The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year…
“Ulalume”, Edgar Allan Poe
The one hundred seventieth anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death crept upon me and caught me unawares on this night in the lonesome October. I find my time scarce and fleeting this autumnal eve; my thoughts are few and scattered. Come what may, I will essay a tribute, however shabby and tattered.
When Edgar Allan Poe died that long-ago night in October, 1849, he likely did not reckon that he would, in the twenty-first century, stand astride American literature like a darksome colossus. Whether it be psychological suspense, proto-cosmic horror, detective mysteries or proto-SFF/Lost World adventure, the Man From Baltimore got there first. Lord Dunsany was an early admirer. H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard all counted Poe as a major influence, as have countless other authors here and abroad.
As noted author, Christopher Conlon, said right here on the DMR Blog:
“A writer of morbid poems and tales of terror who died 170 years ago, Poe stands today virtually without equal in the canon of American literature. Only Mark Twain and perhaps Ernest Hemingway can lay claim to anything like a similar stature in both critical opinion and popularity—and Poe goes back quite a bit farther than either.“
One can read the rest of Mr. Conlon’s perceptive essay, “Why Poe?”, here.
Despite his relatively short life, Edgar did travel abroad, visiting Great Britain in his youth. The tale of that sojourn, as told by Al Harron, can be found on the DMR Blog here.
My own look at Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym—that proto-SFF/Lost World adventure I referenced above—can be read here.
So, one hundred and seventy years after his premature demise, we still find ourselves obssessed with Poe. However, that very popularity—as it so often does—has obscured the man and his work. As M. Grant Kellermeyer states so eloquently:
“The truth is that Poe was not an emo punk, a theatre nerd, or a sexual deviant. He was more Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain than he was Victor Frankenstein or Phantom of the Opera. But it is this colorful, campy fabrication that continues to haunt pop culture. (…) Like Lovecraft and his Cthulhu (who has been popularized and essentially castrated as a plush toy, bumper sticker, and internet meme), Poe’s genuine grip on our spirits and imaginations is ironically being eroded by his fans, and it requires a level of objectivity and focus to transform the fan-boy who is wild about “The Raven,” live burials, and pulsating hearts to become an genuine, thoughtful appreciator of a man who suffered for his vision of art, culture, and humanity in a way entirely different from that which is spoon-fed to us by consumeristic Café Press shops, melodramatic DeviantArt pages, and click-mill Facebook groups.”
One can read the rest of Kellermeyer’s magisterial essay here.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Kellermeyer’s excellent, annotated collection of Poe’s works, The Annotated and Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe, published by Oldstyle Tales Press. I highly recommend it. It can be found here.
So, raise a glass of Amontillado to the shade of one Edgar Allan Poe, the literary grandfather of so much that we love. His like will never be seen again.