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Edgar Allan Poe - from Antemortem Depression to Posthumous Triumph

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Matthew H. Ji

Fourth Period

20 October 2017

Edgar Allan Poe - From Antemortem Depression to Posthumous Triumph

A wretched figure lies on the bed, with his face drained of color and eyes devoid of light, for his heart beats but was filled with excessive liquor from the countless bottles scattered around him; for his lung plummets but was fluxed with indistinguishable remains of the brown dusts below him; for his head moves but was sent to an unreal realm of fantasies above him. Even in the eyes of a child, this man, who is no different from his dead self, would be seen as a miserable and hopeless disgrace of the society, yet these descriptions accurately apply to Edgar Allan Poe, the founder of horror novels and detective stories and, more importantly, a renowned poet known for his morbid style of writing. Though this coexistence of despondency and sophistication on Poe is outstanding, what is more significant of his life is its reflection on his literary work. In fact, the prevailing tale of the juxtapositioning dichotomy of love and death in Edgar Allan Poe’s many poems, particularly Annabel Lee, was heavily influenced by himself specifically as seen by events in his life under the atmosphere of the early Nineteenth centuries, his last completed poem Annabel Lee, and intellectual criticisms on Poe himself.

Poe’s panache in the blossom of romance and the loss of love can be found in the macro-effects of the early Nineteenth centuries and Poe’s own micro-level of a repleted life of depression. Writers are born of their times, and Poe was no different from that. As his time on this planet was almost parallel to that of the Romantic Era, Poe “read voraciously...of gothic romance” (Snodgrass 1), a specific form of specialized literature in the syncretism of horror and its opposite emotion of love and other emotions, since his teenage years. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Poe’s motif of endearment and the collapse of that concept are similar to gothic romance, for he was born at a time when Romanticism was fresh and expanding. Had he been born in a different time, it would have been exponentially more onerous for him to learn about this style of writing, albeit the idea did develop independently from Poe’s own life. Born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, Poe spent two years as two years under the decentralized care of his parents before he endured an arduous time from his “pinch-mouthed godfather” and ”barely tolerant foster mother” (Snodgrass 1). Out of most children in the first world countries, Poe’s childhood, a period of time where certain events, such as upbringing, can imprint one’s future irreparably, faced considerably more challenges and sorrow, which chained themselves onto his every act growing up. This melancholy is clearly signified in his works in gothic romance, in which he believed that everyone would end in tragedy so faithful that even love has to be tangled with death. Edgar Allan Poe’s life in adulthood was not cheerful either: not only did the difficulty of publishing his poetry forge him into an alcoholic, his only source of spiritual happiness, Virginia Clemm, became “ill with tuberculosis” and “passed away” (Loveday 14,16) as well. Since Poe’s most famous works at the time were his writings, it is not a wonder he, under such disastrous misfortunes and calamitous tragedies, would incorporate the theme of devastated infatuation into the poem as both a tribute to his loved ones but also a reflection of his horrendous life style. After all, it is only human nature for tones to exist in a poem, and it is only human nature that these tones are representative of the author. Surely, Poe’s poems were a representation of his own cherishing of the deceased intimacies in his reality.

Besides the apparent contextualization between Poe’s life to his works, one could fully see these events’ reflection of the content and the underlying motif of his poem Annabel Lee when analyzing the poem thoroughly. In the poem Annabel Lee, Poe pushes the recurring message of love beyond any natural forces, even the irreversible process of death. When the poem begun, the Narrator, a young man, and his love Annabel Lee were so intimate with each other that even “seraphs of Heaven coveted” (Poe 1.11-12) them. By the popular perception of angels, it is impossible for them to yearn for anything; however, using these exaggerations, Poe highlighted the power of love between the Narrator and Annabel Lee as something even demigods would “covet” for. With this bold statement, Poe both established the grandiose love in the reader’s mind and inferred to the Romantic Era that inspired this love. Even after the tragic death of Annabel Lee, the Narrator did not lose hope and insisted that neither angels nor demons can ever “dissever my soul from … Annabel Lee” (Poe 1.32-33). The Narrator’s love with Annabel Lee was so interconnected that, under the author’s carefully placed emphasis, not even the deities of both spectrums of good and evil could hinder his soul from binding with Annabel Lee’s, all of which would clearly imprint this miraculously extensive love of the poem to its readers. Through his clever use of hyperbole, Poe successfully constructed a refreshed view of love in both of its indivisibility and indestructibility. Poe’s intricately constructed message of love and death in this poem reflects his dramatic losses and desire of love, particularly from his mother and dear Virginia. In lieu of sundering his own life and literary fantasy apart, Poe’s integrated both of his tragic and cheerful memories into his poetry, ergo the elicitation of many critics to his work.  

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