The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 1, 2013

Quoth the raven, nevermore

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. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

I was mulling in my mind ... OK, I was daydreaming ... the other day about America’s greatest writers, trying to glean the best kernels of wheat from the chaff.

Mark Twain immediately came to mind, as did William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. All great novelists in their own rights and extraordinarily varied styles. No argument here.

But for me, none of these literary giants outpaces Edgar Allan Poe.

The guy was ahead of his time and conveyed mood better than any writer you can pull up on a Kindle.

And, unlike the previous gentlemen I enumerated, Poe had no peer on these shores when it came to poetry, the dank tarn of Auber or the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Read “The Raven,” “The Bells,” “Ulalume” or “Annabel Lee” and tell me you aren’t enveloped and overcome by his deep morose and wistful longing for something lost in life.

And, for his 40 short years upon this earth, Edgar Allan Poe had his share of darkness and depression that pervaded his best writings.

Being one of the first American practitioners of the short story — and some of the best ever penned — he is credited with being the inventor of detective fiction, and a great contributor to the then-emerging writing genre of science fiction.

Boston born to traveling actors in the dead of winter 1809, his father abandoned his family and his mother died when he was 2 — a tragic start to a life which obviously shaped his writing and macabre outlook.

The second of three children, Poe was separated from what little family he had when his siblings went to live with others, and Edgar was taken in by wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and wife Frances Valentine in Richmond, Va.

The elder Allan, from whom young Edgar took his middle name, aspired  his new son to be a gentleman and businessman.

But Poe had dreams of being a writer and to emulate his childhood hero — British poet Lord Byron.

At 13, and showing no interest in tobacco, young Edgar Allan compiled enough poetry to publish a book, but its printing was disallowed.

He went on to attend the University of Virginia, where he excelled yet accumulated considerable debt, which seemed to follow him for the rest of life.

The rich, miserly John Allan did little to help the young student in college, and Edgar Allan took to gambling to raise expense money.

At the end of his first college term, he was so desperately poor he burned his furniture to keep warm.

Aside from his financial problems, his fianceé, Elmira Royster, jilted him and became engaged to another man while Poe was away at school.

Heartbroken, he also broke from his adoptive family in a stormy scene in which he left the Allan’s in quest to find adventure and become a great poet.

He published his first book, “Tamerlane,” at age 18, and enlisted in the United States Army. After a brief reconciliation with John Allan, he gained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Yet, after just eight months, he purposefully got himself thrown out. Broke and alone, he moved to Baltimore and called upon relatives there for assistance.

Poe began writing and working in an editorial position for the popular Southern Literary Messenger, targeting other writers with scathing book reviews, insulting some authors and the Northern literary establishment.

He became an American household name in 1845 when he published “The Raven.”

At 27, he married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, while she was just 13, and seemed happy for the first time in his life.

Still struggling in poverty, his young wife contracted tuberculosis and finally died in 1847, devastating the author.

Having made many enemies and attracting jealous critics of his work, Poe lived just two more years, having on-and-off attachments to other women, including his first fianceé, Elmira Royster, who was widowed. His death was as strange and morose as his writing. On his way to Philadelphia, he stopped in Baltimore and disappeared for five days.

He was found in a public house bar room being used as an election polling place. Taken to a hospital, he died of unknown causes Oct. 7, 1849, at age 40.

As with much of his writing, his death still teems with mystery.

Pilloried by his critics — unsuccessfully as it turned out — his many works, from “The Pit and the Pendulum” to the “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” became American classics.

And in that overwhelmingly melancholic writing style of his, Edgar Allan Poe still has no peer.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking

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