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In A Brown Study, 17

September 28, 2016

I had not intended to write four pieces (16 A -16 D) about Edgar Allan Poe, for my main interest has been (and is) Nathaniel Hawthorne. But in a brown study one is permitted to think or write about anyone or anything that sustains her attention for as long a period as she requires. The life of Poe demanded such consideration. The life and times of the writer are witnessed in his work, for the writer is often an observer rather than a participator of life.

All life is precious, and I don’t think Poe knew how precious he was, but certainly posterity does. We hear the mournful tolling of his bells long after the pine boards placed at his inconsequential grave were removed and his body placed in an area demanding greater respect.

Poe was tormented from early childhood with the abandonment by his father and the death of his mother. He was separated from brother and sister, and he was used to supplement their need to have a child by his foster family. It seemed as if the universe poured woe on him, and then Cupid’s arrow pierced his heart in the form of a thirteen year old child.

Poets are, according to tradition, unhappy men, cursed by their sensitivity, plagued by their imagination, victimized by their emotions, and incapable of adjustment to a prosaic world. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about Poe as a critic, “The harshness of his criticisms I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong.”

Would Poe have been different if he had a taste of the gifts God can offer? If he had a family and a stable home life, friends, and a steady income? Poe never sermonized in an age when sermons were at the heart of most stories, but he is called the instigator of the detective story, and the founder of science fiction. A biography of Poe claims that at the final moments without insanity or delirium before his death Poe said, “God, forgive my sins and bless me.” I am sorry there was no pastor or priest to comfort him by saying, “He does. Enter into His kingdom by the sea with peace and joy.”

Poe’s short life reveals that poverty and loneliness leave a deep and lasting impression, that drink or sexual misadventures cannot assuage grief and unhappiness, but will deepen misery. Perhaps Edgar Allan Poe would have learned such lessons and had a happier life or been more appreciated if he had been born in the 2oth century.


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