe fell in love with his young cousin Virginia who became his literary inspiration. In 1836, they married; Poe being 26, and his cousin 13.
Poe began his writing career as a cut-throat critic and editor for the Southern Literary Messenger magazine, gaining notoriety for his short stories and poems. His creative talents led to the beginning of different literary genres, “Sherlock Holmes” author Arthur Conan Doyle christening Poe: “Father of the Detective Story”.
Poe’s career as a critic and editor didn’t last very long however, and in 1837 Poe’s aggressive-reviewing style strained his relationship with the publication. Afterward, he went on to attempt a few brief stints at two other papers; Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and The Broadway Journal. He was shy and restrained with strangers, writes his specialized biographer Arthur Quinn, but possessed a formidable ability for self-promotion through shocking and controversial material.
In the next 10 years Poe published some of his greatest works: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Ligeia”, “William Wilson”, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Raven” and “The Gold Bug”, later winning him awards for creativity and the use of cryptography (one of his favorite hobbies). In 1847 his beloved Virginia died of tuberculosis sending Poe into an abyss of grief, melancholy, and despair. He began suffering from periods of insanity, resulting in heavy drinking and suicide attempts.
Poe’s death is the most mysterious aspect of his life. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found in the streets of Baltimore delirious and wearing someone else’s clothes. He reportedly kept repeating the name “Reynolds” the night before his death. On October 7, 1849, he passed away, his final words being: “Lord, help my poor soul.”
Edgar Allan Poe As A Loner
Poe’s life and life problems formed his outlook on life as being full of seclusion, disconnection, suspicion, isolation and fear – all these feelings which he perfectly embodied in his works.
The atmosphere of Poe’s works are unrivaled in American literature. The reader can sense the whole of his work is filled with a despairing solitude, and his greatest characters are desolate souls; psychological studies of reclusion and madness.
Poe is not someone to merely learn about, he’s someone you can taste for yourself. I feel that there are two specific autobiographical poems that exhibit his solitude perfectly:
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then–in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life–was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
There are some qualities–some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence–sea and shore-
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name’s “No More.”
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!