Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Friend Edgar

"From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone."

January two centuries ago saw the birth of probably America's most famous poet. "It was night in the lonesome October" a mere four decades later he died. No one knows the cause of Edgar Allan Poe's death, where he was for hours prior to his discovery "in distress" on the streets of Baltimore, wearing clothes not his own and (according to some) calling out to someone named "Reynolds." Strangely, it seem as appropriate, the timing. Born in winter, died in autumn, and if this fierce genius ever knew spring, his was very short. Summer never part of his life. It becomes hard to imagine him on sunny days, amid flowers and lush trees below a blue sky. Ridiculous, for he lived through forty summers. Yet that isn't how we imagine him, even when happy. If in our mind's eye he stands beside a healthy tree with a plenty of green leaves, the scene demands that tree be part of a cemetary. Better yet, the vision feels more accurate with clouds above, and the leaves slowly dying.

By all accounts Poe was anything but a nice man, although to be sure he wasn't nearly as bad as the hatchet job one of his rivals portrayed him soon after his passing. He suffered fools not at all gladly, and in his eyes nearly everyone was a fool. A racist and (in his youth) a gambler, he fell in love with and married a thirteen-year-old girl ("She was a child, and I was a child") who was also his first cousin. He had a drinking problem, evidently not so much alcoholism as a severe inability to handle any spirits. Upon becoming a widower, he seems to have gone somewhat mad. Yet he seems to have flirted/had emotional affairs with a least two women writers in front of his young bride (she evidently approved of one, but not the other). For such a difficult man, he had loyal friends. His class at West Point took up a collection to publish one of his first books.

My own first memory of Poe was of a certain knight "gaily bedight in sunshine and in shadow, traveled long singing a song in search of El Dorado." How disturbing that there was no hint the knight ever found that fabled city! Likewise how compelling that bizarre night "in the bleak December" (my own birth month--a fellow winter baby) when a raven took up residence! Or the tale of revenge involving a certain cask of amontillado, the madness of a man who kills his benefactor out of hatred for the old man's eye, the mystery of a certain purloined letter. When young all those marvelously cheesy Vincent Price movies based on Poe came out, even if it was years and years before I got to see them. Earlier this month I finally got my t.v. converter and the first movie I watched was The Masque of the Red Death. Last year, at one of the dance showcases my troupe did, they let me begin with a reading of "The Raven." Quite indulgent of them, really.

At first, while enjoying Poe, I didn't really understand him. Sometimes his tales and lines stirred me but made precious little sense. But I'm now older than he ever managed. I've lived, as he did, in borderline poverty and--again, like him--lost my beloved lady. Truthfully, my life is luckier. Not orphaned until adulthood, able to hold my wine pretty easily, living in an age of anti-depressants. Still, autumn suits me as well. Mine is also a melancholy mood. When studying theatre, I memorized a stanza of his about a theatre performance in (presumably) Heaven. That I did so perhaps shows the meagre thread of similarity between this great, tragic man and myself. And why as the clouds gather amid orange replacing green, I think of Edgar...

Out, out are the lights! Out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm!

While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm

That the play is the tragedy "Man"
And its hero THE CONQUEROR WORM.

This makes my entry in the Absolute Write October Blog Roll. The others are:
1. Lost Wanderer - http://www.lostwanderer5.blogspot.com
2. Claire Crossdale - http://theromanticqueryletter.blogspot.com/
3. Angela 785 - http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/
4. Ravencorinncarluk - http://ravencorinncarluk.blogspot.com
5. Angyl78 - http://jelyzabeth.wordpress.com/
6. shethinkstoomuch - http://shethinkstoomuch.wordpress.com
7. trulyana - http://expressiveworld.com
8. Bsolah - http://benjaminsolah.com/blog
9. freshhell - http://freshhell.wordpress.com
10. Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/
11. aimeelaine - http://www.aimeelaine.com/
12. HigherEdUnderground - http://higheredunderground.com/
13. Cath - http://blog.cathsmith.net
14. DavidZahir - http://zahirblue.blogspot.com/

7 comments:

Catherine Karp said...

Great post, Zahir. I've been a Poe fan since high school.

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Poe is dear to me and I LOVE reading your take on him. Well written and a true joy. Thanks for sharing.
All the very best.
Claire

ralfast said...

Poe dark insight into human nature has been often imitated but never surpassed. One of my favorite writers of all time.

Aimee Laine said...

Could never get into Poe -- probably because I'm the sunny person that can't stand the dark. :) But, I do love your writeup of him. :)

freshhell said...

Good to see Edgar brought into this theme. I grew up in Richmond, VA, where he spent a good portion of his life so he's intimately familiar to me. One October, I saw John Astin portray him in a one-show that was wonderful. Thanks for the great entry!

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

I'm more into Lovecraft than Poe, but I enjoy some of his works. The Cask of Amontillado is probably my favorite.

Your passion for Poe is amazing. Your writing really shows that. Thanks for sharing.

Angela said...

I'm so glad you chose to post about Poe! I have a few books of his story collections, and this inspires me to dig them out.