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Archive for December, 2008

Two hundred years ago, on January 19, 1809, a son was born to two itinerant actors. He was orphaned at the age of three and later taken in by John Allan and his wife who enrolled him in an academy run by William Burke.

His troubles escalated when he was forced to leave the University of Virginia due to drinking and gambling, even though he was one of the school’s top students. This disappointment was followed by another when he learned his sweetheart, Elmira Royster, had become engaged to another man. He continued his drinking until his stepfather cut off his funding.

In 1827, he published “Tamerlane and Other Poems” at his own expense. Few copies sold and today it is considered one of the rarest volumes in literary history. That same year, he entered the Army under an assumed name and was sent to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina that he later used as the setting for his story, “The Gold Bug.” He was dishonorably discharged due to drinking and gambling. Then he pleaded with his stepfather for money to enter West Point. His stepfather gave in but in 1830, after only one year of attendance, he was court-marshaled and discharged.

It was the last straw for his stepfather who said he never wanted to see him again.

Three fruitless years later, his short story (MS Found In A Bottle) was published and he began to make a meager living as a staff member of Southern Literary Messenger and other small publications.

At this time, he fell in love and soon married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, Her youthful devotion was enough to quiet his tormented soul for a short period. But after Virginia burst a blood vessel and became an invalid, he again became deeply depressed.

On April 6, 1844, he moved to New York with his ailing young wife and landed a job with The New York Mirror. The following year his poem, The Raven, received national recognition. But his joy was short-lived once more. His young wife succumbed to tuberculosis and died in 1847. Again, he fell apart and stayed in a drug stupor for almost a year.

Plagued by severe headaches, deep depression, and frequent attempts at suicide, he somehow managed to write brilliantly. In 1849, he penned his most moving poem about Virginia, “Annabel Lee.” That same year, he also published “Eldorado” in which a “gallant knight” seeks his Eldorado but never finds it.

In August of 1849, the former Elmira Royster, now widowed, rekindled her love for him. Once again, a thread of hope dangled before him. A wedding was planned for October. At last, it seemed he would find true happiness.

But on the third of October, on his way to Richmond to see Elmira, .he got off the train in Baltimore. Nobody knows why, but later he was found facedown in front of a saloon, drunk and severely beaten. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but it proved too late. After four days of torment and suffering, he cried out his last words: “Lord, help my poor soul!”

He died without a single soul around to grieve his passing.

On October 9, 1849, his body was lowered into the damp cold earth and covered with dirt, a scene he had written so many times in chilly detail.

To this day, nobody can be certain if Edgar Allan Poe even found peace in eternity.

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