Edgar Allan Poe
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eager 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 for evermore.
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.”
Edgar Allan Poe – excerpt from The Raven
A central figure of the Romantic movement in the US, Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was a poet, writer, editor, and critic famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. Best known for his poetry, he was also an influential prose writer who created unrivaled atmospheres in his tales of horror, invented the detective story genre, and was a pioneer in the emerging field of science fiction.
Born into a family of actors, Poe’s father abandoned the family when he was a year old, and his mother died when he was two. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia, by his godfather John Allan, from whom Poe took his middle name, and who took him to Britain to receive a classical education. Returning to America, Poe enrolled in the University of Virginia, but ran up high gambling debts while there so his godfather forced him to withdraw. Poe’s dissolute habits, coupled with his desire to become a poet in defiance of his godfather’s wishes that he pursue a respectable career, eventually led to a falling out and parting of ways.
Poe enlisted in the army in 1827, and his literary career began humbly that year with the publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems. Soon thereafter, he switched to prose and became a literary critic, but drink and drugs were the banes of his life, and he drank himself out of many a job with periodicals and journals, which led to frequent moves from city to city, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York, in search of work.
On the upside, drink and drugs induced in him feverish dreams that helped take his writings down creative paths none had trod before, and lent his work, the best of which was devoted to terror and sadness, an unmatched aura and edge. In 1845, he published The Raven, which became an instant success and things finally seemed to be on the upswing, but then his wife died in 1847, and he never recovered. Poe died in 1849, reportedly drinking himself to death, although other causes such as drugs or tuberculosis have been suggested.