Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?
Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet, critic and editor best known for evocative short stories and poems that captured the imagination and interest of readers around the world. His imaginative storytelling and tales of mystery and horror gave birth to the modern detective story.
Many of Poe’s works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” became literary classics. Some aspects of Poe’s life, like his literature, is shrouded in mystery, and the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred substantially since his death.
Early Life and Family
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Poe never really knew his parents — Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a British actress, and David Poe, Jr., an actor who was born in Baltimore. His father left the family early in Poe's life, and his mother passed away from tuberculosis when he was only three.
Separated from his brother William and sister Rosalie, Poe went to live with John and Frances Allan, a successful tobacco merchant and his wife, in Richmond, Virginia. Edgar and Frances seemed to form a bond, but he had a more difficult relationship with John Allan.
By the age of 13, Poe was a prolific poet, but his literary talents were discouraged by his headmaster and John Allan, who preferred that Poe follow him in the family business. Preferring poetry over profits, Poe reportedly wrote poems on the back of some of Allan's business papers.
Money was also an issue between Poe and John Allan. Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, where he excelled in his classes. However, he didn't receive enough funds from Allan to cover all of his costs. Poe turned to gambling to cover the difference, but ended up in debt.
He returned home only to face another personal setback — his neighbor and fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster had become engaged to someone else. Heartbroken and frustrated, Poe moved to Boston.
Army and West Point
In 1827, around the time he published his first book, Poe joined the U.S. Army. Two years later, he learned that Frances Allan was dying of tuberculosis, but by the time he returned to Richmond she had already passed away.
While in Virginia, Poe and Allan briefly made peace with each other, and Allan helped Poe get an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Poe excelled at his studies at West Point, but he was kicked out after a year for his poor handling of his duties.
During his time at West Point, Poe had fought with his foster father, who had remarried without telling him. Some have speculated that Poe intentionally sought to be expelled to spite Allan, who eventually cut ties with Poe.
Editor, Critic, Poet and Writer
After leaving West Point, Poe published his third book and focused on writing full-time. He traveled around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. In 1834, John Allan died, leaving Poe out of his will, but providing for an illegitimate child Allan had never met.
Poe, who continued to struggle living in poverty, got a break when one of his short stories won a contest in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. He began to publish more short stories and in 1835 landed an editorial position with the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond.
Poe developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic, writing vicious reviews of his contemporaries. His scathing critiques earned him the nickname the "Tomahawk Man."
His tenure at the magazine proved short. Poe's aggressive-reviewing style and sometimes combative personality strained his relationship with the publication, and he left the magazine in 1837. His problems with alcohol also played a role in his departure, according to some reports.
Poe went on to brief stints at Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, Graham's Magazine, The Broadway Journal, and he also sold his work to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, among other journals.
In 1844, Poe moved to New York City. There, he published a news story in The New York Sun about a balloon trip across the Atlantic Ocean that he later revealed to be a hoax. His stunt grabbed attention, but it was his publication of "The Raven," in 1845, which made Poe a literary sensation.
That same year, Poe found himself under attack for his stinging criticisms of fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poe claimed that Longfellow, a widely popular literary figure, was a plagiarist, which resulted in a backlash against Poe.
Despite his success and popularity as a writer, Poe continued to struggle financially and he advocated for higher wages for writers and an international copyright law.
From 1831 to 1835, Poe lived in Baltimore, where his father was born, with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, his cousin Virginia. He began to devote his attention to Virginia, who became his literary inspiration as well as his love interest.
The couple married in 1836 when she was only 13 years old. In 1847, at the age of 24 — the same age when Poe’s mother and brother also died — Virginia passed away from tuberculosis.
Poe was overcome by grief following her death, and although he continued to work, he suffered from poor health and struggled financially until his death in 1849.
Poe self-published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in 1827. His second poetry collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, was published in 1829.
As a critic at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond from 1835 to 1837, Poe published some of his own works in the magazine, including two parts of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
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In late 1830s, Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of short stories. It contained several of his most spine-tingling tales, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "Ligeia" and "William Wilson."
In 1841, Poe launched the new genre of detective fiction with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." His literary innovations earned him the nickname "Father of the Detective Story." A writer on the rise, he won a literary prize in 1843 for "The Gold Bug," a suspenseful tale of secret codes and hunting treasure.
'The Black Cat'
Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” was published in 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post. In it, the narrator, a one-time animal lover, becomes an alcoholic who begins abusing his wife and black cat. By the macabre story’s end, the narrator observes his own descent into madness as he kills his wife, a crime his black cat reports to the police. The story was later included in the 1845 short story collection, Tales by Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe’s poem "The Raven," published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror, is considered among the best-known poems in American literature and one of the best of Poe's career. An unknown narrator laments the demise of his great love Lenore and is visited by a raven, who insistently repeats one word: “Nevermore.” In the work, which consists of 18 six-line stanzas, Poe explored some of his common themes — death and loss.
This lyric poem again explores Poe’s themes of death and loss and may have been written in memory of his beloved wife Virginia, who died two years prior. The poem was published on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe’s death, in the New York Tribune.
Later in his career, Poe continued to work in different forms, examining his own methodology and writing in general in several essays, including "The Philosophy of Composition," "The Poetic Principle" and "The Rationale of Verse." He also produced the thrilling tale, "The Cask of Amontillado," and poems such as "Ulalume" and "The Bells."
Poe died on October 7, 1849. His final days remain somewhat of a mystery. Poe left Richmond on September 27, 1849, and was supposedly on his way to Philadelphia.
On October 3, he was found in Baltimore in great distress. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later. His last words were "Lord, help my poor soul."
At the time, it was said that Poe died of "congestion of the brain." But his actual cause of death has been the subject of endless speculation.
Some experts believe that alcoholism led to his demise while others offer up alternative theories. Rabies, epilepsy and carbon monoxide poisoning are just some of the conditions thought to have led to the great writer's death.
Shortly after his passing, Poe's reputation was badly damaged by his literary adversary Rufus Griswold. Griswold, who had been sharply criticized by Poe, took his revenge in his obituary of Poe, portraying the gifted yet troubled writer as a mentally deranged drunkard and womanizer.
He also penned the first biography of Poe, which helped cement some of these misconceptions in the public's minds.
While he never had financial success in his lifetime, Poe has become one of America's most enduring writers. His works are as compelling today as they were more than a century ago.
An innovative and imaginative thinker, Poe crafted stories and poems that still shock, surprise and move modern readers. His dark work influenced writers including Charles Baudelaire, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Stephane Mallarme.
House and Museum
The Baltimore home where Poe stayed from 1831 to 1835 with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, Poe’s cousin and future wife Virginia, is now a museum.
The Edgar Allan Poe House offers a self-guided tour featuring exhibits on Poe’s foster parents, his life and death in Baltimore and the poems and short stories he wrote while living there, as well as memorabilia including his chair and desk.
Watch "The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe" on HISTORY Vault
- Name: Edgar Allan Poe
- Birth Year: 1809
- Birth date: January 19, 1809
- Birth State: Massachusetts
- Birth City: Boston
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: Edgar Allan Poe was a writer and critic famous for his dark, mysterious poems and stories, including ‘The Raven,’ ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’
- Fiction and Poetry
- Astrological Sign: Capricorn
- U.S. Military Academy at West Point
- University of Virginia
- Interesting Facts
- Edgar Allan Poe's imaginative storytelling and tales of mystery and horror gave birth to the modern detective story.
- Poe married his cousin Virginia when she was 13 and he was 24.
- Despite his awards and recognition, Poe had financial problems throughout his writing career.
- Poe died in a Baltimore hospital in 1849, his last words being: "Lord, help my poor soul."
- Death Year: 1849
- Death date: October 7, 1849
- Death State: Maryland
- Death City: Baltimore
- Death Country: United States
We strive for accuracy and fairness.If you see something that doesn't look right,contact us!
- Article Title: Edgar Allan Poe Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/writer/edgar-allan-poe
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- Publisher: A&E Television Networks
- Last Updated: October 8, 2021
- Original Published Date: April 3, 2014
- The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.
- Lord, help my poor soul.
- Sound loves to revel near a summer night.
- But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.
- They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
- The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
- With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.
- And now — have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
- All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
- I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.
- [I]f you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.
- Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.
What are two famous lines from his poem The Raven? ›
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”What is Edgar Allan Poe most famous quote? ›
- “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” ...
- “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream" ...
- “There is no exquisite beauty… ...
- “Those who dream by day are cognisant of many things which escape those who dream only by night"
Poe himself meant the Raven to symbolize 'mournful, never-ending remembrance. ' Our narrator's sorrow for his lost, perfect maiden Lenore is the driving force behind his conversation with the Raven.What is the main message of the Raven? ›
The poem explores how grief can overcome a person's ability to live in the present and engage with society. Over the course of the poem, the speaker's inability to forget his lost love Lenore drives him to despair and madness.What is the raven most important quotes? ›
The Raven Quotes
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” “Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” “Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore...”
Shall be lifted—nevermore! These final lines of the poem show the speaker left in unending despair. The shadow here refers to the raven's shadow, symbolizing how the speaker's grief over Lenore's death will never leave him.What are 5 famous quotes? ›
- The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. - ...
- The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - ...
- Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. ...
- If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor. -
- “ May the Force be with you.” - Star Wars, 1977.
- “ There's no place like home.” - The Wizard of Oz, 1939.
- “ I'm the king of the world!” - ...
- “ Carpe diem. ...
- “ Elementary, my dear Watson.” - ...
- “ It's alive! ...
- “ My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. ...
- “ I'll be back.” -
“Deep in earth my love is lying/And I must weep alone.” “Because it was my crime to have no one on Earth who cared for me, or loved me.” “In the Heaven's above, the angels, whispering to one another, can find, among their burning terms of love, none so devotional as that of 'Mother.”Why did the raven say Nevermore? ›
In "The Raven," the raven says "nevermore" because it appears to be the only word that the bird knows how to say. No matter what question the narrator asks the raven, his response is always the same.
What is the first sentence of the raven? ›
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.What is one meaningful quote from Edgar Allan Poe? ›
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” “We loved with a love that was more than love.” “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” “I have great faith in fools - self-confidence my friends will call it.”What are the 3 symbols in the raven? ›
There are three primary symbols in “The Raven”: the raven, the bust of Pallas, and the speaker's chamber. All of these symbols work together to form a portrait of the speaker's grief.What does Lenore symbolize in the raven? ›
Critics consider Lenore, the narrator's lost love, to be a representation of Poe's own deceased wife Virginia.What can we learn from the life of a raven? ›
She makes it providential. She says that the forward wind comes when you are ready and when you can bear it. The raven is a wise and intelligent bird that must solve many problems in its long life. To survive, it will eat a variety of food, yet the Bible says that God is concerned about its well-being.What is the only word the raven says? ›
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore." Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as "Nevermore." That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.What is the one single word that the raven speaks repeatedly? ›
Repetition. Many words are repeated in "The Raven" the most famous being the word "nevermore" repeated by the bird himself throughout the poem.Who is most powerful quote? ›
- “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi. ...
- “Everybody is a genius. ...
- “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” — George Bernhard Shaw.
- “I'll be there.”
- “I love you.”
- “Maybe you're right.”
- “I trust you.”
- “Go for it.”
- “Got your back.”
- “How are you?”
- “I want you.”
- “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Confucius.
- “Magic is believing in yourself. ...
- “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them” – Walt Disney.
- “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure…
What is a famous short quote? ›
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” “There is no sin except stupidity.” “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”What is Edgar Allan Poe's most famous poem? ›
Poe achieved arguably his greatest triumph in 1845 when his poem, “The Raven,” was published to great acclaim. It is often billed as the most famous poem in American literature, and for a time the poem made him a celebrity. Despite his success, Poe remained impoverished and all but destitute.What is the most romantic quote ever? ›
“You are my heart, my life, my one and only thought.” “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” “I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.”What were Edgar Allan Poe's last 5 words? ›
Moran reported that Poe's final words were, "Lord, help my poor soul" before dying on October 7, 1849.What is the irony in the raven? ›
The eye is compared to a vulture's because the narrator believes it is evil; additionally, vultures usually correspond with sins and dishonorable actions. The analogy creates more suspense for the reader as the narrator slowly loses his sanity and goes mad because of the old man's eye's similarity to a vulture's eye.What does the raven mean to indigenous people? ›
The Raven | Indigenous Symbolism
Generally, the Raven symbolizes creativity, mischief, and magic throughout most Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, Synonym: to think about. weary. physically and mentally fatigued.What is a good quote from the book Everything Everything? ›
- “ Every day you get up and learn something new. Every day you find something to be happy about. ...
- “ I'm not a princess. And I don't need rescuing.” ( ...
- “ Everything's a risk. Not doing anything is a risk, It's up to you.” (
Quotation Reference Websites
- Furman University Mathematical Quotations Server. ...
- The Phrase Finder. ...
- Wikiquote. ...
- Wikiquote: List of Common Misquotations. ...
- Wiktionary: English Proverbs.
Aghast & Ghastly
It might not be a surprise that they were two of Poe's favorite words, appearing in his stories and poems over 50 times combined.
Why is the raven associated with death? ›
Many view the appearance of crows as an omen of death because ravens and crows are scavengers and are generally associated with dead bodies, battlefields, and cemeteries, and they're thought to circle in large numbers above sites where animals or people are expected to soon die.What does the raven best symbolize? ›
With the raven being a symbol of good and of evil in many different cultures it undoubtedly has its symbol of evil in Edgar Allen Poe's “The Raven”. With the narrator, a man of grief for the loss of his wife Lenore, and the raven, a bird that speaks of the word nevermore.What is the conflict in the raven? ›
The internal conflict is within the speaker as he struggles to cope with his grief about Lenore. On the other hand, the external conflict is between the speaker and the raven with the latter appearing to become a negative factor in the former's life, as the narrative progresses.Was Lenore murdered in the raven? ›
Lenore is simply dead, and the narrator is devastated when the raven says that he will not even get to meet her again in Heaven.What does it mean when a raven visits you? ›
"To many, ravens symbolize death or bad fortune to come, but to others they symbolize rebirth and starting anew, serving as a positive sign," says Dr. Kim. In Norse, Celtic, and Druid mythology, crows and ravens are widely viewed as beacons of intelligence.What is an example of a metaphor in the raven? ›
Metaphors in "The Raven"
At the poem's end, Poe writes, "And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming," comparing the bird's eyes to that of a demon's. The raven is just a bird, but to the speaker, in his grief and irrational hysteria, the bird has become like a demon with fire in its eyes.
In 1 Kings 17:4-6, ravens at God's command fed Elijah at the brook Cherith, which we will look at later. In Song of Solomon 5:11 we read, "The hair of the bridegroom was as black as a raven." In Psalm 147:7-9, we see God's provision for the raven and their young. The last mention is in Luke 12:24.What does the name raven mean in the Bible? ›
Raven [N] [S] Heb. 'orebh, from a root meaning "to be black" (Compare Cant. 5:11 ); first mentioned as "sent forth" by Noah from the ark ( Genesis 8:7 ).