Russian Woman Journal

Tuesday 16 December  2008

Yelena Wedekind
(USA Maryland)

Edgar Allan Poe: Baltimorean poet

flowersEach visit to Baltimore used to put me into bad mood. Enormous, gloomy, it saluted to me with smoke from the industrial chimneys, twined around with the layers of highways, and me so insignificant in my car was sucked in. Crowded gray buildings hung over the streets; the despondent inhabitants swarmed between them. This city, sitting on the Atlantic coastline, seemed to vacuum in all the darkness around it. Maybe it was an exaggeration!

But when I had found Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in the graveyard of the Westminster Church on Fayette Street in the center of Baltimore, I understood better the roots of his mysterious creativity. Only in such obscure place could one be able to write such dismal stories... Edgar Allan Poe, great American writer, was one of my favorite authors since childhood. I read and reread his stories and poems, and always admired his talent. This poet, I believed, was deserved to be remembered.

The life of a neglected American poet was not easy. His parents, the actors, died young; Edgar Poe was 2 years old at that time. He was taken to the Allans family in Richmond, Virginia.They never adopted him formally, but gave him a name – Edgar Allan Poe. This family as one of the wealthiest families in the region. In addition, a head of household, John Allan, received a substantial inheritance from his uncle, and spent many years abroad, mainly in England. His foster son, Edgar, attended the grammar school in Scotland and London. When the family returned to Richmond Edgar's life seemed promising and stable. He was engaged, and in 1826 was accepted at the University of Virginia found by Thomas Jefferson to study languages. The University was a new type of school where such subjects as astronomy and philosophy were taught for the first time, and theology was banned. But Edgar was involved in the gambling, and John Allan helped him as much as he could; but his debts grew faster than his grades. After one year of studying, Edgar dropped the school. The promising career of young man stopped not even starting yet.

It was the beginning of his life, better to say anti-life. It seemed he did everything he could to be anti-social. He did not return to Richmond, due his estrangement from the Allans family and broken engagement. Did he ever felt welcome in there anyway? An orphan, from family of the actors, lost and talented, he did not belong to that class of people. Edgar Allan Poe enlisted in the army where he spent a few years. He called himself Edgar Perry and said he was 22 when, in fact, he was 18. His first book “Tamerlane and Other poems” was published in Boston that year. Between terms of service he stayed with his family – the family that was poor and strange – in Baltimore in 1829. His aunt Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia, his brother-alcoholic, and invalid grandmother were simple Baltimoreans who could not support him but inspired him. That time he published a second book “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems”. After being a court-martialed due his neglect of duty and disobedience of orders in 1831, he published the third book simply called “Poems”.

Was it his anti-social behavior or his artistic way of living life? Was Edgar Allan Poe really concerned about being a good citizen, having family, making money, being a faithful husband? What we know that he had tried. He tried to make money; he tried to have a family. Was his life illustrated by his literary works? Or his works have been illustrated by his life?

Edgar started his literary career after being discharged from the army as an assistant editor in Richmond. And he failed – due excessive drinking. But he kept writing; this is what he never quit doing. In 1835 he married his first cousin Virginia Clemm who was 13 years old at that time. Strange and anti-social couple, they were, in reality, happy. The poet, Edgar Allan Poe, needed to be loved and to be inspired. No other woman could ignore her demands for a standard marriage, and be as faithful to her strange husband as Virginia did. She admired him, she idolized him; even though a life with him was not easy. Edgar kept drinking, moving from job to job, from magazine to magazine, plead for money, and kept writing. In 1838 “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” was published, in 1839 – “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”; numerous short stories, poems, book reviews and literary criticism appeared in the different magazines, even though he was paid a little.

riverRomantic and mysterious, Edgar Allan Poe was very realistic in his descriptions of the dark sides of life. He made literature to be free from its didacticism and allegory. His stories depicted the other side, the side that usually was never shown in the literary works before – ugly, scary, and supernatural. It seemed he lived a real life in his imagination. As a genius, he lived through his stories, sometimes even before the real events could happened. He was a profit, smelling the decomposition of life, fixing the physical signs of the death, predicting what will happen soon. The enormous talent, he did not fit in real life. His attempt to own a magazine failed – due his negligence to appear in front of the important person. He was drunk. He had chosen to be himself again.

He had predicted Virginia's death when he wrote “The Raven”. A young lover suffering from the loss of his beloved Lenore tried to forget her, and sank his feeling in the darkness of night. Appeared “ebony bird” did not allow him to do that, and tortured him repeating a word “Nevermore”. This poem had become so popular and influential since it was published in 1845, was a prediction of Virginia's death in 1847. Edgar Poe was a raven himself – sensing the smell of early death, knowing where the carrion was. His desperate scream “Nevermore!” was a warning of upcoming death, not just Virginia’s but his own.

Edgar Poe was not loved and appreciated by his surrounding peers; they were jealous and shallow. He was more popular in England and France than in the United States. His literary works as well have been praised as been criticized. But he had his writing and understanding little wife, he had a family, and he was happy to live his own life.

October 7, 1849, on Sunday, at 5 o'clock in the morning, in Washington College Hospital, Edgar Allan Poe died – after being found on one of the Baltimorean streets, drunk and not even in his own cloth. Did he die from the heart disease, epilepsy, or syphilis, or simply from alcohol abuse? Nobody knew. The medical records were lost, as well as his death certificate. But since 1949, every January 19th, on his birth day, the three roses were brought to his grave by unknown man. Next January 19th, in 2009, it will be the sixty years of this tradition. Edgar’s Raven never flew away. “And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door…” said the poet. Edgar Allan Poe, the greatest American artist, is still here, still with us.

Yelena Wedekind
December 2008

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore: http://eapoe.org

Yelena Wedekind
(USA Maryland)

Other articles written by Yelena Wedekind:

In English:

In Russian :


Author’s Background for Yelena Wedekind:

Yelena Wedekind resides near Annapolis, MD (USA) since 2002. She was born and raised in Siberia (Russia).
Has a Masters degree in Russian Language and Literature from the Tomsk State University.
Enjoys cooking, travelling, and writing. Has had numerous articles written in Russian and English http://www.rispubs.com/article.cfm?Number=1480
Favourite subjects are history, culture, and everyday life.
Has a son living in Siberia.


Published in Woman's Magazine  Russian Woman Journal  www.russianwomanjournal.com - 16 December 2008


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