Edgar Allan Poe: a Man of Secrecy


Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 as Edgar Poe. He was the second son to Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe. Both parents were actors, and shortly after Poe’s birth, his father deserted his family around 1810. Edgar became an orphan before the age of three years, when his mother died on December 8, 1811 in Richmond, Virginia at the age of twenty-four years. His father died at the age of twenty-seven years old. After his mother’s death, the childless couple, John and Frances Allan, took in Poe; his paternal grandparents took in brother William Henry; and foster parents cared for sister Rosalie. Allan was a strict and unemotional tobacco merchant and his wife was overindulgent. Poe was educated by the Allan’s aid, in private academies, excelling in Latin, in writing verse and declamation. However, regardless of his education, he was looked down upon by the upper class of society, perhaps because Poe was never legally adopted by the Allan’s, nonetheless he was regarded as an outsider by the Richmond elite. However, being the child of former actor’s could have also added to his reputation of not fitting in with Richmond’s culture at that time.

The loss of his mother at an early age definitely affected Poe, “The angels, whispering to one another, Can find, among their burning terms of love, None so devotional as that of ‘Mother'” (To My Mother). In Tamerlane, he not only wrote about his father, but he wrote about his mother too. He had more respect for his mother than he did for his father. In Tamerlane he speaks much nicer of his mother. “O, she was worthy of all love! Love – as in infancy was mine – ‘Twas such as angel minds above Might envy; her young heart the shrine on which my every hope and thought…” (Tamerlane). He thought of life with his mother and how it might have been.

In 1831 Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Maria Clemm. There he fell in love and married her daughter and his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was not even fourteen at the time. Ten years later she also died of tuberculosis. He dearly loved his wife and after she died his life just went to pieces. In “The 4 Raven”, the character is morning over the death of “Lenore” when a 4 Raven visits him. Poe used the 4 Raven because it is a bird that feeds on dead flesh – a symbol of death. “Thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee Respite – and Nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!” (The 4 Raven). Lenore is thought of to be a representation of Poe’s deceased wife Virginia. He did not want to get over the loss of his wife. “Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit they bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take they form from off my door!” (The 4 Raven). In the poem, To My Mother, Poe writes about his own mother taking care of Virginia in heaven and becoming her mother as well. The death and mourning of his wife did, in fact, come out in his writing. Poe is very lonely at this point in his life and misses his wife Virginia. “For ‘mid the earnest cares and woes That crowd around my earthly path, (Sad path, Alas, where grows Not even a lonely rose!)” (To One Departed). Death is a time in life that scares Poe and he thinks of it as being evil, because the two women he loved dearly died. He did not always think of death as being an evil thing. In Tamerlane, Poe knew that death was a part of life and he seemed content with the idea of dying. “Father, I firmly do believe – I know – for Death, who comes for me…. Else how, when in the holy grove” (Tamerlane).

Over the years, Poe’s works have endured much criticism as well as much praise. Many professionals who have researched Poe’s life and his writings feel that many of his writings strongly show reflections on Poe’s real life. One critic and friend wrote, “Poe’s attraction to the problem of death is so conspicuous that the reticence of modern criticism on the subject seems inexplicable” (Kennedy 3). Various critics believed his interests in such dark subjects were due to early traumatic experiences (5). Many modern critics of Poe fail to realize that although Poe’s tales took an unusual perspective, at the time, death was looked at as being an elaborate celebration, it wasn’t more acceptable, but it was more of a subject of quiet fascination (17). Kennedy also wrote, “I have never known, nor read of anyone, whose life so curiously illustrated that two fold existence of the spiritual and the carnal disputing the control of the man, which has often been made the theme of fiction. His was debauched by the most groveling appetites and exalted by the richest conception of genius” (Bohn

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