Edgar Allan Poe

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 19, 1809, Boston, Mass., U.S.
died Oct. 7, 1849, Baltimore, Md.


American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. His tale “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His “The Raven” (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national literature.

Life.

Poe was the son of the English-born actress Elizabeth ArnoldPoe and David Poe, Jr., an actor from Baltimore. After his mother died in Richmond, Va., in 1811, he was taken into the home of John Allan, a Richmond merchant (presumably his godfather), and of his childless wife. He was later taken to Scotland and England (1815–20), where he was given a classical education that was continued in Richmond. For 11 months in 1826 he attended the University of Virginia, but his gambling losses at the university so incensed his guardian that he refused to let him continue, and Poe returned to Richmond to find his sweetheart, (Sarah) Elmira Royster, engaged. He went to Boston, where in 1827 he published a pamphlet of youthful Byronic poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems. Poverty forced him to join the army under the name of Edgar A. Perry, but on the death of Poe's foster mother, John Allan purchased his release from the army and helped in getting him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before going, Poe published a new volume at Baltimore, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829). He successfully sought expulsion from the academy, where he was absent from all drills and classes for a week. He proceeded to New York City and brought out a volume of Poems, containing several masterpieces, some showing the influence of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He then returned to Baltimore, where he began to write stories. In 1833 his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won $50 from a Baltimore weekly, and by 1835 he was in Richmond as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. There he made a name as a critical reviewer and married his young cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only 13. Poe seems to have been an affectionate husband and son-in-law.

Poe was dismissed from his job in Richmond, apparently for drinking, and went to New York City. Drinking was in fact to be the bane of his life. To talk well in a large company he needed a slight stimulant, but a glass of sherry might start him on a spree; and, although he rarely succumbed to intoxication, he was often seen in public when he did. This gave rise to the conjecture that Poe was a drug addict, but according to medical testimony he had a brain lesion. While in New York City in 1838 he published a long prose narrative, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, combining (as so often in his tales) much factual material with the wildest fancies. Itis considered one inspiration of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1839 he became coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. There a contract for a monthly feature stimulated him to write “William Wilson” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” stories of supernatural horror. The latter contains a study of a neurotic now known to have been an acquaintance of Poe, not Poe himself.

Later in 1839 his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque appeared (dated 1840). He resigned from Burton's about June 1840 but returned in 1841 to edit its successor, Graham's La dy's and Gentleman's Magazine, in which he printed the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In 1843 his “The Gold Bug” won a prize of $100 from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, which gave him great publicity. In 1844 he returned to New York, wrote the “Balloon Hoax” for the Sun, and became subeditor of the New York Mirror under N.P. Willis, thereafter a lifelong friend. In the New York Mirror of Jan. 29, 1845, appeared, from advance sheets of the American Review, his most famous poem, “The Raven,” which gave him national fame at once. Poe then became editor of the Broadway Journal, a short-lived weekly, in which he republished most of his short stories, in 1845. During this last year the now forgotten poet Frances Sargent Locke Osgood pursued Poe. Virginia did notobject, but “Fanny's” indiscreet writings about her literary love caused great scandal. His The Raven and Other Poems and a selection of his Tales came out in 1845, and in 1846 Poe moved to a cottage at Fordham (now part of New York City), where he wrote for Godey's Lady's Book (May–October 1846) “Literati of New York”—gossipy sketches on personalities of the day, which led to a libel suit.

His wife, Virginia, died in January 1847. The following year Poe went to Providence, R.I., to woo Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet. There was a brief engagement. Poe had close but platonic entanglements with Annie Richmond and with SarahAnna Lewis, who helped him financially. He composed poetic tributes to all of them. In 1848 he also published the lecture “Eureka,” a transcendental “explanation” of the universe, which has been hailed as a masterpiece by some critics and as nonsense by others. In 1849 he went south, hada wild spree in Philadelphia, but got safely to Richmond, where he finally became engaged to Elmira Royster, by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton, and spent a happy summer with only one or two relapses. He enjoyed the companionship of childhood friends and an unromantic friendship with a youngpoet, Susan Archer Talley.

Poe had some forebodings of death when he left Richmond for Baltimore late in September. There, after toasting a lady at her birthday party, he began to drink heavily. The indulgence proved fatal, for Poe had a weak heart. He was buried in Westminster Presbyterian churchyard in Baltimore.


Appraisal.

Poe's work owes much to the concern of Romanticism with the occult and the satanic. It owes much also to his own feverish dreams, to which he applied a rare faculty of shaping plausible fabrics out of impalpable materials. With an air of objectivity and spontaneity, his productions are closely dependent on his own powers of imagination and an elaborate technique. His keen and sound judgment as appraiser of contemporary literature, his idealism and musical gift as a poet, his dramatic art as a storyteller, considerably appreciated in his lifetime, secured him a prominent place among universally known men of letters.

The outstanding fact in Poe's character is a strange duality. The wide divergence of contemporary judgments on the manseems almost to point to the coexistence of two persons in him. With those he loved he was gentle and devoted. Others, who were the butt of his sharp criticism, found him irritable and self-centred and went so far as to accuse him of lack of principle. Was it, it has been asked, a double of the man rising from harrowing nightmares or from the haggard inner vision of dark crimes or from appalling graveyard fantasies that loomed in Poe's unstable being?

Much of Poe's best work is concerned with terror and sadness, but in ordinary circumstances the poet was a pleasant companion. He talked brilliantly, chiefly of literature, and read his own poetry and that of others in a voice of surpassing beauty. He admired Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. He had a sense of humour, apologizing to a visitor for not keep ing a pet raven. If the mind of Poe is considered, the duality is still more striking. On one side, he was an idealist and a visionary. His yearning for the ideal was both of the heart and of the imagination. His sensitiveness to the beauty and sweetness of women inspired his most touching lyrics (“To Helen,” “Annabel Lee,”“Eulalie,” “To One in Paradise”) and the full-toned prose hymns to beauty and love in “Ligeia” and “Eleonora.” In “Israfel” his imagination carried him away from the material world into a dreamland. This Pythian mood was especially characteristic of the later years of his life.

More generally, in such verses as “The Valley of Unrest,” “Lenore,” “The Raven,” “For Annie,” and “Ulalume” and in his prose tales his familiar mode of evasion from the universe of common experience was through eerie thoughts,impulses, or fears. From these materials he drew the startling effects of his tales of death (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Premature Burial,” “The Oval Portrait,” “Shadow”), his tales of wickedness and crime (“Berenice,” “The Black Cat,” “William Wilson,” “Imp of the Perverse,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart”), his tales of survival after dissolution (“Ligeia,” “Morella,” “Metzengerstein”), and his tales of fatality (“The Assignation,” “The Man of the Crowd”). Even when he does not hurl his characters into the clutch of mysterious forces oronto the untrodden paths of the beyond, he uses the anguishof imminent death as the means of causing the nerves to quiver (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and his grotesque invention deals with corpses and decay in an uncanny play with the aftermath of death.

On the other side, Poe is conspicuous for a close observation of minute details, as in the long narratives and in many of the descriptions that introduce the tales or constitute their settings. Closely connected with this is his power of ratiocination. He prided himself on his logic and carefully handled this real accomplishment so as to impress the public with his possessing still more of it than he had; hence the would-be feats of thought reading, problem unravelling, and cryptography that he attributed to his Legrand and Dupin. This suggested to him the analytical tales, which created the detective story, and his science fiction tales.

The same duality is evinced in his art. He was capable of writing angelic or weird poetry, with a supreme sense of rhythm and word appeal, or prose of sumptuous beauty and suggestiveness, with the apparent abandon of compelling inspiration; yet he would write down a problem of morbid psychology or the outlines of an unrelenting plot in a hard and dry style. In Poe's masterpieces the double contents of his temper, of his mind, and of his art are fused into a oneness of tone, structure, and movement, the more effective, perhaps, as it is compounded of various elements.

As a critic, Poe laid great stress upon correctness of language, metre, and structure. He formulated rules for the short story, in which he sought for the ancient unities: i.e., the short story should relate a complete action and take place within one day in one place. To these unities he added that of mood or effect. He was not extreme in these views, however. He praised longer works and sometimes thought allegories and morals admirable if not crudely presented. Poe admired originality, often in work very different from hisown, and was sometimes an unexpectedly generous critic of decidedly minor writers.

Poe's genius was early recognized abroad. No one did more to persuade the world and, in the long run, the United States, of Poe's greatness than the French poets Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Indeed his role in Frenchliterature was that of a poetic master model and guide to criticism. French Symbolism relied on his “Philosophy of Composition,” borrowed from his imagery, and used his examples to generate the modern theory of “pure poetry.”

Charles Cestre
Thomas Ollive Mabbott
Jacques Barzun





Gustave Dore

 

born Jan. 6, 1832, Strasbourg, Fr.
died Jan. 23, 1883, Paris


French printmaker, one of the most prolific and successful book illustrators of the late 19th century, whose exuberant and bizarre fantasy created vast dreamlike scenes widely emulated by Romantic academicians.
In 1847 he went to Paris and from 1848 to 1851 produced weekly lithographic caricatures for the Journal pour Rire and several albums of lithographs (1847–54). His later fame rested on his wood-engraved book illustrations. Employing more than 40 woodcutters, he produced over 90 illustrated books. Among his finest were an edition of the Oeuvres de Rabelais (1854), Les Contes drolatiques of Balzac (1855), thelarge folio Bible (1866), and the Inferno of Dante (1861). He also painted many large compositions of a religious or historical character and had some success as a sculptor; his work in those media, however, lacks the spontaneous vivacity of his illustrations.
           
 

 


Edgar Allan Poe

 

The Raven


 

Illustrations by Gustave Dore



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Edgar Allan Poe

 

The Raven

 

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Nevermore

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

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 someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
 “’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
 Only this, and nothing more.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
 And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
 Nameless here forevermore.

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
 Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
 “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
 Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;
 This it is, and nothing more.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
 “Sir,” said I, “or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
 And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
 That I scarce was sure I heard you.” Here I opened wide the door;—
 Darkness there, and nothing more.

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
 Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
 And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
 This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”
 Merely this, and nothing more.

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
 Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
“Surely,” said I, “surely, that is something at my window lattice.
 Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
 Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
 ’Tis the wind, and nothing more.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
 But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door;

 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door;
 Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

 
 

 

 
 
 
 

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
 By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
 Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
 Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore.”
 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
 Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
 Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
 Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
 With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
 That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
 Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before;
 On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
 Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
 “Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
 Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,—
 Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
 Of “Never—nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

But the raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
 Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
 Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore,
 What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
 Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
 To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
 On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
 But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er
 She shall press, ah, nevermore!

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
 Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
 Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
 Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
 Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

On this home by horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore:
 Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me I implore!”
 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
 By that heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
 It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore—
 Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?”
 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
 Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
 Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
 On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming;
 And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
 And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
 Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 
 

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