Edgar Allan Poe- the Similarities Between Life and Poetry
Poetry is the manner one would express very complex feelings or emotions. Many poets who connect with their audiences are able to describe, in writing, the emotion of a certain situation. These poems become autobiographical in the sense that the poem is drawn from the poets own situation and observations. Often, in classical poetry, a poet is able to capture the emotion of the situation so that the reader can make a connection. One of the greatest exponents of this was Edgar Allan Poe. He was able to captivate an audience and almost hypnotise them with his use of language and rhythm.
However, his tragic life affected the themes behind his poems, which have been described as early gothic literature. His ‘weapon of choice,’ was the theme of lost love and loneliness. These themes are perhaps best reflected in his two most famous poems ‘The Raven’ and ‘Annabel Lee. ’ Tragedy is the theme which governed most of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Born in 1809, he was abandoned by his father before his mother died of tuberculosis when he was two years old. He was then raised, but never adopted, by Frances and John Allan. Poe had a normal, albeit strict, childhood up until the age of 17.
Poe had become engaged to a woman, Elmira Royster, but the two lost touch when he attended university. She became engaged to another man as Poe was forced to drop out of university due to the fact that he had incurred a sizeable gambling debt. The loss of his fiance hurt Poe deeply. One of Poe’s early biographers, Arthur Hobson Quinn, described Poe’s relationships with women: ‘Poe seems to prize the spiritual love over the earthly, and in this fashion creates a stronger, and often more morbid bond between his characters, with the spiritual and sensual winning out over the sexual. Poe joined the military but was discharged to attend the funeral of his foster mother, Frances Allan in 1829. Poe was released from military duty in 1831 and went to live in Baltimore with his aunt and her children. It was there that Poe first met his wife and cousin, Virginia Clemm and where he received the news that his brother had died after suffering from tuberculosis. Poe struggled to hold down a job but continued to survive off of publishing numerous essays, poems and short stories. In 1835, Poe married his then 13 year old cousin Virginia.
The two moved around America for several years as Poe struggled to find work until in 1842, Virginia was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Poe’s worked underwent a great change at this stage as he continued to be fascinated with the finality of death and the feelings of being left behind. He published his most famous work, ‘The Raven’, in 1845 and became instantly famous. However, the slow death of his wife consumed most of his time. Poe loved his wife deeply and in an article he published during her illness, he said: “My darling wife you are my greatest and only stimulus now to battle with this uncongenial, unsatisfactory and ungrateful life. Virginia Clemm-Poe died of tuberculosis in 1847. She was said to be Poe’s greatest inspiration. Her death drove Poe into a deep depression. He attempted suicide in 1848, on the first anniversary of his wife’s death. Poe published very little between this period and his mysterious death in 1849; however, his famous ballad, Annabel Lee (published after his death), corresponds directly with comments made about him by his friend, Charles Burr; therefore proving that his wife was the sole inspiration behind his later works.
Poe’s most famous and critically acclaimed poem, The Raven, documents the narrator’s slow descent into madness following the death of his lost love, Lenore. It was published in 1845, which corresponds with Virginia’s illness. Poe himself described the poems’ main theme in an essay he wrote shortly after the poem was published. He describes the Raven as ‘a poem that reveals the human penchant for self-torture. ’ Essentially, Poe’s life was centred around self-torture. He was a self-confessed alcoholic and a known user of substances such as absinthe and opium.
It is possible that Poe wrote the Raven as a response to the emotions he was experiencing regarding his wife’s illness. The feelings of loneliness, madness and frustration experienced by the narrator could quite possibly have been those felt by Poe at the time. The narrators’ undying devotion to his lost love reflects that seen by Poe during his wife’s illness. Poe, faced with his wife’s mortality, would have been reflecting on the future and on when, if ever, he could forget her.
It’s possible that Poe wrote the Raven so that his wife’s memory would never be forgotten and the fact that every aspect of the poem has been considered could reflect his desire for his wife’s memory to not be tarnished. However, this was a form of self-torture in itself, seeing as it would cause him to confront those same feelings every time he came across his poem, even after his wife’s death. Poe’s love for his wife could not be forgotten, as expressed in his poem, Annabel Lee.
Annabel Lee was published after Poe’s death in 1949. The poem is a ballad but contains a very loose structure, and almost could be classified as a reflective text. The narrator of the poem is similar to that of the Raven, a male who has lost his love (Annabel). He describes their love for each other, which in turn made the angels in heaven jealous. They killed her but the narrator believes she still lives in his heart and in his mind. Every night, the narrator visits his Annabel Lee in her tomb by the sea, where they are together.
The woman thought to represent Annabel Lee is most definitely Virginia Clemm as Poe’s friend Charles Chauncey Burr wrote, ‘Many times, after the death of his beloved wife, was he found at the dead hour of a winter night, sitting beside her tomb almost frozen in the snow’. This corresponds directly with the fact that the narrator of the poem spends his nights at his beloveds’ tomb by the sea. It is obvious that Poe could not forget or control the emotions that the death of his wife caused him to feel. He felt frustration that the ‘angels’ had taken his wife from him so soon (at the age of 24).
His time spent with Virginia is something of which he could not or didn’t want to forget. Edgar Allan Poe has been able to entertain and captivate audiences from well beyond the grave. The haunting tone and themes confronted in his poems reflect the experiences of his life. Possibly the greatest inspiration for him was his wife and the love he felt for her. Ultimately, it was the fact that she was taken from him that inspired his greatest work. However, born out of his tragedy, is a hope in many others that they will be able to capture the same level of brilliance that is reflected in his works.
Bibliography W. C. Bryant, Poe, Edgar Allan, viewed 12th May 2011, http://classiclit. about. com/od/poeedgarallan/Poe_Edgar_Allan. htm B. Gascoigne, Edgar Allan Poe, viewed 11th May 2011, http://www. kirjasto. sci. fi/eapoe. htm D. , Grantz, Women in Poe, viewed 18th May 2011, http://www. helpfulresearch. com/edgar. html A. , Hobson Quinn, 1941, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, edn. 1, Appleton-Century Crofts, New York J. Hubbell, 1866, Charles Chauncey Burr: A Friend of Poe, Edn. 4, Old Guard Publishers, New York C. D.
Merriman, Edgar Allan Poe, viewed 12th May 2011, http://www. online-literature. com/poe/ E. Poe, Edgar Allan Poe- Quotes on Inspiration, viewed 18th May 2011, http://thinkexist. com/quotes/edgar_allan_poe/ E. Poe, The Raven Comments, viewed 19th may 2011, http://www. heise. de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven. html Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe, viewed 11th May 2011, http://www. eapoe. org/geninfo/poerelig. htm Poe Museum, Edgar Allan Poe, viewed 12th May 2011, http://www. poemuseum. org/index/life. php