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While the enormous popularity of Edgar Allan Poe's famous short stories and poems continues to highlight his creative brilliance, Poe's renown as the master of horror, the father of the detective story, and the voice of "The Raven" is something of a mixed blessing. Today, Poe is known, read, and appreciated on the basis of a comparatively narrow body of work, roughly a dozen tales and half as many poems. For the novice reader, these favored texts offer easy (but still challenging) access to Poe's most exemplary writing, entry into his uniquely terrifying world, and intriguing connections to facets of their author's tragically disordered life. The total effect of all this is compelling, and Poe himself would certainly approve. He wrote for the masses, using his learned artistry to reach the common people of his day and to then elevate their minds while intensifying their emotional reactions. Poe was not averse to the commercial sensationalism either: he wrote several "hoaxes" as news and later capitalized on his personal notoriety for bookings on the lecture/recital circuit. Along with Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, Poe ranks among the foremost literary stars in the firmament of popular American culture. A century and half after his death, Poe is instantly identifiable, stands without rival, and remains (with effort) immensely enjoyable. In his normal frame of mind, at least, Poe would have been deeply amused by the widespread adulation and fame he has enjoyed in posterity.

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The rub is that we may be tempted to stop here and neglect the breadth and the depth of Poe's contributions to Western Literature. Poe, in fact, wrote nearly seventy short works of fiction. He is duly credited with creating the detective story genre and with transforming the Gothic mystery tale of the Romantic Period into the modern horror or murder stories centered in the outlying regions of human mind and experience. But he also wrote several comic and satirical pieces, literary parodies, sketches, and experimental stories, including "A Descent into the Maelstrom," and his novella, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. His most famous poems—"The Raven," "Ulalume," "The Bells," "The City in the Sea"—were enormously influential. These famous verses were behind a powerful wave of enthusiasm for Poe that arose among the leading writers of Europe during his own lifetime, spread thereafter around the world, and was sustained through the "discovery" of existential "human condition" themes in his short stories generations later. But Poe also wrote three volumes of poetry during the first period of his literary career (1827-1831) that deserve our attention, as does his metaphysical Eureka: A Prose Poem and his verse drama, Politian. In terms of the hidden breadth of his accomplishments, during most of his career, Poe labored as an editor of literary journals and reviewer of fiction, verse, and non-fiction books. Among the latter, Poe wrote reviews on books of such diverse fields as medicine, natural history, archeology, philology, and economics.

As for Poe's criticism of fiction and verse, there is an intersection with the often-overlooked depth of his work. Poe developed a theory of composition that he applied to both his short stories and his poems. Its most basic principle was that insofar as short fiction and poetry were concerned, the writer should aim at creating a single and total psychological/spiritual effect upon the reader. The theme or plot of the piece is always subordinate to the author's calculated construction of a single, intense mood in the reader's or listener's mind, be it melancholy, suspense, or horror. There are no extra elements in Poe, no subplots, no minor characters, and no digressions except those that show the madness of deranged first-person ("I") narrators. Ultimately, Poe took writing to be a moral task that worked not through teaching lessons, but in simultaneously stimulating his readers' mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties through texts of absolute integrity. Poe, moreover, judged others by these same standards. By doing so, he is establishing the rules and methods common to New Criticism, the leading school of literary analysis in the twentieth century with its insistence that the text must be interpreted as a self-contained unit apart from the critic's opinions of its author or the suitability of its themes.


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Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, was an actress who had attained some prominence as a leading lady. His father, David Poe, Jr., had pursued a somewhat less successful career on the stage, punctuated by alcoholic binges. Although the precise dates and other details are unclear, Poe's father apparently abandoned his family around the time of Edgar's second birthday. We do know that his mother took Edgar, his brother, William Henry, and sister, Rosalie, with her to Richmond, Virginia, sometime in 1811 and that she died there in December of that same year. Edgar was separated from his siblings and placed in the care of a childless couple, John and Frances Allan.

John Allan was an English/Scottish merchant who kept a tight hold on the family's purse strings but who also recognized the value of education. In 1815, he took his wife and "stepson" (Edgar was never legally adopted by the Allans) to England on an extended business trip. In England, Edgar spent his early childhood at prestigious boarding academies, including the Manor House School of Doctor Bransby at Stoke Newington. Evidently, he was an excellent student: in 1819, John Allan wrote to his friend William Galt that "Edgar is in the Country at school, he is a very fine boy & a good scholar." It was while he was in England that young Edgar first became acquainted with the Gothic literature that was popular in Europe at the time.

When Allan returned to Richmond in 1820, Edgar continued his education at private schools, studying Latin, verse, and oratory. He was also an athletic youth, a superior swimmer, and marksman. But he was not popular. He was taunted by his peers as the son of actors (a disreputable profession) who occupied an odd status in the Allan household as an unadopted stepson. Poe received support and encouragement from the mother of a classmate, Jane Stith Stanard, but she died of a brain tumor when he was fifteen years old. More so than Elizabeth Poe or Mrs. Allan, he looked upon this woman as his idealized mother, and her untimely death was the apparent cause of his first extended period of psychological depression, during which he often visited her grave. Around this time, John Allan's trading firm suffered a series of financial setbacks, the company itself was dissolved, and Poe's stepfather took to extramarital affairs and to the bottle.

In 1825, however, John Allan inherited a large sum of money, and this abrupt reversal of fortune enabled him to enroll Edgar at the University of Virginia. Shortly before his departure for college, Poe began to court a fifteen-year-old woman named Sarah Elmira Royster. Whether the two were engaged before he left for college is unclear; that he was serious about his intention to marry Sarah is fairly certain. Poe entered the University of Virginia in 1826 at the age of seventeen, concentrating on classical and modern languages. But he found it difficult to maintain a gentleman's life style on the relatively meager allowance that John Allan furnished to him. He took to gambling and compiled debts of honor amounting to some $2,000, an enormous sum in the 1820s. John Allan refused to pay these debts; Poe left school and returned to Richmond, where he worked for a time in Allan's counting house. When he tried to renew his courtship of Sarah Royster, her parents first told him that she was abroad; he eventually learned that his first fiancée had become engaged to another young man.

Alienated from his stepfather and rejected by Sarah's family, the headstrong Poe set out on his own, moving first to Baltimore in March 1827 and then back to the city of his birth, Boston, where he took the first of several pseudonyms, calling himself Henri Le Rennet. It was in Boston that Poe wrote the first poems that would eventually bear his real name. Without a regular source of income, Poe joined the army at the age of eighteen, enlisting under the fictitious name of Edgar A. Perry. He was initially assigned to duty with coastal artillery at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor and later transferred to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island outside the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. With his keen mind and still-sturdy body, Poe did well in the military, rising to the rank of sergeant major during his two-year stint. While he was stationed at Fort Independence, Poe prevailed upon a local publisher to print his first volume of verses, Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827 under the name of Edgar Perry. To these, he would eventually add six new poems for a volume that would be published in Baltimore under his real name at the end of 1829. By then, however, tragedy struck Poe's life once more. In February 1829, Poe's stepmother, Frances Allen, died, the third mother figure in his life to suffer an untimely death.Alienated from his stepfather and rejected by Sarah's family, the headstrong Poe set out on his own, moving first to Baltimore in March 1827 and then back to the city of his birth, Boston, where he took the first of several pseudonyms, calling himself Henri Le Rennet. It was in Boston that Poe wrote the first poems that would eventually bear his real name. Without a regular source of income, Poe joined the army at the age of eighteen, enlisting under the fictitious name of Edgar A. Perry. He was initially assigned to duty with coastal artillery at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor and later transferred to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island outside the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. With his keen mind and still-sturdy body, Poe did well in the military, rising to the rank of sergeant major during his two-year stint. While he was stationed at Fort Independence, Poe prevailed upon a local publisher to print his first volume of verses, Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian, in 1827 under the name of Edgar Perry. To these, he would eventually add six new poems for a volume that would be published in Baltimore under his real name at the end of 1829. By then, however, tragedy struck Poe's life once more. In February 1829, Poe's stepmother, Frances Allen, died, the third mother figure in his life to suffer an untimely death.

The death of Frances Allan set the stage for reconciliation between Poe and John Allan. According to some accounts, it was through Allan's influence that Poe received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He did enter West Point in July 1830, but a few months later, he learned that John Allan had remarried a woman with children and realized that he would never receive any inheritance from his stepfather. Poe resumed his losing ways at cards, drank heavily, and neglected his duties, refusing to leave his room at the Academy for days on end: he was dismissed from West Point in March 1831. Poe took up residence at the home of his aunt, Maria Clemm, with her young daughter (and Poe's cousin), Virginia Clemm, and Poe's paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Poe. Shortly thereafter, he brought out a third slim volume of poems; like its predecessors, this third book was comprised of verses on conventional romantic subjects, notably the myth of an idealized world of beauty and joy recaptured as dreams and memories. Unfortunately, like his first two collections, it failed to receive any reviews. Poe applied for editorial and teaching positions but was unsuccessful in his effort to gain regular employment.

In 1831, Poe entered into a new stage in his fledgling literary career. The tastes of the American reading public had turned from romantic poetry and toward humorous and satirical prose. By June of that year, he had submitted five comic pieces to the Philadelphia Saturday Courier —"Metzengerstein," "The Duc de L'Omelette," "The Bargain Lost," "A Tale of Jerusalem," and "A Decided Loss"—all of which were first published in 1832. Throughout the remainder of his career, Poe would write comic and satiric tales, including parodies, burlesques, grotesques, and outright hoaxes. In 1833 and 1834, Poe wrote two serious short stories, "MS. Found in a Bottle" (the first of his sea tales) and "The Assignation" (the first Poe story to appear in a magazine with national circulation). Poe would rework both of these early efforts in the 1840s. He also proposed to publish a volume of short stories under the title of Eleven Tales of the Arabesque, devising a framework of assigning each tale to a fictional member of a literary club, which he tentatively called the Folio Club.

All eleven stories were eventually published, but not as a Folio Club group. Yet his proposal brought his talents to the attention of John Pendleton Kennedy, and through Kennedy, Poe received entree to the Southern Literary Messenger. It was in the Messenger that Poe published his first true horror story, "Berenice," in 1835. Shortly thereafter, he became an editor of this journal, to which he would contribute additional tales, poetry, and scores of book reviews. Many of the latter were extremely abrasive; having secured a permanent position in the literary world, Poe quickly made enemies that would come back to haunt him, even after his death.

When John Allan took ill in 1834, Poe traveled to Richmond in the hope of some positive resolution of his conflict with his erstwhile stepfather. The dying man would have none of it; Allan refused to see Poe and threatened to cane him if he dared to enter his sick room. A year later, his grandmother Elizabeth Poe died, and Poe moved from Baltimore back to Richmond with his aunt and cousin. On May 16, 1836, Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was just thirteen years old at the time. Poe, his bride, and his mother-in-law then moved to New York City, where they would remain for about 18 months before relocating again, this time to Philadelphia.

The year 1837 marked the start Poe's most productive period as a fiction writer; during the next eight years, Poe composed most of the tales of terror with which he is customarily identified. Following "Berenice," Poe wrote "Morella" (1835), "Ligeia" (1838), "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), and "William Wilson" (1840). In 1839, having moved his household to Philadelphia, Poe became co-editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, where he was responsible for most of the literary reviews and at least one feature per month. In 1840, Poe financed the publication of twenty-five short stories as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. But sales of this volume were surprisingly poor; its appearance was neglected by other reviewers, many of whom Poe had already alienated through his criticism of their talents and tastes. Poe fired back with sharply-barbed literary parodies like "How to Write a Blackwood's Article" and through political satires, many of which were aimed at the bourgeois lifestyle and sensibilities of the rising middle class. Poe's unkind cuts caused him to quarrel with his co-editor, the eponymous owner of Burton's, and after he wrote a review in which he accused the popular American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism, Poe was fired by Burton. He tried to found his own literary journal, Penn Magazine, but found no financial backers for the project. Thereafter, he worked for a year (April 1841 to May 1842) as an editor at Graham's Magazine. Wearied by his family's financial insecurity, Poe attempted to gain a position at a custom's house (like his colleague Nathaniel Hawthorne) but was again rebuffed. To earn a living, Poe wrote and turned again to the composition of comic pieces like "Never Bet the Devil Your Head." But in 1842, his young wife, Virginia, suffered a burst blood vessel and contracted tuberculosis. The influence of the latter on Poe's mind may be reflected in his 1842 allegory of epidemic disease, "The Masque of the Red Death," published at a time when Philadelphia was suffering from an outbreak of cholera. In March 1843, he went to Washington, D.C., in search of a job with the federal government. But he was waylaid by an extended drinking binge, Poe taking to the bottle with increasing frequency after Virginia became ill.

In 1843 as well, Poe began a series of murder stories told from the narrative perspective of the fictional murderers. These would eventual include "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," and somewhat later, "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Cask of Amontillado." In that same year, Poe enjoyed the most important boost to his career with the publication of "The Gold Bug," a mystery tale whose protagonist, William Legrand, shared traits similar to Poe's most famous detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The success of "The Gold Bug" allowed Poe to publish three stories in which Dupin solves crimes that baffle the French police—"Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter." He also enjoyed success at this time with some of his comic and satiric pieces, such as "Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences" (1845).

In 1845, Poe's career received two additional boosts. The first came after Poe and his family moved back to New York City, taking residence at a cottage in Fordham, and began to write poetry again. It was in New York that he wrote "The Raven." The poem was a popular sensation, and it gave him a new source of income, reciting his own verses (and later lecturing) to paying audiences. During the remaining years of his life, Poe wrote virtually all of his most famous poems, including "Ulalume" and "Annabel Lee." The second boost came when James Russell Lowell wrote a laudatory essay about Poe that appeared in Graham's Magazine. With Lowell's assistance, Poe became the editor of the Broadway Journal, to which he contributed some 60 reviews and essays, a few new stories, and revised versions of others. In the fall of 1845, Poe borrowed a large sum of money and bought the Broadway Journal. But it failed to turn a profit and ceased publication altogether in early 1846.

Poe now watched as Virginia's health deteriorated. In his own words, he suffered "the horrible, never-ending oscillation between hope and despair." But on January 30, 1847, Virginia Poe died. Poe lapsed into depression and hard drinking. But he pulled out of this descent, turning to the composition of theoretical works about literature, human nature, and the cosmos at large, including Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848), in which he advanced a complete theory about God's will and the universe. He also took to the lecture circuit, giving talks on "The Poetic Principle" and Eureka. During this time, Poe developed friendships with several women, including Sarah Helen Whitman, Mrs. Annie Richmond, and Mrs. Sarah Elmira Shelton (formerly Sarah Elmira Royster, Poe's adolescent erstwhile fiancée). He became conditionally engaged to the somewhat older Sarah Helen Whitman, but their relationship ended abruptly when he called upon her in a drunken state.

Contrary to popular belief, in his final year (1849), Poe's life was relatively stable. He continued to earn a living through his lectures and recital performances, and he visited friends that he had made in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond. In fact, Poe spent two months in Richmond, calling upon Sarah Shelton, who had become a widow and reportedly accepted his proposal of marriage. It was in Richmond that Poe wrote his last poem, the melancholy "Annabel Lee." In late September and in seemingly good health, Poe left Richmond for New York, where he planned to assist another lady friend in the editing of her manuscripts. But for some unknown reason, Poe stopped in Baltimore. On October 3, 1849, an election day, Poe was found deliriously ill, lying half-conscious in the street outside of a polling place and a few yards away from a tavern. Whether Poe was drunk or not has never been conclusively determined. He was taken to a local hospital, still in a delirious state and calling for a polar explorer of the day named Reynolds. He uttered his final words and epitaph, "Lord help my poor soul," on October 7, 1849, and was buried the next day in Baltimore's Presbyterian Cemetery.

The Influence of Poe’s Life on his Work

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Edgar Allan Poe is considered the father of both the horror genre and the detective novel. His stories of murder, revenge, and paranoia are still popular more than 150 years after his premature (and mysterious) death. Many readers wonder where he came up with the ideas for his stories and what type of a man would write such horrifying tales.

Poe's life was interesting. Born in 1809, his parents were actors, but he and his brother and sister were orphaned when Poe was two years old. Poe was sent to foster parents in Richmond, Virginia, named John and Frances (Fanny) Allan. This is where the "Allan" in Edgar Allan Poe comes from, but the Allans also affected Poe's writing.

John Allan was of Scottish descent, hard working and thrifty. He was a tobacco trader and very successful financially. He and Poe clashed throughout most of Poe's life. Allan had not attended college, believing work was more important, and so when Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, Allan did not provide enough for Poe to live on, or so Poe believed. He then resorted to gambling, raking up large debts that he couldn't pay and Allan refused to pay. Allan also urged Poe not to publish his poems. The argument between Poe and Allan was so great that Poe left the Allan home, feeling Allan had held him back. They briefly reconciled after Fanny's death, but they quarreled again, and Poe was not named in Allan's will.

Allan's influence on Poe's work was mostly negative. Allan did not encourage or support Poe in his attempts. Some have seen much of Allan in Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado." The story is one of revenge, where a man buries a friend alive in retaliation for a slight. The story also illustrates the conflict between the insipid and the creative, with Allan being the model for the dull fool.

Fanny Allan was religious and sickly. After the death of his mother, she was Poe's next mother figure. Her illnesses often left her bed-ridden and depressed, and her condition wasn't helped by John Allan's belief her sickness was all in her head. After a long illness, Fanny died in 1829, while Poe was in the Army. She'd wished to see him on her deathbed, but he wasn't able to arrive in time, and he felt guilty for not being there for her. Due to Fanny's frequent illness, Poe turned to one of his classmates' mother, named Jane Standard. She was similar to his mother and Fanny, and she died at the age of 31.

One of the themes in several of Poe's work is the loss of a beloved woman. By the time he was 20, Poe had already lost several influential women in his life, and he incorporated the loss into his work. This is shown in his first published work, called Tamerlane and Other Poems, published anonymously in 1827. The collection included poems Poe wrote as early as age twelve, and are heavily influenced by the work of Byron. However, "Tamerlane" includes references to Elmira Royster, a young woman Poe had courted but she had married another, as well as to Allan:

But father, there liv'd one who, then,
Then—in my boyhood—when their fire
Burn'd with a still intenser glow;
(For passion must, with youth, expire)
E'en then who knew this iron heart
In woman's weakness had a part.

Later works about the death or loss of a beautiful woman include "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "Lenore." In "The Fall of the House of Usher," there is the added aspect of the despair of caring for an invalid. After Madeline's long illness, she is buried. However, she is not yet dead.

Poe enlisted in the Army in 1827 and later attended West Point. In the Army, he was sent to South Carolina, which is the setting for "The Gold Bug" and "The Balloon Hoax." However, he wanted out and neglected his studies in order to get expelled, which he was 1831.

Poe moved in with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. In 1835, they joined him in Richmond, where he worked for the Southern Literary Messenger. Although the magazine prospered due in part to Poe's contributions, his drinking and other personal problems led to his abrupt departure from the magazine. He also married Virginia that year, who was only thirteen at the time.

Poe's drinking caused frequent problems in his life, but the image of him as a drunk is more influenced by the enemies he made during his life than actual fact. His fascination with death could be related to his problems with alcohol, drugs, and depression, but the readers of the time period in which he was writing were also fascinated with the macabre.

For instance, "The Black Cat" was written in 1842. It's the story of a man who, partly because of alcohol, begins to hate his cat. He kills the cat, but another one appears very similar to the first. When he tries to kill the new cat, his wife gets in the way, and he accidentally kills her. He is caught because he walls the cat in with his wife while hiding the body. This story contains supernatural and grotesque elements but also references to reincarnation, which Poe includes as a theme in several stories, possibly due to the many deaths of loved ones in his life. In addition, Poe himself had a beloved cat named Catarina, and his drunken rages (and subsequent fear of hurting Virginia) were commented on by several of his acquaintances. "The Tell-Tale Heart" also explores the dark side of human nature as well as madness.

Poe's relationship with Virginia has been heavily analyzed by critics and biographers, but most agree they were fond of each other. Virginia, like other women in his life, was sickly. In 1842, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and Poe watched her condition deteriorate for the next several years. She died in 1847. Echoes of Virginia are seen in some of Poe's works, including most famously, "Annabel Lee":

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

After Virginia's death, Poe met a woman named Sarah Helen Whitman in 1848. She agreed to marry him, but only if he gave up drinking. He was unable to comply, and they were not married. Poe wrote the poem "To Helen" for her.

Poe died in 1849. His legacy of poems, stories, and criticism is revered and enjoyed and still provides chills to modern readers. Poe's intriguing life, filled with struggle and loss, makes its way into his pages, adding an aspect of humanity to his tales of supernatural vengeance and obsession.

The Debate Over Poe’s Use of Alcohol and Drugs

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The characteristic themes in Poe’s work are those “of horror, terror, strange fantasies and psychological abnormalities.”1 A myth has developed, over the years, which attributes these themes to the writer’s drinking and drug-taking. Before any comment can be made about the influences of drugs and alcohol on Poe’s work, the facts should be reduced to their proper proportion.

Poe was not a heavy daily drinker and was abstemious for long periods of time. He drank in times of emotional turmoil, when excitement or crises overtook him. In his own words he drank not for pleasure but to escape from “torturing memories … insupportable loneliness … a dread of some strange impending doom.”2 His terrors drove him to seek comfort in drink; it was not drinking or drug-taking that brought on the terrors.

Reports of Poe’s addiction to opium have been grossly exaggerated in the past. There is little proof to support the view of Poe as a drug addict. Indeed, it would seem that he knew very little about the potency or physiological effects of laudanum, which contained opium, for once he unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide using it.

The reality is that Poe had a low resistance to alcohol and a physiological disorder from which he suffered that made him highly susceptible to stimulants. The very evidence of his productivity in terms of literary output contradicts the theory that he was an excessive drinker or drug-taker. It is highly doubtful that someone constantly under the influence of alcohol or drugs could have written so much or have been able to ignore their highly deleterious effects. Rather Poe was characterized by what may be termed the “irritation of a sensitive nature.”3

An examination of Poe’s artistic and poetic principles should serve to dispel the notion that he relied on stimulants for his creative instinct or that stimulants were the cause of his dark vision. He thought that art should put the individual in touch with beauty, and the sensuousness and lushness in his works should be attributed to this. And common elements in his poems are the contrast between material and immaterial love, the struggle to comprehend destruction, innocence accompanying human growth, a sense of loss—all contained in a rigorously controlled structure.4 His poems, formed as they are out of such careful attention to poetic structures, cannot be considered a manifestation of emotional, psycho-sexual self-indulgence brought about by stimulants.

Nor can his tales be considered as simply the product of a “disinterested fancy.”5 They are too intense and brooding to be thought of in this way. Poe was disturbed, beyond doubt. He suffered fits of deep depression and experienced many tragedies in his life, including the early death of his young wife. His mental state may have drawn him to the themes and tones characteristic in his works; death and disease, madness, fantasy and the dissolution of the personality. But the work itself cannot be so easily explained, nor attributed to the disturbed mind of a chronic alcoholic or drug addict. Poe’s works were often meticulously revised and show evidence of a heightened conscious artistry.

The escape from reality that is common in much of Poe’s work is not a drug-induced escape, but a conscious effort to introduce the theme of discovery through a backing away from the mundane. The determinants of Poe’s art include the terror of the soul and the imaginative quest for beauty; these two themes form the poet’s outlook on the world. Poe makes “studies of stages of consciousness when the real world slipped away.”6 In this way the mind confronts horror, loss and loneliness. Usher, for example, goes through such an experience of removal from the mundane, but because of an acute sensitivity, which terminates in madness, he is driven to destruction. However, this sensitivity is also that which allows him to perceive beauty in its ideal form. Thus Poe reveals the danger in departing from the mundane, for the individual becomes engulfed by experience. A disruption is caused between the self and the world and a split occurs in the personality. Such disruption and personality disorder can, then, be traced to an artistic source that has little to do with drugs or alcohol.

It is clear, then, that Poe’s art should not be looked at in terms of his drinking and drug taking so much as that his life should be examined to discover what led to his drinking. Astute critics have not attempted to use Poe’s indulgences in opium and alcohol to explain the morbid themes of his work. Rather they have recognized that he suffered “an isolation that would naturally lead to drunkenness and death.”7 They recognize also the amount of work and consideration that went into Poe’s art, contradicting the view that the tales were written by a mindless drunkard or drug addict:

The impulse that made him enjoy writing them—cannot have been the puerile one of amazement, but a deeper, logical enjoyment, in keeping with his own seriousness; it is that of PROVING even the most preposterous of his inventions plausible—that BY HIS METHOD he makes them WORK.8

In conclusion, Poe’s work must be considered as a “conscious art.” The image of the man has come to be distorted over the years, so that the fact that his works were composed by a conscious art has become forgotten. Poe believed that the poem, as a work, began in what he termed the “Poetic Sentiment,” was shaped by the imagination, and then constructed methodically, deliberately, and skillfully according to the imagined pattern. In short, each of Poe’s poems was the product of conscious effort by a healthy and alert intelligence. His themes grew out of an already depressed intelligence; their macabre nature cannot be attributed to drunkenness or drug addiction.


1Vincent Buranelli, Edgar Allan Poe, 2nd edition (Boston: Twayne, 1977) p. 19.

2 Buranelli, p. 33.

3Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Writings (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1967) p. 37.

4Poe, p. 24.

5 Poe, p. 23.

6 Poe, p. 43.

7William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain (New York: New Directions, 1956) p. 222.

8Floyd Stovall, “The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe,” in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays; Twentieth Century Views, edited by Robert Regan (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967) p. 178.

Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe, 2nd edition. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Regan, Robert, ed. Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays; Twentieth Century Views. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Selected Writings. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1967.

Williams, William Carlos. In the American Grain. New York: New Directions, 1956.

Poe at Work

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Short Story Samples of Poe's Stylistic and Thematic Gifts

Edgar Allan Poe’s popular short stories “Ligeia,” "The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” serve as fine samples of his stylistic and thematic gifts. Although Poe’s stories vary in their intensity, ideas, and characters, these particularly share his unique gifts of description, first-person narrative, and detail. His mastery of language, setting, and fascination with the workings of the human mind and psyche are reflected in this particular group. Surprisingly, Poe uses fairly simple plot lines. This element of style is often hidden by his layers of description and complicated vocabulary. For instance, in his important and widely-taught story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe embellishes the fairly simple plot with the dense description of the house and grounds and the feature-by-feature description of Roderick Usher and his ailments so that the reader becomes convinced of the story’s complexity. Poe uses such techniques as a story within a story, an ailing sister who dies and is buried, and Roderick’s increasingly odd behavior to achieve the effect of deep mystery in a straightforward plot. Rather than saying, for instance, “The first sight of the house depressed me,” the narrator says, “I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.”

The complexity of sentence structure varies in stories in which the primary character strives under intense emotional stress as Poe uses this technique to define the character. In “Ligeia,” the narrator, a grieving husband, describes his first wife, Ligeia, minutely, not just her physical beauty but also her intelligence, which engage his utter love, not to say fanatic devotion. “An intensity in thought, action, or speech was possibly, in her, a result, or at least an index, of that gigantic volition … .” The narrator uses the same attention to detail as he describes the bridal chamber he designs for his second bride. Coating after coating of detail builds so that when the macabre ending occurs, the reader has been prepared, just as the child-bride has been possessed.

The narrator in “The Pit and the Pendulum” also asserts his character in the keen attention to every detail of his ordeal through sophisticated, ornate sentences. “The sentence—the dread sentence of death—was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.” Through his staunch awareness of what happened to him moment by moment, he maintains his sanity.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” works as a prime example of simple plot, an abrupt ending, and Poe’s use of different sentence length to establish a character’s personality. The narrator raps out sentences in a style quite different from any of the other stories examined so far: “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this!” The plot, as simple as possible, has a man cold-bloodedly murdering another, burying the corpse in such a way that he should get away with the crime, yet his guilt makes him susceptible to “hearing” the heart beating so that he gives himself away.

Poe mixes his complex sentence structure and vocabulary to create the rhythm essential to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The plot in the first detective story (which no less writer than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cites as his inspiration for Sherlock Holmes) certainly cannot be called simple, but the narrator prepares the readers for something out of the ordinary as he begins with a discussion that would not be out of place in a philosophy book. However, as a well-rounded writer, Poe gives the central character of the story, Dupin, the detective, a voice that speaks in proverbs and wisdom: “Thus there is such a thing as being too profound.” Or “They have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse.”

“The Cask of Amontillado,” with perhaps Poe’s most forthright narrator, plot, and his most common theme of secret burial, is one of Poe’s tensest stories. He uses his effective techniques to draw the readers along even though they know how the story will end. Montresor, the narrator, declares, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” Montresor has passionlessly planned revenge. As he leads Fortunato through the catacombs of his family vault, he feels no compunction about his plan. Poe mixes dialogue through this story as he does in “Rue Morgue,” but Montresor shows his steadfast desire to carry out his revenge by mockingly pointing out the dangers of the tunnels, by teasing his enemy with other kinds of wine, by appealing to his conceit—all in short, non-informational sentences—whereas Dupin’s conversation draws his audience along to form the same conclusions that he forms. So, stylistically, Poe naturally uses long sentences and involved descriptions with a vocabulary that drew from European and Latinate sources.

Thematically in these stories, settings serve as character, startling and important. Imagine Roderick Usher without his crumbling mansion about him; its murky tarn, skeletal trees, windows like eyes all present before anyone even entered the house to discover the twins ailing from a hereditary illness. Ligeia’s husband’s fanaticism about her somehow created the bridal chamber with tapestries and furniture endowed with some sort of life force, vivid and strange, yet absolutely necessary to the story. The “Pit and Pendulum” has to have the inch-by-inch exploration by the narrator to give the sense of claustrophobic fear to the reader, as well as the terror of his finding danger every time he thinks he has rescued himself. Dupin’s description of the apartment and the outer windows in the Rue Morgue give atmosphere and understanding, enabling him to solve the difficult crimes. Even “The Tell-Tale Heart” uses setting as the narrator speaks of how small the house is that he and the old man share, thus making his murder and confession more easily committed.

The workings of the human mind and the human psyche remain by far the most important and interesting themes in Poe’s fiction. He looks at this through first-person narrative, either as an observer, or as a perpetrator, or as a victim. Poe’s writings become richly immersed in the state of mind of the person telling the story. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator insists that he is not mad in a flurry of words and examples that prove completely otherwise. Poe gives the madman complete recall of the complex plot he unfurled mixed with a lack of a motive for his murder. As Poe explores the mind under the influence of a strong drug in “Ligeia,” her widower admits to using opium regularly. After her death, he becomes addicted to opium; consequently, he lists with close particularity all the things that happen as his bride, Rowena, dies, then seems to regain life, and dies again, through a long night, until he accepts as only a madman—or a drug addict—might that Rowena’s body has been possessed by Ligeia.

The narrator/observers in “Usher” and “Rue Morgue” both act as spectators who can view the situations and characters objectively. The narrator of “Usher” necessarily sees and experiences the end of the family and the mansion—he has to survive to carry the tale on, and he must tell all the specifics of the appearance of Roderick and Madeline, of the interior of the house, and of course of the terrible interment of the sister. The “Rue Morgue’s” narrator is essential to show the reader how amazing Dupin’s intellect is. He marvels at Dupin’s ability to follow his own mind segue and then the way Dupin sorts through the many fine points of the murders, solving them as well as saving an innocent man’s life. Poe’s interest in the possibilities offered by high intellect found in some men is reflected in Dupin and the victim of the inquisition especially. Both operate analytically; the inhabitant of the deep abyss keeps his wits about him through terrifying situations. He realizes he is not buried alive—a psychological victory; he measures his prison; he discovers the pit and determines its depth; he even reasons out a way for the rats to free him from death by the pendulum. He holds on through rationality until rescue comes.

Poe’s stories use the themes of impending death, or murder, or the death of a beloved one, and the impact of those deaths on the mind and psyche of characters throughout these six stories. Further themes involve setting as character and the emotions of guilt and revenge. The stylistic manipulation of sentence structure, from complex and even convoluted to short and bullet-like, with vocabulary that ranges from European quotations to Latinate complement the whole of Poe’s writing to make his work well worth the time to study and absorb, not simply eerie stories, but stories that examine his fellow creatures and understand them to a stunning degree.

Poe's Masterful Use of the Doppelganger

A doppelganger is defined as a "ghostly counterpart of a living person; a double." Edgar Allan Poe is a master of using this figure to tap into human consciousness by elucidating the reflection between his protagonist and antagonist. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Mask of the Red Death," and "The Fall of the House of Usher," to name a few, Poe creates a psychological realm where the key to the story is having his central male character face off with himself, in a sense.

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator's hatred of his victim's eye drives him to murder. Though superstitions about the "Evil Eye" were widespread during those times, the narrator of this story does not seem to fear his victim's "pale blue eye," but rather hates it. The equating of the "Evil Eye" with the "evil I" has been noted by several critics and could not have escaped Poe's attention. Like Poe's William Wilson, the madman is killing his own doppelganger, and the further identification with his victim is found in his feeling the old man's terror as if it were his own, and his fantasy that he can actually hear the old man's heartbeat. Guilt is a major theme of the tale, and the attack on the objectification of the self fits well.

"The Mask of the Red Death" has several allegorical elements, including the seven rooms of the imperial suite representing the seven decades of life, the symbolism of the color of the rooms and the masked figure that represents death itself. The opening passage "The 'Red Death' had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and horror of blood," purports that the Red Death is not merely a pestilence, but an Avatar and seal, something that is destined. For purposes of commenting on life and of achieving his single effect, Poe chooses to emphasize death. He is aware not only of the brevity of all life and of its inevitable termination but also of men's isolation: blood, the visible sign of life, is, Poe says, "the pest ban which shuts him out from the aid and sympathy of his fellow man." In the trap of life and in his death, every man is an island. If there is a mutual bond, it is the shared horror of death. Death turns out to be the fatal, inevitable twin of life.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" contains elements of the conventional gothic melodrama, where the common fate of twins is the chief vehicle for both Poe's effect of terror and of his psychological rationalization of the terror. Though Roderick's dissociation of personality has countless external correlatives from the fissure in the house to his physical and intellectual idiosyncrasies, his psychic condition, in the casual sense, cannot be clearly understood unless it is directly related to the illness of his twin sister. Madeline is a visible embodiment of the alter ego. She stands for the emotional or instinctive side of her brother's personality, which has stagnated under the domination of the intellect. But as attested by the interior poem, a synecdoche of his conflict and its outcome, these repressed feelings will ultimately revolt against such tyranny. This turn of events is symbolized in the disappearance of the house and its occupant into the storm-tossed waters of the tarn. In sum, the outraged unconscious swallows up all conscious authority, and Roderick is rendered completely insane. As Madeline escapes her death-in-life confinement on the literal level of action, on the psychological level the instincts (or alter ego) attain their release. Thus, the two levels of reality in the tale are brought into perfect conjunction, and the twin motif is the structural device that controls the final synthesis of form and, inevitably, tone.

In most of Poe's short stories, the role of the doppelganger is tantamount. Not only do the characters have doubles, but so do themes, purposes, and results. According to Poe, the very universe is splintered. In so delving into the human psyche, Poe helps the reader to not only delve into the characters' inner demons but also his own.

Poe's Contribution to Detective Fiction

Many critics, scholars, writers, and fans alike agree that Edgar Allan Poe is indisputably one of the inventors of detective fiction. Evidence of his contributions lay not only in his employment of the detective's sidekick/narrator, a Dr. Watson-like man who relays information to the voyeuristic reader, but also in the classic attributes that define his "armchair" detective. In Poe's tales of ratiocination, the characters of C. Auguste Dupin ("The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter") and William Legrand ("The Gold-Bug") are imbued with qualities that are now recognized as quintessential detective traits; the use of common sense and intuition prevail over scientifically precise but procrustean evidence, and the detective has distinct similarities to his adversary. Poe's investigator has a certain understanding of the human spirit combined with a detached analysis of data. These elements, set in a world where truth is the beacon at the end of the labyrinth of the tale, symbiotically form an enduring character that is ultimately both poet and mathematician.

In the gothic and gruesome "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Dupin initially comes off as a somewhat bumbling man who "plays detective" in a mystery-solving quest, at the same time allowing his own desires to shape physical clues, leading to embarrassing false conclusions. His methods of investigation are really quite vulnerable to the scrutiny of the true analyst. At other times, Poe seems to imply that heightened intuition can be equivocal to another theme that pervades his tales, madness. In "The Gold Bug," the narrator believes his friend, William Legrand, has gone mad when he observes the "plain evidence" of his friend's "aberration of mind" on their excursion for Captain Kidd's buried treasure. Legrand's nascent sensibilities seem to fleetingly metastasize into insanity.

Along with intuition and a touch of madness, there is a bit of the mystic in Poe's detectives, particularly Dupin. Dupin discusses his deductive methods with no one else but the narrator, thereby giving him an opportunity to create an impression of a magical performance because we never clearly see how he gets and adds up his facts. He develops a high art that is the signature of detective fiction: revealing the mystery's solution in a way that is sudden for the client and others but delayed for the detective, who has known the solution for some time. In "The Purloined Letter," Dupin has recovered the stolen letter long before he reveals or explains the facts. In "The Gold-Bug," after a succession of odd maneuvers that lead to treasure, the narrator is confounded by how Legrand was able to effectively conclude where the gold was buried. What at first seems like supernatural events turns out to be not only Legrand's mere deduction of information but also Poe's way of not playing fair with the reader. A master gamesman and puzzleman himself, he loves to keep his readers active in the solving of the mystery.

Throughout the Dupin tales, the detective progressively proves himself a man rooted in common sense, not to his or our detriment, which leads ultimately to the solution of his mystery. To Dupin, truth is simple to find, it is not "always in a well … but upon the mountaintops." This is a philosophical premise throughout Poe's detective tales. Another method that Dupin uses besides common sense to seek out the truth is science, i.e. optics and astronomy. The light of the stars "grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it" is an example of Dupin's "scientific" comparisons that typify epistemological principles, empirical evidence is used to explain the failure to recognize the truth. In terms of finding out the truth, Dupin does not rely much on science. Better yet, he assumes a scientific pose using philosophical methods.

The last distinction of Poe's detective fiction is the psychic identification between the detective and his opponent. "The Purloined Letter" is built around pairings and reflections to suggest a psychic identification between Dupin and Minister D—. The fact that Minister D— is always discussed second-hand and never appears himself alludes to a certain oneness of the two characters. Dupin, as basically a thief for hire in this tale, is displayed beautifully as the same side of one coin, yin-yang, detective/thief, poet/mathematician. In his meeting with the Prefect, they discuss the culprit behind the stolen letter, and the Prefect comments, "Not altogether a fool … but then he's a poet, which I take to be only one remove from a fool." The reader thereby understands that the Prefect operates with only half of his capacities; the reader may then choose to identify with Dupin, who confesses in an ironically self-deprecating way that he himself is "guilty of certain doggerel." Dupin eventually combines the quantitative skills of the mathematician (respected in the culture) with the qualitative powers of the poet (assumed to be a fool) and finds the stolen letter in the Minister's apartment.

Combining a "calculus of possibilities" with the shadowing of the spirituality of the most intangible aspects of a case, Poe's "armchair" detective uses logic and intuition to find truth. However, the detective is not only on the page but in our minds because we become the real detectives of Poe's stories by untangling the web of the story and discovering the unsuspected capabilities of our own minds. We, too, are both poet and mathematician.

Stylistic and Thematic Techniques in Poe’s Poetry

Although literary critics find Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry trite, predictable, and banal, citing his rhyme schemes, rhythmic patterns, and subject matter as rationale for not placing it among great American poetry, they cannot argue that readers often choose his most famous pieces such as “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” “The City in the Sea,” Ulalume,” “To Helen,” and, of course, “The Raven” as their favorite poems. While Poe’s poetic works may not have the same claim to classical fame that his short stories do, unarguably, once read, they tend to stay in the readers’ minds. This phenomenon lies primarily in Poe’s stylistic and thematic practices throughout his poetry.

Like his short stories, Poe’s poetry often uses gothic themes as the central topics. The death of a loved one, weird, strange, and unearthly settings, animals that have sinister character, ominous meanings to common objects all occur in Poe’s verses just as they do in his stories. In fact, Poe tells stories in his poems, a common stylistic element that aids in keeping his poetry in the memory. Both “Annabel Lee” and “To Helen” are love poems. “To Helen” is a simple lyric poem. The poet Poe was renown for altering the dates when poems were first published as well as telling different people (usually women) that the poems were dedicated to them. He had varied reasons for this, primarily his financial situation that remained precarious throughout his life.

“To Helen” could easily be a love poem to any woman. Its lyric style, placing the central character in ancient lands, worked for any woman he wanted to compliment. What woman would not want to be remembered with beauty of “classic face” that would have been glorified in ancient Greece and Rome? Who would have denied beauty compared to a lamp that would draw homesick wanderers home? Poe uses ababb rhyme scheme in the three stanzas and allusions to classical references such as Helen of Troy, the standard of absolute beauty, to Naiads, water nymphs known for beauty and grace. His rhythm four iambs in a line—with the only exception the final line—a rocking beat that gives the sense of the boat approaching the light held by the “agate lamp within thy hand.”

“Annabel Lee,” also a love song, tells a story and therefore is far better known to others than Poe aficionados. Although female contemporaries of Poe have argued about to whom Poe dedicated this poem, there is little doubt that he had his young wife, Virginia, in mind to a large degree. Virginia and Poe wed when she was barely fourteen years old, and she died of tuberculosis in her early twenties. The Poes entertained many friends—older women than Virginia among them—through their marriage, but Poe seemed to have truly loved his young bride, and as the reader absorbs “Annabel Lee,” their sad story must come to mind despite the debate of other female friends of Edgar’s.

The story of the “beautiful Annabel Lee” draws from the many Romeo and Juliet tales: young lovers separated by families, yet their love cannot easily be severed, even by death. Two young lovers who lived in a “kingdom by the sea” fall in love. However, not only her family finds this problematic, but also so does heaven: “A love that the winged seraphs of heaven / Coveted her and me.” Annabel Lee’s family shut her up in a sepulcher, and the angels send chilling winds. Key lines in the poem bring young Virginia Poe to mind: “I was a child and she was a child,” and “That the wind came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”

The young lover, though, cannot stay away from his love, despite death, and he goes and their souls are united as he sleeps beside her “in her tomb” by the sea. Poe uses his macabre imagination here as he actually has the two young lovers lie together on the deathbed, an action straight from one of his stories. In the final stanza, he makes certain the setting becomes central once more: “In her tomb by the sounding sea.” Like “To Helen,” this poem is a love poem, but it is a Poe poem. While “To Helen” might appear in Byron’s work or Shelley’s or any of the Romance writers of the time, “Annabel Lee” shouts “POE!” The earmarks lie in the extremes: the lovers’ enemies are not just the family, but heaven itself; the family does not simply separate the lovers, they place Annabel Lee in a sepulcher; the young bereft lover does not simple visit the tomb, he lies beside the corpse of his Annabel Lee.

Poe’s rhyme in “Annabel Lee” is nearly hypnotic ababca / abcbdb / abcbdbeb / abcbdb / abbabcb / abcbddbb, each verse slightly different, which is not like most of Poe’s rhymes, yet the rhymes suit the verses in which they occur. The same can be said of the rhythm, for instance, in stanza two, he makes the rhythm emphasize the key to the poem: “But we loved with a love that was more than love—.” Thus one of his most famous poems, while a love poem, presents some of the themes that make Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry unique: setting and lost love and macabre sensations.

In “The Bells,” Poe uses a technique that often works in his short stories: that of layering. He begins with a simple idea, a rather light topic, then, with vocabulary, and edging forward bit-by-bit, he ends with a far heavier, even fearful idea. The readers have no inkling to begin with they are being lead away from a frivolous sensation to the logical movement if the mood shifts downward. Poe uses onomatopoeia, words that imitate sound, in this poem in a way that reminds the reader of “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Beginning with the delicate sense of Christmas bells, sleigh bells, the “world of merriment,” Poe gently sprinkles the air with the sound of tiny bells, barely heard, bells that just hang on the edge of consciousness, and does it with aaabcddceeaaa with the internal rhyme in the final rhyme of “From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”

Stanza two becomes a touch heavier because these bells, wedding bells, have a lasting meaning and, therefore, need a tiny bit more resonance—“harmony,” “molten-golden,” “liquid ditty floats,” and most important, these bells last—“On the Future!” The same rhyme scheme and the final internal rhyme works well in this stanza, yet in the final line, “chiming” suggests that Stanza three may become louder.

And it does: “Loud alarum bells,” bells of the fire trucks, bells that scream out danger, bells that alert people that they must be on guard. Poe’s vocabulary, always outstanding, is charged with urgency in this stanza, “scream out their affright,” “They can only shriek, shriek,” and in the final line, because of the cacophony, he rushes through and does not even try to use the internal rhyme, “In the clamor and the clamor of the bells!” The entire rhyme wavers all over the place in this stanza, mimicking the crazed fire fighting and life and death struggle that goes on, beating in a rhythm that makes the reader feel the need to rush to the end, just as the gushing hoses and water buckets fight the leaping flames. Poe’s style is impeccable in this stanza.

Stanza four faces the aftermath of the horror of a catastrophe, but in the way Poe must approach the terror and the ashes. Some must read these tolling bells as the death knolls of those who have been killed in Stanza three. These are iron bells with a “melancholy menace,” and their sounds are “rust within their throats.” But the turning point in this stanza is pure Poe: the people “They are neither man nor woman— / They are neither brute nor human— / They are Ghouls.” And he says the King of the ghouls rings the bells. He keeps time and the bells throb and sob “to the moaning and the groaning of the bells.” If readers care to make a story of the poem, they could blame the fire on the unhuman ghouls who ring the ungodly bells in the final stanza. Perhaps they found the happiness of the sleigh bells and the wedding bells more joy than their dead hearts could abide and therefore set fire to the people who seemed happy in the world, thus releasing the mirror image of happiness of the ghouls. For Poe says:

And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances and he yells.

If this interpretation seems a bit too extreme, just remember, one is dealing with Edgar Allan Poe. The alternative reading, seeing the death knells being rung by those in the various churches about the fire-wracked town and choosing to see them as ghouls is harsh. Trained bell ringers often weep as they pull the ropes that notify towns of great tragedy—quite different from the picture Poe paints in Stanza four.

“The City in the Sea” demonstrates Poe’s ability to visualize the unusual in verse. While he did not accept a traditional heaven and hell, he invented a unique view of hell that uses stylistic means to give it reality. Verse one, aabbcdcdee, personifies “Death” and places his city in the West. Verse two speaks of tall things—spires, pinnacles, domes, shines, turrets—yet, “Death looks gigantically down.” Poe’s alliteration works well, “The viol, the violet, and the vine.” Nothing “tempt the waters from the bed,” says Poe, but in the final verse, when there is finally a wave, the place that death had built is humbled somehow: “Down, down that town shall settle hence, / Hell, rising from a thousand thrones, / Shall do it reverence.” In this small poem, the reader must wonder—has Poe told a story? Does he think Death stores its captives and thinks them his and his alone—and then is defeated by Hell? Has he just painted a picture of Purgatory where Death keeps those awaiting Hell and he knows what the water means? Is it an oxymoron that Hell comes in the form of water? Poe tantalizes in this little treasure.

“Ulalume” stands as another setting and picture poem that represents the sort of poetry Poe’s readers do not forget. This odd piece of poetry uses unusual vocabulary that defies definition in places and seems just to work for the sense and feel of the place and story. For “Ulalume” is one of Poe’s sad story poems. He describes in detail the place he and a companion, Psyche, wander. The dark lake, skies that are overcast, gray, leaves that are “crisped and sere— / The leaves they were withering and sere,” and it is October. The narrator mentions the months a number of times and describes the sort of late October from New England. The setting of this poem mixes images from classical River Lethe, from volcanic flowing rivers, from icy polar caps. “The tarn of Auber” reminds the readers of the tarn outside The House of Usher, dark and dank. The description of the night sky of the moon and the stars continue the otherworldly sense of the place, and his companion adds to this by pointing out that the place and the sky “I strangely mistrust.” Yet the narrator feels a sensation of dreaming and in stanza seven’s abbabbababa speaking of the dreaming moves into his pacification of Psyche—a true mistake, for he ends up kissing a corpse: “‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!” And he remembers that it is October and that his love had died that very night last year.

“Ulalume” strives at complexity and achieves it in the style Poe uses. His vocabulary: “Auber,” “Weir,” “scoriac,” “Yaanek,” “senescent,” “Lethean,” “Sibyllic,” in some cases invented, weir and auber for their musical sound, and Ulalume itself may have come from the Latin ulalare “to wail.” He also makes the entire idea of the night sky complex as he and Psyche debate constellations and the places of stars. All of these are clues to the simple warning: it is October! October is more than simply the month in which Halloween falls. For this narrator, it is the month—it is the very day when he buried his beloved. Poe spreads the clues through the stylistic tools he uses, as well as the thematic thread of eerie setting, time of the year, and the narrator’s sadness. In the end, just as in his “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume” is a story poem. Poe leads his readers through a complex setting to a sudden and shocking ending—kissing a corpse, albeit the corpse of the woman he loved.

Lord George Byron is said to have woken up famous due to the release of one of his poems—and the same can be said of Edgar Allan Poe. “The Raven” appeared numerous times in various papers, but from the very first printing, the popularity of the piece cannot be denied. Is it the story of the mysterious black raven interrupting a man’s mourning? Is it the rhythmic verses that drive on from the opening line relentlessly until that final “nevermore”? Is it the ironic humor that no matter what question is raised the answer must be the same? Is it Poe’s amazing internal rhyme, the vivid setting of the poem? Whatever the answers to these questions, this poem undoubtedly draws students who proclaim, “I hate poetry!” to at least read it and remember it. Poe boldly combines his stylistic abilities with his favorite themes in this poem and creates a piece that is anthologized frequently and happily.

In “The Raven” more than in any other of Poe’s works, the driving rhythm is extremely important:

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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
“‘T is some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

While the rhythm varies to allow for syllables that occur in unique words throughout the poem, the iambic rhythm never flags for very long, and this is absolutely necessary to accommodate the repetitive “nevermore.” While this rhythmic pattern can become trite, in this poem it suggests the sameness of the narrator’s days and evenings—it supports the sense that his sorrow and his mourning does not change from one day to the next. He is aware of this at some level, but not until the Raven arrives with its monotone replies and its constant rhythm, does he begin to hear the trap he has become sunk in.

Poe chooses the setting of a library for this poem. He himself, a literary man through and through, sought solace in books, yet he makes this library a gothic setting. He chooses a December evening—a month when the evenings are long and dark. The fireplace offers little comfort, in fact, “each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” The curtains, purple, rustle like silk, and there is nothing but darkness outside the door of the library. This library has those insets in which busts of authors repose, and the chairs have violet, velvet linings. What light remained in the room came from a lamp—the sort of lamp that could cast shadows and yet also make the raven’s feathers glint.

Poe uses internal rhyme in this poem in a way that echoes the Raven’s repetitive answers: “But the fact is I was napping and so gently you came rapping”; “But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token”; “For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being.” This works quite well in a poem that uses rhyme so unusually. He relies on rhyming with “Nevermore” as the primary rhyme, and the other words within a verse serve to set the story forward.

The uncanny raven says but one word: “nevermore.” The narrator carries out a dialogue that becomes grimmer and grimmer, because until the bird arrives, he has some hope that he will find ease from his sorrow in books at least. As he speculates aloud, though, with each idea, the bird says, “Nevermore.”

Will I learn to forget Lenore? “Nevermore.”
Will I find a Balm in Gilead? (an easement of pain from God) “Nevermore”
Will we be joined in Heaven someday? “Nevermore.”
Leave me alone! Go! Go! “Nevermore.”
And the bird is still there—will I ever be free of it? “nevermore!”

The irony is, of course, the bird has not a clue as to what its three syllables mean. It merely mimics what it has been taught. The narrator knows this, yet his fears lie with the morose reply. He’ll never be free of the clutch of pain and sadness, yet he has made this choice.

“The Raven” demonstrates the author’s ability to use his particular style and thematic tools distinctively and in such ways that makes his poetry, like his other literature, uniquely Poe.

Poe's Works

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4079

During his life, Poe was a prolific writer, who often published work, revised it, and then republished it under a different title. Though his works were widely published in America during his lifetime, he remained relatively unknown as a literary figure until the printing of his poem "The Raven" in 1844. Poe historians feel that his lack of fame may have been due to the misfortune of his trying to establish a literary career in America during the mid-1800s. J. R. Hammond writes that if Poe had been in England, he not only would have been paid more for his work with various publications but would have most likely enjoyed increased popularity of his works in the favorable English literary climate. (Hammond, pp. 17-24)

Besides the other tragic aspects of Poe's life, perhaps the most unhappy was the unwitting selection of Rufus W. Griswold to be Poe’s literary executor. Griswold, in fact, hated and was envious of Poe. Soon after Poe's death, Griswold printed several defamations of Poe's character and work and neglected to print the author's works as he had collected. Not until the 1940s did historians begin to make efforts to repair Poe's posthumous reputation through scholarly study. In the 1850s, the French poet Baudelaire began to translate some of Poe's works, which helped to ease some of the stigma on his reputation.

Although Poe was a prolific writer and apparently well liked by his colleagues and employers at various literary journals, his lifelong dream was to start his own magazine, a project which, unhappily for him, he was never able realize. Though he worked at many literary magazines during his relatively short life and was widely published as an author and critical essayist, when he died he was largely unknown as a literary figure, partly because much of his work was published in inconsequential journals.

Though readers know many of Poe's tales today and several of his poems, most of his work is not read widely. He wrote hundreds of stories, essays, and poems on a variety of subjects, including politics, religion, and current issues of his day. The type of literature he is best remembered for, though, is of course his collections of tales on the supernatural. Poe had an uncanny gift for storytelling and weaving the elements of a story into an almost explosive climax. Many of the themes of Poe's stories are recurrent and were influenced by the sights and occurrences of Poe's childhood and adolescence. Some of his popular themes included the fleeting nature of beauty, especially that of a woman; the death and reclamation of the soul; the relationship between rationality and insanity; and the power of nature and fate.

Howarth says that Poe's tales are closely related to the period of American history during the nineteenth century from about 1830 to 1865. This was called "The Romantic Age" of American literature by historians. It was a time of growth and change for the country as well as upheaval. Poe's works often reflect his inconsistency about "the relation of art to ideas" as well as his tendency to "reject conventional pieties" and champion the "abnormal and bizarre." As a zealous editor, he frequently attacked the major authors, such as Emerson and Alcott, though his criticisms often turned out to be mainly a matter of differing opinions. (Howarth, pg. 4)

Poe often stated that literature should be written according to form, and in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," he asserted that he wrote "The Raven" according to "strict, predetermined rules." Howarth maintains, though, that generally it was the other way around, that Poe's strict form arose naturally out of his works. His best-known works, sometimes called "arabesques," were written generally between 1838 and 1844. Inspired by the fanciful nature of "Arabian Nights," Poe liked to create "scarifying subjects of murder, graves, and ghosts," with "intriguing psychological dimensions," for the reader. Howarth says that Poe's tales fascinate us because their mixture of real and supernatural events poses a complex riddle: "Are we haunted in this world, or do we haunt ourselves?" (Howarth, pg. 8)

William Carlos Williams writes that Poe was not "a fault of nature" but rather "a genius intimately shaped by his locality and time," feeling that Poe's "craziness" was a reputation unfairly placed by a literary climate that didn't know how else to deal with him. He lauds Poe's immaculate sense of form and feels that part of the reason that he was unrecognized is because of his American background and nature, "heeding more the local necessities," rather than copying Hawthorne's tendency to imitate what French, German, or English writers were doing. Williams notes the "recurring image of the ape" in such tales as "Hop-Frog," "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" to perhaps show his "disgust with his immediate associates and his own fears." (Williams, pg. 38)

J. R. Hammond comments on Poe's heavy reliance on reminiscences from his youth for the backdrops of many of his tales. The mansion in "Fall of the House of Usher" sounds much like a European chateau set in Poe's dreamlike landscape but is probably based upon an abandoned American mansion the author may have seen in Carolina. "William Wilson," the tale about the mistaken identity of two schoolboys, "draws heavily" on the author's experiences when he attended the Manor House School at Stoke Newington near London. In Hammond's opinion, "There can be no doubt that the antique atmosphere of the school and the surrounding village makes a powerful impact on Poe's imagination." (Hammond, pg. 72)

Poe's stories of terror include tales of the sea and especially vortexes and whirlpools. Poe was very much aware of the current interest of polar exploration and in exploration in general, and his tales "MS. Found in a Bottle" and "Descent into the Maelstrom" seem to be evidence of this, as well as Poe's trips to England and back to America when he was young. Also of great influence to the author were such works as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Robinson Crusoe. (Hammond, pg. 65)

Poe's obsession with doubles is evident in many of his stories: in "MS. Found in a Bottle," the Captain of the ghost ship is the narrator's double; in "William Wilson," the imitative schoolboy; and Roderick Usher in "Fall of the House of Usher" bears many resemblances to the temperament of the author. Perhaps his best-known use of doubles occurs in his tales of death and rebirth, such as "Morella" and "Ligeia," where the subjects of the stories, both young, beautiful women, die prematurely and seem to come back to life again in the personages of other women, who also die. Poe also shows here his conviction that beauty was fleeting, especially female beauty. Many of the woman with whom he formed romantic attachments and friendships died of illnesses, particularly tuberculosis, or consumption. Poe seems to have been deeply affected by the loss of his friends and especially the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm. (Hammond, pg. 70)

The real meaning in Poe's tales is often closely debated, as in "The Fall of the House of Usher," for example. Many critics tend to read the story as a gothic horror tale where Roderick causes his sister to be buried alive, the result being that she ultimately breaks out of her tomb and comes back to destroy him and the whole house. But more recent critics, such as Walker and Hill, have asserted that such readings of the story do not do justice to Poe's skill as a writer and blatantly ignore definite clues that Poe has written into the work itself. I. M. Walker points to the "tarn" that seems to be everywhere as a symbol of the pervading madness of both Roderick and the narrator. Both Hill and Walker feel that Madeline could never have broken out of her tomb, the way the reader may be led to believe, because of her long illness and the nature of the tomb itself. She is therefore a hallucination, the product of two deranged minds, the effect of which is heightened by the electrical storm. (Howarth, pp. 47-62)

In tales such as "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," the question of perverseness for its own sake is challenged by Gargano and Robinson. Many critics had tended to accept the notion that the protagonists of these tales were being perverse merely for the sake of perverseness and factors that were beyond their control. But more recent critics feel that Poe's tales, particularly "The Black Cat," need to be read on a much more symbolic level than is typically done in order to grasp the real intent of the author. The protagonist's actions in "The Black Cat" are more believably seen as those of a man slowly sinking into the unreality of madness rather than as being a victim of a perverse fate. The black cat symbolizes his nature which changes gradually from good to evil. In the end, the cry that comes from the wall is that not only of the cat and his dead wife but also of his conscience. In the "Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator begins to identify himself in unconscious ways with a dying old man and resolves to kill him because of his "evil eye." It is not the evil in the man that terrifies the narrator, but rather the evil in himself which he sees mirrored in the old man's eye. (Howarth, pp. 87-102)

A Listing of Works
The following is a listing of Poe's short stories and poems, excerpted from An Edgar Allan Poe Companion, edited by J. R. Hammond. This listing gives a brief description of each work and the date it was published. For a more complete listing of Poe's work, including his book reviews and literary essays, see Part II of Hammond's book, "An Edgar Allan Poe Dictionary." The following listing will give an indication of Poe's prolific nature, as well as a chronology to his published works:

"Al Aaraaf." Poem [1829]. From The Koran, the poem discusses nature and the divinity of beauty.

Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. [December 1829]. Contains 13 poems plus major revision of "Tamerlane."

"Alone." Poem [circ. 1829]. Authorship occasionally in question, first printed in 1875.

"The Angel of the Odd." Short story, subtitled "An Extravaganza" [October 1844]. Humorous account of "Angel" who brings about "odd accidents."

"Annabel Lee." Poem [October 1849]. Believed to be about Poe's wife, Virginia Clemm. Published on day of Poe's death.

"The Assignation." Short story [January 1834]. Formerly published as "The Visionary." A tale of multiple poisonings.

"The Balloon-Hoax." Short story [April 1844]. Fictional account of Atlantic Balloon crossing. Caused stir when published in the New York Sun because of its convincing reality.

"The Bells." Poem [April 1849]. Possible subject was Marie Louise Shew. Noted for use of onomatopoeia and insistent repetition.

"Berenice." Short story [March 1835]. Tale of love between two cousins. Heroine is buried alive.

"The Black Cat." Short story [August 1843]. A black cat brings about the discovery of a murder perpetrated by a madman against his wife.

"Bon-Bon." Short story [December 1832]. Originally published as "The Bargain Lost." A satire in which a restaurant owner has drinks with the Devil.

"Bridal Ballad." Poem [January 1837]. Probably about the marriage of a Poe sweetheart, Miss Royster.

"The Cask of Amontillado." Short story [November 1846]. An envious merchant murders his gullible enemy by luring him to a wine cellar and bricking him into a vault.

"The City in the Sea." Poem [1831]. Formerly published as "The Doomed City," and "The City of Sin." Poem contains popular Poe device, the vortex.

"The Coliseum." Poem [October 1833]. On the greatness of Rome.

"The Colloquy of Monos and Una." Short story [August 1841]. A conversation between two spirits about life after death.

"The Conqueror Worm." Poem [January 1843]. About the transitory nature of man. Also part of the short story "Ligeia."

"The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion." Short story [December 1839]. A conversation between two spirits about the destruction of the earth by a comet.

"A Descent Into the Maelstrom." Short story [May 1841]. The tale of a fisherman whose brother and boat are sucked into a giant whirlpool during a storm.

"The Devil in the Belfry." Short story [May 1839]. A satire on the "credulity of the mob."

"The Domain of Arnheim." Short story [March 1847]. Formerly published as "The Landscape Garden." A wealthy man endeavors to "wholly" tame nature.

"A Dream." Poem [1827]. About lost happiness.

"Dream-Land." Poem [June 1844]. About a journey to a fantastic strange land.

"Dreams." Poem [1827]. About youthful happiness and innocence.

"A Dream Within a Dream." Poem [1827]. Formerly entitled "Imitation." Heavily influenced by Byron.

"The Duke De L'Omelette." Short story [March 1832]. A satire in which a mortal (probably representing a leading literary figure of Poe's day, N. P. Willis) against the Devil.

"Eldorado." Poem [April 1849]. Possibly Poe's last poem.

"Eleonora." Short story [1842]. A man finds release from his vows to a dead cousin when he moves to another land and marries.

"The Elk." Short story [1844]. Formerly published as "Morning on the Wissahiccon." A young man believes he is hallucinating on a great lost (pre-industrial) time when he encounters an elk, which is in actuality the pet of a nearby family.

"An Enigma." Poem [ March 1848]. A valentine to Sarah Anna Lewis, her name is concealed in the poem.

"Eulalie—A Song." Poem [July 1845]. A hymn of praise, one of Poe's "happiest creations."

Eureka: A Prose Poem. [March 1848]. A philosophical treatise.

"Evening Star." Poem [1827]. Song of praise to the evening star.

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar." Short story [December 1845]. Published in England as "Mesmerism in Articulo Mortis: An Astounding and Horrifying Narrative." A man suffering from a fatal illness falls into a seven month trance.

"Fairy Land." Poem [September 1829]. Dreamlike, heavily influenced by Shelley and Thomas Moore.

"The Fall of the House of Usher." Short story [September 1839]. A visiting friend of Roderick Usher witnesses the death of Usher and his sister, and the physical destruction of the house.

"For Annie. "Poem [April 1849]. Written for a close friend of Poe's, Mrs. Annie Richmond.

"Four Beasts in One." Short story [March 1836]. Subtitled "The Homo-Cameleopard." Set in the future, a "satirical fantasy" about the barbarism of man as compared to animals.

"The Gold-Bug." Short story [June 1843]. A man tells how his close friend finds the treasure of Captain Kidd. Contains a cryptogram.

"The Happiest Day, The Happiest Hour." Poem [1827]. About past happiness that can never be regained.

"The Haunted Palace." Poem [April 1839]. About a mind haunted by "Phantoms." Also part of the story "The Fall of the House of Usher."

"Hop-Frog or The Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs." Short story [March 1849]. A court jester takes vengeance on the king and his friends by setting fire to them.

"How to Write a Blackwood Article." Short story [November 1838]. Light hearted advice on the subject of the title.

"Hymn." Poem [1835]. Probably Poe's most religious poem.

"The Imp of the Perverse." Short story [July 1845]. A pervert murders his victim by poisoning a candle, which he reads by, and then inherits his estate. He later confesses.

"The Island of the Fay." Short story [June 1841]. A visitor to a remote island, inhabited by fairies, describes the brief life of one.

"Israfel." Poem [1831]. Poe speaks about the nature of poetry through the angel Israfel.

"The Journal of Julius Rodman." A serial story [January-June 1840]. An account of the first passage across the Rocky Mountains (fictionalized).

"King Pest." Short story [September 1835]. Set during the Bubonic plague of the fourteenth century, two seamen stumble upon the pestilence.

"The Lake. To ——. " Poem [1827]. About contemplated suicide.

"Landor's Cottage." Short story [June 1849]. Subtitled "A Pendant to the 'Domain of Arnheim.'" The narrator encounters a "fairy-like avenue."

"Lenore." Poem [1831]. Formerly titled "The Paean." Suggestive of a popular ballad of the time.

"Ligeia." Short story [September 1838]. A husband is widowed twice but finds that the body of his second wife is actually that of the first.

"The Lighthouse." Short story [published April 1942]. Poe's last short story, an unfinished tale about a lonely man living in a lighthouse.

"Lines Written in an Album." Short story [May 1835]. About a duel in which the narrator shoots off his opponent's nose.

"The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esquire." Short story [December 1844]. A writer plagiarizes and tries to publish the works of Dante, Shakespeare and Homer but is rejected on the lack of merit of his work.

"Loss of Breath." Short story [November 1832]. Formerly titled "A Decided Loss," and subtitled "A Tale neither in nor out of Blackwood." A series of misadventures of a man who loses his voice and is subsequently hanged and buried, but later escapes.

"The Man of the Crowd." Short story [December 1840]. A man observing passers-by decides to follow an old man.

"The Man That was Used Up." Short story [August 1839]. A satire about a supposed military hero who turns out to be mostly "artificial."

"MS. Found in a Bottle." Short story [October 1833]. A wealthy traveler blown off course in a storm is carried down a great whirlpool in the South Pole.

"The Masque of the Red Death." Short story [May 1842]. A prince trying to escape the plague, "The Red Death," encounters it in an abbey in the form of a corpse.

"Mellonta Tauta." Short story [February 1849]. About a voyage by balloon across North America.

"Mesmeric Revelation." Short story [August 1844]. A conversation with an invalid who is mesmerized.

"Metzengerstein." Short story [January 1832]. Subtitled "In Imitation of the German." A nobleman from Hungary is possessed by the spirit of a huge horse.

"Morella." Short story [April 1835]. A woman dies giving birth to her daughter, who later also dies. Her father buries her in her mother's tomb but can find no trace of the mother's body.

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Short story [April 1841]. Two women are brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances.

"The Mystery of Marie Roget." Short story [November-December 1842, February 1843]. A detailed account of a murder in Paris.

"Mystification." Short story [June 1837]. Formerly titled "Von Jung." A nobleman avoids a duel by literarily mystifying his opponent.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Novel [July 1838]. Poe's only full length novel. A mutiny and shipwreck that ends up at the South Pole.

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head." Short story [September 1841]. Subtitled "A Tale With a Moral." A man loses a bet with the Devil.

"The Oblong Box." Short story [September 1844]. A young man tries to deliver the body of his wife to her mother by sea voyage and ends up tying himself to the box during a violent storm.

"The Oval Portrait." Short story [April 1842]. Originally published as "Life in Death." A young man learns that the subject of a painting he favors died at the moment of its completion.

"The Pit and the Pendulum." Short story [1843]. A victim of the Spanish Inquisition describes his torture.

Poems. [March 1831]. Nine poems published in New York by Elam Bliss.

"A Predicament." Short story [November 1838]. Subtitled "The Scythe of Time." The tale of the narrator's decapitation by the minute hand of a church tower clock.

"The Premature Burial." Short story [July 1844]. A tale based on dreams and real-life accounts of premature burials.

"The Purloined Letter." Short story [1845]. The narrator succeeds in reclaiming a valuable stolen letter. Suggestive of Sherlock Holmes.

"The Raven." Poem [January 1845]. Probably Poe's most famous poem.

The Raven and Other Poems. [November 1845]. A collection of thirty poems dedicated to Elizabeth Barrett.

"Rise Infernal Spirits." Poem [1822]. Written when Poe was thirteen.

"Romance." Poem [1829].

"Scenes From 'Politian.'" Poem [December 1835]. About a sensationalized murder trial in Kentucky in 1825.

"Shadow—A Parable." Short story [September 1835]. Based on the plot of "The Masque of the Red Death."

"Silence—A Fable." Short story [1838]. Formerly titled "Siope." A prose poem about a meeting between a deity and a demon.

"The Sleeper." Poem [1831]. On the theme of the beautiful female corpse, as in "Berenice," "Ligeia," and "Morella."

"Some Words With a Mummy." Short story [April 1845]. A revived mummy criticizes modern society, and politicians.

"Sonnet—Silence." Poem [April 1840]. A reflection on death as perceived by the senses.

"Sonnet—To Science." Poem [1829]. A criticism of the study of poetry.

"Sonnet—To Zante." Poem [January 1837]. An elegiac meditation on the theme of the association of memories with particular places.

"The Spectacles." Short story [March 1844]. A vain, near-sighted man is taught a lesson when he is deceived into marrying his own great-great grandmother.

"The Sphinx." Short story [January 1846]. A man thinks he sees a huge insect on a distant hill.

"Spirits of the Dead." Poem [1827]. Formerly titled "Visit of the Dead," about the author's resentment of the end of a love affair.

"Stanzas." Poem [1827]. Similar to Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" in theme. About mystical communion with nature.

"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." Short story [November 1845]. A satire about an extremely lenient lunatic asylum in France.

"A Tale of the Ragged Mountains." Short story [April 1844]. A young wanderer in the mountains dreams he is in another place.

Tales by Edgar Allan Poe. [June 1845]. Including: "The Gold-Bug," "The Black Cat," "Mesmeric Revelation," "Lionising," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "A Descent into the Maelstrom," "The Colloquy of Monos and Una," "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," " The Purloined Letter," "The Man of the Crowd." Poe originally submitted more than 70 stories.

Tales of the Folio Club. Short stories [1831] submitted to the Courier, included his satirical pieces.

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Short stories [December 1839]. A collection of 24 stories.

"Tamerlane." Poem [1827]. On the theme of the lost paradise. The hero ultimately turns to ashes.

Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian. [May 1827]. Published in Boston by a private printer. The collection is now very rare.

"The Tell-Tale Heart." Short story [January 1843]. A man describes the grisly murder and dismemberment of an old man, the memory of which drives him mad, and he begins to think he can still hear the old man's heart beating.

"Thou Art the Man." Short story [November 1844]. A man is accused of murdering his wealthy uncle, but the real murderer is ultimately exposed and confronted with the corpse who speaks via a ventriloquist.

"The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade." Short story [February 1845]. Scheherazade describes to her husband modern inventions, including the railway and the telegraph. The king has her put to death for lying.

"Three Sundays in a Week." Short story [November 1941]. A young man convinces his grand uncle to let him marry.

"To Helen." Poem [1831]. Probably about Poe's boyhood benefactor, Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard.

"To Helen." Poem [November 1848]. Addressed to a poetess, Sarah Helen Whitman, with whom Poe had a romance.

"To Isadore." Poem. A tribute to Poe's wife, Virginia, who died tragically.

"To M. L. S." Poem [March 1847]. To Marie Louise Shew who took care of Poe and his wife when they were ill.

"To My Mother." Poem [July 1849]. Addressed to Poe's mother-in-law, Mrs. Maria Clemm.

"To One in Paradise." Poem [January 1834]. A lament for a dead lover. Also part of the short story "The Assignation."

"To The River ——." Poem [1829]. An elegy to the river Wissahiccon in the short story "The Elk."

"To — —," "To —," (and other similar unnamed poems). Poe wrote various poems to his romantic interests and friends.

"Ulalume—A Ballad." Poem [December 1847]. A conversation between the body and the soul.

"The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall." Short story [June 1835]. A supposed voyage to the moon in a balloon that turns out to be a hoax.

"A Valentine." Poem [1846]. For Frances Sargent Osgood, whose name is buried in the poem.

"The Valley of Unrest." Poem [1831]. Formerly published as "The Valley of Nis." A description about the home of the dead.

"Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling." Short story [circa 1839]. A farce written in Irish brogue about a love rivalry.

"William Wilson." Short story [October 1839]. Schoolboy William Wilson is tormented by another boy of the same name who imitates him. Wilson later is murdered by his namesake.

"X-ing a Paragragh." Short story [May 1849]. A newspaper discovers that all the o's have been stolen from the printing shop. About the rivalries between competing newspapers.

Allen, H., ed. Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Random House, 1944.

Hammond, J. R. An Edgar Allan Poe Companion. London: Macmillan, 1981.

Howarth, W. L. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe's Tales. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1971.

Lass, A. H., and L. Kriegel, eds. "The Black Cat." In Masters of the Short Story. New York: Mentor, 1971, pg. 75.

Regan, R. Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1967.

Williams, M. "Poe's 'Shadow—A Parable' and the Problem of Language." In American Literature, Vol. 57, No. 4, December 1985, pp. 622-632.

Poe on Poe

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5202

Dividing the world of mind into its three most immediately obvious distinctions, we have the Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense.... Just as the Intellect concerns itself with Truth, so Taste informs us of the Beautiful while the Moral Sense is regardful of Duty. Of this latter, while Conscience teaches the obligation, and Reason the expediency, Taste contents herself with displaying the charms:—waging war upon Vice solely on the ground of her deformity—her disproportion—her animosity to the fitting, to the appropriate, to the harmonious—in a word, to Beauty.

Poe began his editorial career with the Messenger in 1835. His contribution established the paper as the major critical journal of the South, and his stories soon became popular throughout the country. His role as America's first great critic, having no connection to British criticism or publishers in the U.S., is often overlooked. "The Poetic Principle" is Poe's best critical writing, composed in 1848 as a lecture. With an uncanny talent for analysis, especially in his detective stories, Poe was naturally adept at literary criticism.

In "The Poetic Principle," Poe explicates the creative process of writing poetry by defining the mind in terms of three operative parts: Intellect, having to do with the pursuit of Truth; Taste for the Beautiful; and a Moral Sense of Duty, which involves Conscience and Reason. Poe holds Beauty as the primary force in writing poetry, with Truth and Duty secondary.

We have still a thirst unquenchable ... this thirst belongs to the immortality of Man. It is at once a consequence and an indication of his perennial existence.... It is no mere appreciation of the Beauty before us, but a wild effort to reach the Beauty above.... And thus when by Poetry, or when by Music, the most entrancing of the Poetic moods, we find ourselves melted into tears, we weep then, not as the Abbate Gravina supposes, through excess of pleasure, but through a certain petulant, impatient sorrow at our inability to grasp now, wholly, here on earth, at once and for ever, those divine and rapturous joys of which through the poem, or through the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses.

Poe writes about Beauty in "The Poetic Principle," which goes back to Longinus, a critic from the Ancient Greek period who wrote a treatise entitled "On the Sublime." Longinus says that the sublime is not persuasion, but transport and that sublimity lies in intensity. It has also been defined as "all that quality, or combination of qualities, which creates enthusiasm in literature, all that gives consummation to it, all that deserves the highest critical encomium either in prose or poetry." It transcends both persuasion (intellectual communication) and pleasure (sensuous apprehension) to a state where moral and intellectual standards no longer apply. The hearer almost seems to be overtaken, suspended in time by the words of the poet, to another plane of existence outside of himself.

And here let me speak briefly on the topic of rhythm. Contenting myself with the certainty that Music, in its various modes of metre, rhythm, and rhyme, is of so vast a moment in Poetry as never to be wisely rejected.... It is in Music perhaps that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles—the creation of Supernal Beauty.

Poe's idea of Supernal Beauty in "The Poetic Principle" can best be defined by looking back to Longinus, who emphasized the spirit or soul in writing. For instance, when Longinus talked about diction he said, "For beautiful words are in deed and fact the very light of the spirit." He thought words were like magic, their expression producing a kind of spell on the hearer. One critic talks of his treatise as being "an analysis of the direct appeals of literature to the primary emotions of the soul." Beautiful words, filled with the spirit or passion from the writer, are the cause of the reader's emotional transport.

Music was a pathway to the Sublime for Poe. It is the only way to truly understand his work. Poe's use of metre, rhythm, and rhyme is unparalleled by any other poet, besides Shakespeare. If one can read his poetry with the awareness of a melody being sung, then transport into Poe's Supernal Beauty is assured. He wanted his poetry to be felt, above all, before being analyzed by the intellect.

I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with Truth.

Poe, again, echoes Longinus, who believed that the greatest words written are from the spirit and soul of man, which required imagination and genuine emotion or passion. The statement, "Great utterance is the echo of greatness of soul," demonstrates the concern that Longinus had for spirit.

When Poe talks about Taste, he is referring to the writer's ability to discern the Beautiful within his or her own work. This, for him, is much more important for writing poetry than Intellect (Truth) or Conscience (Duty). Without Taste for Beauty, the ability to write what is beautiful, the poem is defunct. Pertaining to the phrase, "The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty," one has only to read Poe's poetry for a complete understanding of what he means. His poems are so full of music, layer upon layer of rhythm, that one can more easily feel the meaning of his criticism on Beauty.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement of the soul, which we recognize as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of the heart. I make Beauty, therefore—using the work as inclusive of the sublime—I make Beauty the province of the poem, simply because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as possible from their causes.

In the article "Longinus and English Criticism," the conclusion of the treatise is that the sublime "produces in men's minds emotions similar to the artist when he created it." This idea of creative passion is repeatedly stated as the most important ingredient for great literature.

Poe separates passion from the Sublime, stating that passion is the result of "the excitement of the heart"; he doesn't really distinguish between "that pleasurable elevation" or the "excitement of the soul" that comes from contemplating Beauty and the "excitement of the heart" that is Passion. Perhaps he considers Passion to be formless, reckless, and untutored. Poe's idea of the sublime in Beauty is an elevation, having to do with the soul, a richer and more controlled experience. Furthermore, he doesn't say that Passion, Truth, and Duty should be excluded from the poem, only that they should be subjected to Beauty, the primary force.

For alas! Alas! with me
The light of Life is o'er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

Poe was living with his grandmother, aunt Mrs. Clemm, brother Henry, and cousin Virginia around the time of publication of this poem, "To One In Paradise." He served as a cadet at West Point for a brief period, deliberately causing his own dismissal from the academy. He had little money and was writing letters to his stepfather, John Allen, asking for financial help, but was given none. In April 1833, he wrote a desperate letter to Allan: "Without friends, without any means, consequently, of obtaining employment, I am perishing—absolutely perishing for want of aid. And yet I am not idle—nor addicted to any vice—nor have I committed any offence against society which would render me deserving of so hard a fate. For God's sake, pity me and save me from destruction." Allan died in 1834 without any mention of Poe in his will.

The words, "No more—no more—no more—" is repeated throughout Poe's work, a constant theme. He seems to be deeply longing for a great loss, usually that of a woman. He did, in fact, lose several women who were very close to him: his mother, his stepmother, his wife, and a woman friend. These losses were indelibly imprinted upon him, a mark of which can be found in all of his work.

The sickness—the nausea—
The pitiless pain—
Have ceased, with the fever
That maddened my brain—
With fever called "Living"
That burned in my brain.

Annie was Poe's nickname for Mrs. Charles Richmond (Nancy Locke Heywood), whom he met while lecturing in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1848. He fell in love with her, but she was married, and despite his urgent request for her to live with him, she refused. However, she did support him against critics after his death.

Poe wrote this poem, along with a story called "Landor's Cottage," for Annie and wrote letters to her about how he wasn't being paid on time by various magazines. He also wrote "The Poetic Principle" in 1848 in the form of a lecture and carried it with him to see her for the last time.

Poe's wife, Virginia, died in 1847, two years before this poem was written. He collapsed after her death and was sick for awhile with what was thought to be a lesion of the brain, according to the diagnosis of Mrs. Shew, a trained nurse. Annie must have visited Poe during the time of his sickness, as is indicated in the poem. Poe actually did suffer from a terrible fever, not just the metaphorical one, "Living," he speaks of in the poem.

My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul—life.

The fact that Poe lost his real mother so early in life seems to have left him with an enormous need for a mother figure, and for female companionship and love. He repeatedly suffered from female abandonment, by death or rejection, throughout his entire life. This poem is a tribute to his wife's mother and shows the depth of his love for both Virginia and her mother, as well as his facility for complete worship and adoration of women.

Elizabeth Arnold Poe, Edgar's biological mother, died in 1811 when Poe was only two years old. He was then adopted by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan, and in 1829 Mrs. Allan died while Edgar was serving in the army in Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was granted a leave of absence to attend her funeral, but it came too late and he missed it. Poe married Virginia on May 16, 1836, and in 1847 she died. This was his greatest tragedy, one that caused him to contract a lesion on the brain. He did recover his health but never fully recovered mentally from the blow. One year later, in 1848, he fell in love with Mrs. Charles Richmond (Annie), who rejected him.

Finally, in 1849 he became engaged to his old childhood flame, Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton, who was a widow at the time. Poe was trying desperately at this time to stay away from alcohol. The marriage never took place because he died in Baltimore on October 7th of that year.

A feeling, for which I have no name, has taken possession of my soul—a sensation which will admit of no analysis, to which the lessons of bygone times are inadequate, and for which I fear futurity itself will offer me no key.

Poe was very much a part of his time, using popular ideas found in books and magazines, transforming them into his own macabre. Mesmerism, a hypnotic state produced in a person by another's influence over the will and nervous system, was one of the popular trends which Poe used over and over again in numerous stories. The condition of fascination or hypnotism was a great mysterious adventure for Poe, as many of the short stories demonstrate. Poe's fascination with the unknowable stems from a belief in Mysticism.

He was especially interested in effects, both in poetry and in characters within the short stories. He believed that a poem consisted of numerous effects that the poet would construct for the reader or listener's experience. In his short stories we find characters that are often under a spell, either from a place or a person. In this case we have a man who has landed on a mysterious ship, surrounded by people who speak in an indecipherable language who "will not see" the man. You get the feeling that you are in some kind of nightmare within the mind of the man, a horrible dream of some sort. Poe writes about an experience that is indefinable to the man and to the reader, leaving questions unanswered, thus leaving the intellect unsatisfied. The only option for the reader is to experience a feeling through the imagination, much like in a dream.

Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their grey visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret.

"Eleonora" is a statement of Poe's mystical epistemology. His influence upon French poets and surrealist painters was enormous. He was at one time purported to be the number one author in all of France.

Poe can be considered a mystic poet; mystic being defined as "a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity or identity with or absorption into the Deity or the ultimate reality, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the understanding." In every poem and story, there seems to be an indefinable feeling or occurrence, a strangeness that exists as the sole reason for the actions or events within them. It is as if Poe himself was trying to reach the impossible, just like his characters, the unknowable Truth that in the end remains an enigma.

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Eyes have a "special mystique in European folklore," indicating an evil or irresistible influence. The "filmed-over eye" in this quote from the "Tell-tale Heart" is opposite to the "luminous orbs" of Ligeia and Roderick Usher. The vulture eye could represent blindness to reality.

Poe delves into that mysterious power, in this case "the eye," that one man holds over another, the hypnotic effect or psychic control he possesses. Poe constantly ponders the impenetrable enigma of the unseen world, full of spirits and ghosts, illogical events unfold, and his stories come to a final analysis that man and his experiences are, in the end, ruled by chaos. Whatever logic Poe uses, it never answers the overall thematic questions running throughout his stories: 1) What are the motives of man's actions? 2) Where do they come from? 3) What is the rational for chaotic phenomena?

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?... If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body...."Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!— tear up the planks! Here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

These quotes from the "Tell-tale Heart" are possibly derived from particularly stressful periods in Poe's life—financial strain and career setbacks, when he actually questioned his own mental stability. He seems to be intent on defending madness, explaining it in the first quote and denying it in the second.

Madness is closely akin to Poe's other preoccupations: dreams, fantasies, and unconscious impulses. Madness is a part of the mysterious realm, a fascination of the mind, central to Poe's beliefs. By going into the mind of a mad man, a murderer, Poe was possibly investigating not only his own experience with mental instability but exploring the strange paradox of the condition itself, that is to be mad and at the same time so sharply perceptive and aware, even more so than the norm.

Finally, in the third quote, the mad man loses control, his senses being so acutely aware of the murdered man beneath the wooden planks. His conscience forces him to turn himself in, and is perhaps Poe's last proof that the man is not mad, or to define what madness is exactly and how it is so closely aligned to the normal state of mind.

I could not love except where Death
Was mingling his with Beauty's breath—
Or Hymen, Time, and Destiny
Were stalking between her and me.

As mentioned previously, Poe loved women who all died early: for example, his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, and Jane Stith Stanard (a friend in Richmond). In addition, Hymen, god of marriage, is a reference to Sarah Elmira Royster, a childhood sweetheart who married someone else while engaged to Poe. This poem was written before his marriage to Virginia, who died young as well.

Experiencing so much tragedy at an early age and losing his wife, whom he adored, left Poe in a desperate state evincible throughout many of his poems and short stories. It was at that time he suffered a debilitating sickness, also struggling with mental instability.

There are some qualities—some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence—sea and shore—
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!

The first section of Poe's "Silence" introduces the idea of body and soul being two parts of the same entity that has two forms of silence. One kind of silence lives in the grave that is death. He says that this "corporate Silence" should not be feared, the name being "No More," which is also found in "The Raven," written after Virginia's death. This poem, along with "The Raven," seem fortuitous of her death.

In the second section of "Silence," Poe gives a warning about the other kind of silence that is spiritual silence, unlike the corporate one, saying that it should be greatly feared. The silence of the spirit, caused by depression and extreme loneliness, can cause great destruction to a person, much worse, according to Poe, than death.

Again looking at Poe's own life, he was constantly forced to leave or being left by loved ones. In most of his poems, we feel a great longing or agony for something lost, a crying out for lost love.

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest—I say to myself, in the first place, 'Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?' Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone—whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

In "The Philosophy of Composition," we are fortunate to have an in-depth analysis by a great poet guiding us step by step through the creative process. Poe was the first great critic in America, one who was adept at analysis. Even his own methods of writing were clear to him, and luckily, he wrote about them, something very few writers have been able to do. He begins by explaining his mode of operation, contemplating what he calls an "effect." He considers the effect in terms of its novelty (a new kind or nature, something strange) followed by how vivid it can be rendered. Then he decides what would be the best way to shape the effect, using incident or tone, either by "ordinary incidents and peculiar tone" or by rendering peculiar both incident and tone. Finally, he looks outside and inside himself for different arrangements of event or tone to help him create the best possible tone for the work at hand.

Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions—the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.

Early critics of Poe characterized him as a loner type who wrote under the influence of narcotics—that he was a one draft poet, crediting his stories and poems to be a product of drugs and not from the artist's own powers of creation. He was constantly being attacked by critics who accused him of insanity and drug addiction, the underlying implication being that he was out of control and undisciplined in his life as well as his writing.

This particular quote within Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" clearly defends the poet's writing process. It attempts to elucidate the painstaking work that Poe, and other poets, must go through in order to write a poem. The craft of writing is meticulously defined in order to set it apart from the erroneous belief that a work is created from thin air, born solely from a burst of passion.

I select "The Raven" as most generally known. It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition—that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.

Poe uses "The Raven" to demonstrate his mode of operation during the act of creating a work. He further states in "The Philosophy of Composition" that it's unnecessary to analyze the circumstance or necessity from which the intention for writing the poem arises. He seems to be protecting his privacy in choosing not to delve into personal events, the initial reasons for writing a poem, which always spring from a poet's experience. He discredits delving into this area due to the resulting sensational satisfaction of the "popular and the critical taste."

Poe corrects erroneous critics who believe he wrote on whim without control of his imaginative powers. Perhaps he overstates the matter by equating his process with that of a "mathematical problem" in order to make his point. He then proceeds to define in minute detail the operation of his mind while creating the poem.

What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones—that is to say, of brief poetical effects.

Poe was against any poetic work that required more than one sitting to read. He deems "Paradise Lost" too lengthy a work: "the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity, of effect." The effect Poe is after has to do with the intense reaction of the reader, one that "intensely excites, by elevating the soul," and he states that "all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief." "The Raven" is divided into nineteen stanzas; each one of six lines, with a refrain on the last line of each. The rhythm of the poem is perfectly fitted to the idea of a Raven "tapping" at the door. The stanzas are all fast-paced with evenly stressed syllables, producing a mechanical sound, one that repeats itself without any change in rhythm. This mechanical sound is perfectly fitted to another idea, that of the bird's disregard for the man, continuously tapping.

There are also built-in pauses between each stanza that have to do with the wording of the refrain. Some of the refrains read as: "Only this and nothing more.… Nameless here for evermore.… This it is and nothing more.… Darkness there and nothing more.… Merely this and nothing more.… 'Tis the wind and nothing more!… Perched, and sat, and nothing more.… Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'" All of these refrains in each stanza are shorter than the rest of the preceding lines, have the same metrical length, and have a dramatically intense effect on the reader as the rhythmical tapping is suddenly interrupted, creating the effect that Poe is after.

Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to its merit—in other words, to the excitement or elevation—again in other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect:—this, with one poviso—that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for the production of any effect at all.

"The Raven" has 108 lines, close to the optimal length of a poem—one hundred lines according to Poe. He explains how to arrive at the correct length of a poem by fitting the length in exact accordance to the intensity of the effect. This can be easily tested by simply reading the poem aloud or having it read by someone else and experiencing, by feeling the music in the lines, the effect of each stanza. Each stanza is exactly repeated in the same manner of length and rhythm—in turn, having the same intensity of effect each time.

Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem … Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.

"Contemplation of the Beautiful" is defined by Poe as the "intense and pure elevation of the soul." This is what he was after with his series of effects in a poem. He wanted to move the reader or listener to experience that state of elevation and nothing more. He was after a kind of religious experience, in my opinion, one of transcendence. It can be compared with many rituals in tribal cultures, through dance and song, intended to produce an elated effect on the participant, one that frees the soul or spirit from the bondage of reality, offering a kind of pleasure in the elevated state of being.

Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation—and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

This belief in melancholy as the best tone for poetry and fiction possibly explains why most of Poe's work is "dark." He has intentionally created this melancholy tone rather than having been driven to write "sad" stories and poems, as is easily surmised at first glance. It seems on the one hand that he has written these poems and short stories in direct reaction to the experiences in his life, yet he professes to have intentionally used the melancholy tone for the creation of his work, based on theory. Most likely it is a combination of both his experience and his craft which produced the work.

As commonly used, the refrain, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression upon the force of monotone—both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity—of repetition. I resolved to diversify, and so heighten, the effect, by adhering, in general, to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied that of thought: that is to say, I determined to produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the application of the refrain—the refrain itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried.

The refrain previously mentioned in "The Raven" is a distinct characteristic of Poe's work. The same technique of creating a monotone sound can be found throughout virtually all of his poems. Poe proposes that pleasure is derived from the mere repetition of the refrain. He does vary the refrain, continually recreating the same idea.

Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are absolutely infinite—and yet, for centuries, no man in verse has ever done or ever seemed to think of doing an original thing. Poe goes on to state that originality does not come from intuition or impulse, rather, it is an enormously involved undertaking that is more about negation than invention. That makes sense considering that a poet can be passionately driven to write profusely and in the end only come up with a few lines worth keeping; such is the artistry of the craft. A poet must be able to discern what is worth keeping, what is beautiful, and what should be discarded; hence, the true ability of the poet is made apparent.

Frequently Asked Questions About Poe

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2264

Was Poe insane?

Poe was never admitted to a sanatorium, nor did he ever seek professional help for a mental problem. There is, therefore, no clinical evidence that he suffered from any type of madness. But even if he had doubts about his own sanity, he would have been rational enough to avoid treatment. In his day, lunatics were usually placed in prison-like asylums for keeps. The narrators of several of Poe's stories are mad psychopaths, and he had uncanny insights into the workings of the murderer's mind, including some ideas that were later validated by criminal psychologists. But simply because he wrote about supernaturally horrible acts from the perspective of deluded narrators does not prove Poe himself was mad.

He did suffer a large number of personal tragedies, including traumas stemming from the deaths of three "mother figures" in his life and, later, the death of his young wife. He was clearly depressed by these losses. Romantic and financial setbacks contributed to Poe's general instability. He was given to argumentative outbursts, suicidal thoughts (and one suspect attempt), and alcoholic binges. On the whole, Poe was probably not so insane at any time in his life as to necessitate institutionalization under current standards.

Was Poe an alcoholic?

The evidence of Poe's alcoholism is explicit and conclusive. Poe's biological father reportedly died from alcoholic complications, his stepfather drank heavily, and drinking played a part in Poe's expulsions from the University of Virginia and West Point. Poe was essentially a binge drinker, his alcohol consumption increasing during times of stress, and, most perversely, over anxieties concerning life events (leading to his self-sabotage of employment interviews, late-life courtships, and the like). During his last months in Richmond, however, Poe's life, health, and sobriety appeared to be on the upswing: whether he was drunk when he was found before a Baltimore polling place a few days before his death is not certain. His delirium may or may not have been alcohol-induced. But all things considered, along with the narrator of "The Black Cat," Poe suffered from the disease of alcoholism.

Was there a living model for the character of C. Auguste Dupin?

Dupin appears in three of Poe's most famous detective stories, "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter." In each of these tales, he visits the scene of a crime that the local French police have examined without profit and gathers clues that have escaped their attention. But Dupin does not solve crimes via deduction; rather, he uses intuitive associations or leaps and his extraordinary insights into the minds of the perpetrators. Dupin combines analytical with creative intelligence, the mind of the mathematician with the soul of a poet. He is also an outsider, who lives a reclusive life and merely appears in the common stream of society to do what he enjoys: engaging in detective work and demonstrating the inadequacies of conventional authority, without becoming engaged in issues of justice. Given all this, it can be speculated that Poe may well have had himself in mind when he created this character.

What was the biggest tragedy in Poe's life?

Poe was a very young child when his biological mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe died, and it is unlikely that he mourned for her intensely in adulthood. His stepmother, Frances Allan, died when Poe was a young man of twenty, but he had been living on his own for three years at the time and was partially alienated from her husband. The death of Jane Stith Stanard when Poe was fifteen may have had the strongest impact upon his mindset and behavior: his depressive periods and rebellions begin at this age. But mood swings, defiance, and self-destructive behavior could be expected in adolescence. In Poe's poem "To My Mother," written after the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, he speaks to her mother (and his aunt) Maria Clemm as "dearer than the mother I knew." It is, however, because of her role in bringing Virginia into the world that Poe took his aunt Maria as his "real mother." That being so, it was his wife's death in January, 1847, that undoubtedly comprised the greatest of Poe's personal tragedies.

Was Poe a radical?

Virtually all of Poe's ideas were radical in the sense that they are grounded in metaphysical theories of God, the universe, and the nature of man at odds with the views of mainstream American society. Poe was essentially an enlightened conservative in his political leanings; he held a healthy distrust of the masses, a benign contempt for the middle-class, and an understanding of inherent impulses towards abuse of power.

How did Poe die?

The death of Edgar Allan Poe is a mystery. Many theories exist as to what killed him at the age of 40. Some theorize alcoholism or a brain lesion. Some suspect violence. However, it is probably a combination of factors that led to his early death. It is known that Poe was found raving and disheveled outside a pub in Baltimore on October 3, 1849. He was also supposedly carrying around $1500, which was not found on him at his death, giving rise to theories that he was mugged and beaten. Some also believe he was "cooped," forced to go from poll to poll, voting for certain candidates, and this overwhelmed him. However, his actions for the five days prior to his being found are not known, nor is it known how he ended up in Baltimore. He was taken to a hospital and died three days later. Because Poe had a well-documented alcohol problem as well as addiction to opium and laudanum, it is generally assumed this caused, if not contributed greatly, to his death. In addition, around 1847, Poe had been diagnosed with a brain lesion and an erratic heartbeat. The official cause of death as cited in a Baltimore paper was "congestion of the brain." However a newer theory proposes he had rabies, given his behavior documented in the hospital. His last words were reportedly, "Lord help my poor soul."

Is Poe buried in his grave?

Just as Poe's death is shrouded in mystery, there is a debate over whether Poe is actually buried under the monument dedicated to him. He was originally buried in an unmarked grave near his grandfather in Westminster Cemetery. The original stone marker was destroyed in a train accident, so the grave was never positively marked. In 1875, a new monument was dedicated to Poe, and his body was to be moved there, along with Virginia Poe and Maria Clemm. This is where the confusion occurred due to the lack of an original marker. Some believe that the body exhumed was actually that of Private Philip Mosher, who was 19 at the time of his death. Lending credence to this theory are reports that the body was taller than Poe, had excellent teeth, wore military-style clothing, and the coffin was of a different wood. However, the exhumation was also supervised by two men who attended Poe's original funeral and would probably not have forgotten his gravesite. Like his death, his final resting place remains a mystery.

Who leaves roses and cognac every year on Poe's grave?

Every year since 1949 (a century after Poe's death) on Poe's birthday (January 19), an unidentified man leaves three red roses (possibly one for each occupant of the grave) and a half-empty bottle of cognac on Poe's grave sometime in the early hours of the morning. The man has been described as dressed in black, carrying a cane, and walking with a limp, and he is often referred to as the Poe Toaster. His identity has never been revealed, and the curators of the monument allow him to continue his tradition out of respect. Some recent evidence suggests a younger man is now keeping the tradition alive. Poe fans wait inside the church every year to see the Poe Toaster, but none interfere with the tradition.

Where does Allan in Poe's name come from?

Edgar Allan Poe was born as simply Edgar Poe. Frequently misspelled as Allen and incorrectly assumed to be his middle name, Allan is in fact the name of the foster parents who took Poe in following the death of his mother. Although the Allans never adopted Poe, he was christened in 1812 as Edgar Allan Poe. Throughout his life, despite his estrangement from his foster father, he used Edgar Allan Poe or, more frequently, Edgar A. Poe.

Was Poe an atheist?

After reading Poe's works, many assume he was an atheist. However, this cannot be proven. He is not known to have subscribed to any particular religion, although he was raised in a Christian household. His family attended an Episcopalian church, and Poe was baptized. However, one of the ways Poe tried to get expelled from West Point was by refusing to attend church services. He was married in a church, and there are later references to church attendance in his personal letters. In addition, his last words were reportedly, "Lord help my poor soul." Regarding religion, Poe said, "The pioneers and missionaries of religion have been the real cause of more trouble and war than all other classes of mankind." He also commented, "No man who ever lived knows any more about the hereafter … than you and I; and all religion … is simply evolved out of chicanery, fear, greed, imagination and poetry." However, his views on God may have been less critical and more contemplative. He said, "The idea of God, infinity, or spirit stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception."

Who were Madeline, Lenore and Annabel Lee?

One of the frequent themes in Poe's works is lost love. Poe himself had suffered from the loss of several prominent women in his life, and many of the women in his life, like his foster mother and his wife, were sickly. In several of his works, the narrator or protagonist laments over the loss of the woman in his life. "Annabel Lee" is such a poem, and has been interpreted as echoing Poe's expression of grief for his wife, Virginia. In "The Fall of the House of Usher," Roderick is overcome with grief and guilt due to the prolonged illness and premature burial of his sister. And in "The Raven," the narrator is depressed over his lost love Lenore and tortures himself while questioning the raven. These are three of the most famous of the female characters Poe uses to represent the grief of lost love.

Did Poe marry a thirteen-year-old?

Yes. Poe had been engaged before, but it didn't work out. On May 16, 1836, Poe secretly married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. He was twenty-seven at the time. Their relationship, like so much of Poe's life, is debated. Those who knew them say they had affection for each other; Poe bought her a piano because she loved music. He called her "Sissy" or "Sis." Some of his poems and stories are believed to be about her, his refusal to accept her illness, or his grief for her after she died. In 1842, Virginia broke a blood vessel while singing at the piano. She died in 1847 of tuberculosis, at the age of twenty-three. She is buried with her mother and Poe in Baltimore.

Was Poe a successful writer?

Edgar Allan Poe today is one of the best-known names in literature, and an entire genre of entertainment is heavily influenced by his works. However, while he was alive, Poe was never financially stable. He was born into poverty, but his foster parents were well off. While in college, he amassed a large gambling debt, which his foster father refused to pay. He worked as an editor for the Southern Literary Messenger and sold many of his stories and poems in his short lifetime. He also earned money as a lecturer. However, his depression and drinking made it impossible for him to keep a job, and he spent what money he earned from his stories. He also had a wife and mother-in-law to support.

However, Poe was relatively famous during his lifetime as a popular writer of horror stories. Although the critics assailed him (partly in retribution for his own scathing criticisms), his stories and poems were popular. "The Raven" in particular won him international acclaim.

Where did Poe live?

Poe traveled a great deal during his short life. He was born in Boston, but his parents were actors and moved the family around a lot. After his mother's death, Poe lived with his foster parents in Richmond, Virginia. He also lived with them for a while in England, where he attended boarding school. He attended both the University of Virginia and West Point. Throughout his adult life, he lived in Baltimore, Richmond, New York, and Philadelphia.

How did Poe's father affect him?

John Allan contributed more to Poe's life than just his last name. Many critics believe that Allan's personality affected Poe's writing. It is known that Poe and Allan had a tumultuous relationship. Allan was successful but had little schooling and did not believe Poe needed college. He gave Poe only a small allowance for school, and Poe resorted to gambling, amassing a large debt that Allan refused to pay. The two were reconciled after Poe's foster mother, Francis, died, but it was short-lived after Poe decided to become a poet. Their relationship was completely severed, and Allan left Poe out of his will.

Some critics see John Allan in "The Cask of Amontillado." Allan was Scottish, and the Montresor family motto is Scottish. In addition, John Allan was a mason and a connoisseur of wines, as is Fortunato.

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Edgar Allan Poe American Literature Analysis


Poe, Edgar Allan (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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