Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most prominent figures in world literature. The recognition of his works is based mainly on the uniqueness of the themes and characters the author created, as well as his excellent command of the language and exceptional imagery and style. Some of the most well-known innovations of this author include detective stories and fiction. In his poems and short stories, Poe showed himself as a skillful architect of storylines who served as an inspiration to many of his contemporaries and authors from the next generations.
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Partly, many of Poe’s unique works were inspired by the experiences of his personal life and his personality. Although considered a complex man, Edgar Poe was the author whose life experiences contributed to his renowned writing style that is evident in his works.
The life of Edgar Allan Poe began in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born to a couple of professional actors (“Edgar Allan Poe”). Unfortunately, both parents of Poe had died by the time he turned three (Quinn 51). Due to this circumstance, the child was taken by John and Frances Valentine Allan – a wealthy family from Richmond, Virginia. A successful tobacco merchant, Mr. Allan, hoped that his son would grow to become a businessman as well. However, since early childhood, Poe was drawn to poetry and literature and started to write poems very early (“Biography”).
As a student, Poe went to attend the University of Virginia, but since he did not have enough money to pay for his studies, he soon embraced gambling as a method of earning money (“Biography”). Consequently, this habit made the future author even poorer, he started to struggle to survive, and, eventually, was forced to leave the University. Having returned to Richmond, Poe had to face more misfortunes as his relationship ended and conflict between him and Mr. Allan developed.
As a result, Poe joined the United States Army and published his first collections of poems that did not receive much recognition (“Edgar Allan Poe”). He moved to live with his aunt in Baltimore, Maryland. The author remained poor after the death of Mr. Allan, who had left him out of the will.
Throughout his lifetime, Poe was influenced by many people. One of the major impacts was produced by Mr. Allan, who raised Poe as a son but then became disappointed in him due to his debt and gambling, which, generally, resulted from Poe’s lack of financial support during his student years (Quinn 51). In that way, having a wealthy parent, Poe had to live his entire life in poverty. Another significant influence was Poe’s young wife, Virginia, who died early. Also, the author was impacted by the literary community in which he worked and his main rival – Rufus Griswold.
Working as a critic and writing his own poems and short stories, Poe focused on establishing new values in the community of his contemporary authors. Poe was convinced that all of them saw only the utilitarian purpose of literature. In response, he emphasized its artistic forms and harshly criticized the authors who neglected them.
Time Period, Social Structure, and Attitudes
Poe lived in the time of development of the press and thus was interested in running his own magazine and sharing his professional options with the society and his community. Also, the structure of the society where Poe was making his way as an author was highly divided economically, creating a wide gap between the wealthy and the poor. Due to his lack of financial stability, Poe had developed several harmful habits and struggled to gain influence for the most part of his life. Additionally, it is important to mention that Edgar Poe had a lifelong battle with depression and often would fall back on the path of alcoholism, which signified his high dissatisfaction with his life and the society around (“Edgar Allan Poe”).
Poem: The Raven
“The Raven” portrays an atmosphere of a dire night and the speaker who is desperately trying to find answers about his lost love by interacting with a bird. The beauty of the poem is in its combination of a sad and scary story presented with the help of perfect rhythm and rhyme. For example, in the following lines: “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;/, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor” (7-8), Poe used internal rhyme that created the captivating rhythm that is the reason why these lines are so hypnotizing.
Poe’s biography includes the tragic loss of his young wife, Virginia (“Edgar Allan Poe”). This event struck him very strongly. As a result, “The Raven” reflects on the author’s feelings and desperation experienced after the tragedy.
Poem: Annabel Lee
“Annabel Lee” is the poem written from the point of view of a man mourning his love that had died tragically many years ago killed by the wind that “came out of the cloud by night” (Poe 25). The speaker is obsessed with the late beloved, and thus thinks about her at night while lying down next to her tomb. This poem has a theme similar to that of The Raven.
The author’s intention was to demonstrate how unfair and unmerciful life can be for some people. This poem also reflects on the death of his beloved wife. It is known that having lost Virginia, Poe sunk into depression (“Edgar Allan Poe”).
Short story: The Masque of the Red Death
“The Masque of the Red Death” is a gruesome story intended to produce the effect of dread on the readers. The main protagonist of the story is Prince Prospero – the ruler who does not care for his subjects as the kingdom suffers from an epidemic of Red Death – a deadly disease. This story is also based on the personal experience of Poe.
In the story, instead of fighting the infection, Prince decides to isolate himself and the elite to celebrate life “Without the “Red Death”” (Poe 485). However, the disease still finds its way into the castle. Knowing that prior to her death, Virginia had been suffering from tuberculosis, one can notice that the theme of a pointless hope to avoid becoming the victim of a disease was copied from the author’s personal experience.
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It is clear that in his poems and short stories, Poe often explored the themes of death, suffering, sorrow, and unfairness. Due to his unique storylines and the thorough, artistic approach to his writing, Poe has become an inspiration to many authors of the following generations in American literature, as well as that of the world. Poe’s lectures and essays on the meaning of style and construction of poems and stories were used by the other authors attempting to achieve his level of skill. Clive Barker and Stephen King are some of the most well-known followers of Poe, who used his theory and kept it alive for decades.
“Biography.” Poe Museum, n.d.. Web.
“Edgar Allan Poe.” Poets.org, n.d. Web.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales. Library of America, 2015.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. “Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography.” The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, n.d. Web.