Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The mystic Storyteller

Edgar Allan Poe, Henri le Rennet, Edgar S. Perry and others… who was the real person and who was the reflection? Was it in truth some unnamed creature never seeing the light of day?

Today it is 200 years since Edgar Allan Poe was born. Amazing how time flies, isn’t it. Poe wrote stories and poems, haunting both to himself and to those reading them, and most important of all: his life was as strange and mystical as the stories he wrote.

His life and work was groundbreaking in so many ways. He was among the first writing what would later be known as mystery novels, including murder mysteries and also the first stirrings of science fiction. 200 years later it’s clear that he has had an enormous impact on both writing and art in general, inspiring countless people to seek an unusual life. Poe is very much present in current art and life. Novels would be completely different today without his input. The very process of writing would be different.

He was also the first well-known writer attempting to live of his earnings as a writer, something that clearly contributed to him dying fairly young and being poor most of his life. Publishers made a habit of not paying him for his work, and even though he gained a rare notoriety for his poems and stories he remained a struggling artist to his death, also because he never got along with his publishers, and attempting self publishing as much as his low income would allow.

I have always been interested in Poe, for several reasons, the main one being the aforementioned fact that his life and death was equal to the stories he told, something all artists should aspire to. He lived a quite the varied life and doing a lot of different things, never really settling down, not in life and not in art.

Even though many facts are known and his life is fairly well documented, his life as well as his death is clearly shrouded in mystery, no matter how much some people strive to «de-romanticize» all the mystery. People had strong, totally opposing and contradictory opinions of him, when he lived and after his death, and a lot of it persist today.

A guy named Rufus Griswold had several disputes with him, about literature and otherwise. After Poe’s death Griswold managed, somehow to be named his literary executor, and used the opportunity to repeat his previous attempts at character assassination. He really dedicated himself to the task, and portrayed his enemy as a drunk and gambler and vagrant, making up facts, a lot of facts as he did, claims that has been disputed later and even proven to be base lies, but never truly fading from public consciousness. There has never been put forth a satisfactory explanation as to why Griswold began and persisted his crusade against Poe. Many theories have been put forth, also about Griswold’s state of mind, none of them truly satisfactory.

Poe disappeared several times during the last years of his life, never really explaining his absence. Some of his work is said to be autobiographical or too close to call to be fiction. Tragedy marred him most of his life. His father vanished and his mother died while he was a small child, and he never really clicked with the couple raising him (he was never formally adopted). He married his thirteen-year-old cousin Victoria Clemm, supposedly claiming she was his eternal beloved, one of his many startling statements. She died after a long sickness eleven years later.

Four days before his death he was found wandering deliriously through the streets of Baltimore, in ill-fit clothes clearly not his own. He had left Richmond, Virginia for his home in New York six days earlier, never reaching his destination. There have been many claims as to where he had been during that time, none of them substantiated. People he encountered after he was found, like the Doctors Joseph Snodgrass and Poe’s attending physician Joseph John Moran have later been proven to have lied through their teeth about what happened during Poe’s final days. Poe cried out for a guy named Reynolds, one no one knew or were able to identify. His corpse was removed from the original cemetery and reburied. Claims were put forth that it wasn’t his body, and that even the body being buried the first time was not Poe. Had he died where they said he had? Had he died the way they said? Had he died at all? Again we see that all the so called probable explanations as to what happened are in serious doubt.

Some people claim entire sciences have been invented to explain the life and death of Edgar Allan Poe. Compared to all the other tales circulating about him this may not be such an extravagant claim.

A dream within a dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


__Nevermore__ said...

Totally agree on the fact that 'the very process of writing would be different' without him. He was not only the pioneer of the short story, but his theories influenced, and are used widely, in all types of literature. It is widely accepted that some of Poe's poems are personal and relate to people in his life, but his tales of fiction I would argue strongly were not autobiographical, there is much evidence to support this, including from Poe's mouth himself, people would just rather believe in the Poe myth and not attribute his originality or skill to his imagination and technique of his writing - when one considers the literary and economical climate Poe was forced to write his tales in, as well as the grief he endured with Virginia's illness and death, that he was even able to produce the quality of work he did is astounding. In my opinion, he has no rivals in fiction.

Really enjoyed reading this, thanks :)

Amos Keppler said...

I wouldn't say he is the greatest, but he is most certainly great and I also believe that his fiction was influenced by his life, inevitably. The question is how much...

All authors use their own life in their fiction and art. I certainly do.

Aside from that I basically agree with you, too.

He is btw prominently "featured" in my upcoming novel Alarums of Reality (no bull). At least in spirit. I think you will be pleased...