Born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor Edgar Allan Poe's tales of mystery and horror initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction.
With his short stories and poems, Edgar Allan Poe captured the imagination and interest of readers around the world. His creative talents led to the beginning of different literary genres, earning him the nickname "Father of the Detective Story" among other distinctions. His life, however, has become a bit of mystery itself. And the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred substantially since his death.
The son of actors, Poe never really knew his parents. His father left the family early on, and his mother passed away when he was only three. Separated from his siblings, Poe went to live with John and Frances Allan, a successful tobacco merchant and his wife, in Richmond, Virginia. He and Frances seemed to form a bond, but he never quite meshed with John. Preferring poetry over profits, Poe reportedly wrote poems on the back of some of Allan's business papers.
Money was also an issue between Poe and John Allan. When Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, he didn't receive enough funds from Allan to cover all his costs. Poe turned to gambling to cover the difference, but ended up in debt. He returned home only to face another personal setback—his neighbor and fiancée Elmira Royster had become engaged to someone else. Heartbroken and frustrated, Poe left the Allans.
At first, Poe seemed to be harboring twin aspirations. Poe published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827, and he had joined the army around this time. Poe wanted to go to West Point, a military academy, and won a spot there in 1830. Before going to West Point, he published a second collection Al Aaraaf, Tamberlane, and Minor Poems in 1829. Poe excelled at his studies at West Point, but he was kicked out after a year for his poor handling of his duties. Some have speculated that he intentionally sought to be court-martialed. During his time at West Point, Poe had fought with his foster father and Allan decided to sever ties with him.
After leaving the academy, Poe focused his writing full time. He moved around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. From 1831 to 1835, he stayed in Baltimore with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia. His young cousin, Virginia, became a literary inspiration to Poe as well as his love interest. The couple married in 1836 when she was only 13 (or 14 as some sources say) years old.
Returning to Richmond in 1835, Poe went to work for a magazine called the Southern Literary Messenger. There he developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic, writing vicious reviews of his contemporaries. Poe also published some of his own works in the magazine, including two parts of his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. His tenure there proved short, however. Poe's aggressive-reviewing style and sometimes combative personality strained his relationship with the publication, and he left the magazine in 1837. His problems with alcohol also played a role in his departure, according to some reports. Poe went on to brief stints at two other papers, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and The Broadway Journal.
In late 1830s, Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of stories. It contained several of his most spine-tingling tales, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "Ligeia" and "William Wilson." Poe launched the new genre of detective fiction with 1841's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." A writer on the rise, he won a literary prize in 1843 for "The Gold Bug," a suspenseful tale of secret codes and hunting treasure.
Poe became a literary sensation in 1845 with the publication of the poem "The Raven." It is considered a great American literary work and one of the best of Poe's career. In the work, Poe explored some of his common themes—death and loss. An unknown narrator laments the demise of his great love Lenore. That same year, he found himself under attack for his stinging criticisms of his fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poe claimed that Longfellow, a widely popular literary figure, was a plagiarist, and this written assault on Longfellow created a bit of backlash for Poe.
Continuing work in different forms, Poe examined his own methodology and writing in general in several essays, including "The Philosophy of Composition," "The Poetic Principle" and "The Rationale of Verse." He also produced another thrilling tale, "The Cask of Amontillado," and poems such as "Ulalume" and "The Bells."
Poe was overcome by grief after the death of his beloved Virginia in 1847. While he continued to work, he suffered from poor health and struggled financially. His final days remain somewhat of a mystery. He left Richmond on September 27, 1849, and was supposedly on his way to Philadelphia. On October 3, Poe was found in Baltimore in great distress. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he died on October 7. His last words were "Lord, help my poor soul."
At the time, it was said that Poe died of "congestion of the brain." But his actual cause of death has been the subject of endless speculation. Some experts believe that alcoholism led to his demise while others offer up alternative theories. Rabies, epilepsy, carbon monoxide poisoning are just some of the conditions thought to have led to the great writer's death.
Shortly after his passing, Poe's reputation was badly damaged by his literary adversary Rufus Griswold. Griswold, who had been sharply criticized by Poe, took his revenge in his obituary of Poe, portraying the gifted yet troubled writer as a mentally deranged drunkard and womanizer. He also penned the first biography of Poe, which helped cement some of these misconceptions in the public's minds.
While he never had financial success in his lifetime, Poe has become one of America's most enduring writers. His works are as compelling today as there were more than a century ago. A bright, imaginative thinker, Poe crafted stories and poems that still shock, surprise and move modern readers.
Some of his works
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my 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.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
A Dream Within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Evening Star'Twas noontide of summer,And mid-time of night;And stars, in their orbits,Shone pale, thro' the lightOf the brighter, cold moon,'Mid planets her slaves,Herself in the Heavens,Her beam on the waves.I gazed awhileOn her cold smile;Too cold- too cold for me-There pass'd, as a shroud,A fleecy cloud,And I turned away to thee,Proud Evening Star,In thy glory afar,And dearer thy beam shall be;For joy to my heartIs the proud partThou bearest in Heaven at night,And more I admireThy distant fire,Than that colder, lowly light.
SilenceThere are some qualities- some incorporate things,That have a double life, which thus is madeA type of that twin entity which springsFrom 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!No power hath he of evil in himself;But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,That haunteth the lone regions where hath trodNo foot of man,) commend thyself to God!
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.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"-
Merely this, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
'Tis the wind and nothing more."
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never- nevermore'."
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked,
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!