FLORENCE GILKESON: Works of Poe Offer Morbid Fascination
It's been more than 60 years since I was introduced to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and I'm still not sure what that creepy raven was so sternly pronouncing would nevermore occur.
Was it advising the
blurry-eyed poet that he would never again see the beauteous Lenore? Was it admonishing us all that no, there is no balm in Gilead? Or did the wretched creature simply have a hopelessly limited vocabulary?
To be honest, it did pop into my mind that the word "nevermore" does indeed rhyme with the name Lenore.
I'm in good company there, for apparently none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson once referred to Poe as "the jingle man." And Aldous Huxley, a novelist who took his share of lumps in his day, called Poe's work "too poetical," meaning that he overdid his tendency toward rhyme.
Although Poe did toy with words, I doubt that he was deliberately overdoing his poetry by turning to books of rhymes and alliteration.
This year marks the 200th birthday of Poe, the American poet, novelist and essayist who gave us a vast collection of literary works ranging from horror stories to romantic poems. He probably wrote our first detective story and was the author of innumerable short stories steeped in psychology and drama but short on dialogue.
He was a master of the horror story. Remember "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Telltale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "The Pit and the Pendulum." And don't forget the chilling "Murders in the Rue Morgue."
My fascination with Poe dates to childhood. I read his poems over and over and delved into his suspense and horror stories, at an age when my mother would probably have objected to the subject matter had she realized what I was reading. Some of his stories are heavy stuff.
The year after World War II ended, an aunt took me to Richmond, Va., and Baltimore, Md., to visit two brothers whom she had not seen in recent years. Travel was almost nonexistent during the war, and she wanted to see my uncles and thought it was time for me to visit them in their own settings. Imagine my surprise upon learning that Uncle Chris, a member of the Richmond Fire Department, lived in a city where Poe once lived, and my Uncle Buddy, a carpenter, lived in Baltimore, another Poe city. We visited Poe memorial sites in both cities.
At the time I was unaware of the romantic tale about the mysterious admirer who annually places three roses at Poe's grave marker in Baltimore and offers a toast with cognac.
Poe's life was wrapped in an aura of tragedy and mystery. Born in Boston, he lost his parents when he was young and became the foster child of a couple living in Richmond. The couple, the Allans, never officially adopted him, although they took him to Great Britain, where he attended school a few years.
His life was marked by brief efforts at this and that, and he never latched on to anything or any person for more than a few years. He attended the University of Virginia but not for long. He joined the Army when he needed money but did not make a career of it. He was 26 when he married his 13-year-old first cousin, Virginia Clemm, who died of consumption about seven years later.
One consistency was his dependence on alcohol. Poe was 40 when he died in 1849.
His life and career may have been checkered, but this American writer produced a massive amount of work, including editing and criticism. Even today his writing captures my imagination. His poetry teases the eye and ear, and his fiction leaves me breathless. I wonder how many writers have borrowed ideas and drama from his material.
I've often wondered if the writers of "Puff the Magic Dragon," the Peter, Paul and Mary hit of the 1960s, were inspired by his poem "Annabel Lee."
Wikipedia says Leonard Lipton, who penned the lyrics with Peter Yarrow, borrowed the Puff story from an Ogden Nash poem.
There are clear differences, of course. Poe's Annabel Lee is interpreted as his beloved Virginia, who died very young. Puff's sadness came when his young friend, Jackie, grew up and no longer had time for magical friends. Maybe I'm a lost romantic who sees a similarity here.
The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Poe on his 200th birthday, Jan. 19. The Carthage post office sold out of its initial shipment of the 42-cent stamps but reports that it may order additional panes. I'm sure they're available at other post offices, and information is available on the USPS Web site.
Poe's works were always popular, but he never made much money at his craft. He may be a dead poet, but his works live evermore.
Eat your heart out, Raven.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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