Edgar Allen Poe, while famous later in his life, had very little wealth from his writings (History Channel, Jan 29). He had difficulty keeping a job for more than a year or so and at times was even dismissed for his salacious drinking (Britannica). His literary works were often dark and macabre with lines like “I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him” (Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”). This was true for one of his most famous poems “The Raven”. There were many similarities between this poem and Poe’s life. He was no stranger to death and loneliness which was portrayed in his work: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…” (Poe, 2). Born to an actor and actress in Boston, Poe was orphaned at a young age after losing his mother to Tuberculosis and his father to abandonment (PBS). He then was separated from his siblings and went to live with his godfather in Virginia, who was a wealthy tobacco merchant named John Allen and his barren wife (History Channel, Poe).
He lost his biological mother, brother, and foster mother to Tuberculosis. After marrying Virginia Clemm, his young cousin, he was said to be very happy and affectionate (Lanzendorfer). She too, became ill with Tuberculosis around the time Poe penned “The Raven”. He described his response to her illness as “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity” (Poe, letter to Spirit of the Times). His great love for her and his feelings of impending loss of this love, inspired this work about abandonment, loneliness, loss, sorrow, and death. In this work, Poe has a visit from the raven, a symbol of foreboding and misfortune, who answers “Nevermore” when questioned by Poe. “Lenore” is thought to represent his wife Virginia, whom he had not yet lost but was very ill.
He wills the ill omen to leave “…Leave my loneliness unbroken!…Take thy form from off my door…” to which the Raven replies “Nevermore” (Poe, 57-67). Symbolizing his will to keep his love, but knowing what the end result of her disease would be. The dark and brooding, sorrowful, tone of the poem resonated with his audience and increased his fame to nationwide recognition. This was of little consolation, when 2 years after its publishing, Virginia died. Poe continued to gift us with his literary skills, most of which were not recognized until after his untimely death (PBS).
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