Edgar Allan Poe – His Loves, His Sorrows

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

From Deep Within

One of the greatest poets was Edgar Allan Poe. His loves and his sorrows were deeply rooted in his poetry. His poems are timeless, for they touch a part of the human soul in each of us that is often hidden from others. He had the ability to open his heart and soul and share the torment and sufferings he himself had gone through. He was a master at reaching out to awaken the deepest emotions in others by shedding light on his own sorrows. Poe expressed the deepest love and deeper sorrows that was very much a part of himself.

Poe went deep within when writing – he could portray in words the abstract taken from common feelings and turn them into intense emotions. He had the innate inclination to lean towards the stillness of the night in his themes. In most of what he wrote there were undertones of demonic nature. He seemed possessed by his own demons and it is almost as if he had to put them on paper in order to relieve them from his mind.

Alone Excerpt:

“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.”
— Edgar Allen Poe

 

Romantic Era

Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809, at a time when poetry was entering into the Romantic Era. Romanticism went beyond the rational and classic ideal and reached out to revive the belief system characteristic of the Middle Ages. It was a time of devotion to Medievalism, that romantic era of deep emotional upheavals.

This Romanticism placed emphasis on strong emotions such as trepidation, horror, and terror. It confronted the awe inspiring spirituality of nature in it’s untamed form. Poe went beyond the norm and expressed his thoughts from inspiration. It was the inspiration of his own emotions that compelled him to write such dark poetry that struck a cord in the human soul – yet it was beautiful in its darkness, for it was like a spark of light that exploded when his words were read.

 

Abandoned and Orphaned

Poe was orphaned at an early age. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and given the name Edgar Poe. His father abandoned him and his mother when Poe was quite young. Shortly after that his mother died. A family in Richmond, Virginia, John and Frances Allan, took the young boy and raised him.

When older, Poe attended the University of Virginia for just one semester. There was not enough money to allow him to continue at the University.

He enlisted in the army, but failed as a cadet at West Point. It was then he left the Allan family and went his own way. Poe still had family on his father’s side and lived with them off and on over the years.

In 1827 he had written some poems and published them as ‘Tamerlane and Other Poems’. He did this anonymously, just signing as “A Bostonian”. He then began to write prose and worked on literary journals and periodicals over the next several years. He became known for his own unique style of literary criticism. He moved around, working between several cities, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and others.

In 1833 Poe joined the household of his Aunt Maria in Baltimore. Maria’s mother, Elizabeth, and two of her children, Virginia and Henry lived with her. Poe had first met Virginia in 1829 when she was just seven. Poe lived with them for about two years, leaving in 1835. During the time he was there, he had become smitten with Mary Devereaux, a neighbor. Little Virginia became their messenger and carried notes back and forth.

 

Virginia Eliza Clem

It was during these few years that Poe fell in love with Virginia and must have made it known to Maria. Neilson Poe, Maria’s brother-in-law, had heard that Poe had been considering marrying Virginia. Neilson offered to take Virginia and have her educated. This suggestion was to prevent the marriage since Virginia was so young.

Maria’s family became destitute after the death of her mother. It is possible that Neilson was also trying to help out financially by taking Virginia. Poe felt that Neilson was only trying to sever the connection between himself and Virginia. Poe left the family in August of 1835 and moved to Richmond, Virginia where he took a job at the Southern Literary Messenger.

Edgar was tormented with the thought of having Virginia torn from his life. He wrote a letter to Maria that expressed his deep emotions and declared he was “blinded with tears while writing”. He was confident with his job and offered to provide for Maria, Virginia, and Henry, if they would come to Richmond and live with him.

On September 22, 1835, with Maria’s consent, Edgar returned to Baltimore and filed for a marriage license. On May 16, 1836, Poe and Virginia Eliza Clem were married. Poe was 27 and Virginia, 13. It was not unusual in those times for first cousins to marry, but it was most unusual that a thirteen year old girl was married. However, her age on the license was falsified as being older. Many say that Poe and Virginia lived like brother and sister for
several years before the marriage was consummated. He often called Virginia, Sis, or Sissy.

Regardless of what their marital status was during the first few years, the two were very devoted to each other and quite happy with their life.

George Rex Graham, one of Poe’s employers, had written of the couple, “His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the spirit of beauty.” In a letter to a friend of his, Poe had written, “I see no one among the living as beautiful as my little wife.” It seemed by those who knew them that Virginia idolized her husband. She was rarely far from his side at home. She loved to sit near him as he wrote. Virginia wrote an acrostic poem on February 14, 1876. It is as beautiful in its loving devotion and simplicity as Edgar’s poems were in sorrowful and intense emotion.

“Ever with thee I wish to roam —
Dearest my life is thine.
Give me a cottage for my home
And a rich old cypress vine,
Removed from the world with its sin and care
And the tattling of many tongues.
Love alone shall guide us when we are there —
Love shall heal my weakened lungs;
And Oh, the tranquil hours we’ll spend,
Never wishing that others may see!
Perfect ease we’ll enjoy, without thinking to lend
Ourselves to the world and its glee —
Ever peaceful and blissful we’ll be”
— Virginia Eliza Poe

 

Illness and Agony

It was around this time that Virginia became ill. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis in January of 1842. Her health declined rapidly and she soon became an invalid. Sometimes there was hope, because Virginia would show signs of improvement, but then slipped back down. Edgar was suffering from deep depression over this. In a letter to John Ingram, a friend, Poe wrote:

“Each time I felt all the agonies of her death – and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive, nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

 

Forgetfulness With Insanity

The periods of insanity were a place where Poe could forget, or at least deny. It was much too difficult for him to face reality – insanity was his only escape and maybe he found some peace there.

Hoping to find an environment that would improve Virginia’s health, Poe and Maria decided to take Virginia and move outside the city to Fordham, just fourteen miles away. They moved into a small cottage. In a letter dated June 12, 1846, Edgar wrote to Virginia, “Keep up your heart in all hopelessness, and trust yet a little longer.” Referring to his loss of the Broadway Journal, the only magazine he ever owned, he wrote “I should have lost my courage but for you, my darling little wife, you are my greatest and only stimulus now to battle with this uncongenial, unsatisfactory and ungrateful life.”

Virginia continued to decline and by November of that year her condition was termed hopeless.

A friend of Poe’s, Nathaniel Parker Willis, an influential editor, published an announcement of the Poe family sufferings and asked the public for help in donations. His December 30, 1846 publication read:

“Illness of Edgar A. Poe. We regret to learn that this gentleman and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavily on their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. That is, indeed, a hard lot, and we do hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.”
— Nathaniel Parker Willis

Although he did not have all the facts straight, he did have compassion for the family. He was one of Poe’s greatest supporters during this time. Poe was bereft and needed such friends.

 

Console Poor Eddy

As Virginia lay dying, she asked her mother, “Darling… will you console and take care of my poor Eddy. You will never never leave him?”

Poe sent a letter to Marie Louise Shew, a close friend of the family, on January 29, 1847. He wrote, “My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain.” Virginia died the next day. She had been suffering from the illness for five years. Knowing how destitute the family was, Marie Shew bought a casket for Virginia.

 

Portrait of Beauty in Death

Just a few hours after Virginia’s spirit had departed, Edgar realized he had no image of his beloved wife. He commissioned an artist to paint her portrait in watercolor. Marie Shew dressed Virginia in a beautiful fine linen robe and it was from this lifeless body of a model that the portrait was painted. It is believed that Marie Shew may have painted the portrait herself.

Virginia was buried in the vault of the Valentine family, landlord of the Poe’s.

The effect of Virginia’s death was devastating for Poe. He no longer seemed to care if he lived or died. For several months he was deeply depressed. One year after her death Poe wrote to a friend that he had experienced the greatest evil a man can suffer when, he said, “…a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, had fallen ill.”

Poe referred to his emotional response to his wife’s sickness as his own illness, and that he found the cure to it, “…in the death of my wife. This I can & do endure as becomes a man – it was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope & despair which I could not longer have endured without the total loss of reason.”

Edgar would visit Virginia’s grave often. As his friend Charles Chauncey Burr wrote, “Many times, after the death of his beloved wife, was he found at the dead hour of a winter night, sitting beside her tomb almost frozen in the snow”.

Poe eventually began seeing other women, but as his old friend, Frances Osgood believed, Virginia was the only woman he ever loved. He continued writing and Virginia was often portrayed in his prose and poetry. The beautiful yet sorrowful poem, Annabel Lee, is a heart-rending example of Poe’s suffering for his lost love. Many scholars believe that Virginia and their deep love for each other was an inspiration for many of Edgar’s poems.

Edgar Allan Poe
Virginia Eliza Poe

Lost and Alone in the Final Hour

Virginia’s mother, Maria, kept her promise to her daughter and stayed with Poe until his own death in 1849.

Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849. He was 40 years old. In his short life, he penned the beauty and tragedy of love that still pulls at the heart and emotions of all who appreciate poetry.

The causes of his death and the circumstances leading up to it have remained mysterious and suspicious. On October 3, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, “in great distress, and … in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died at 5 a.m. on Sunday, October 7. Poe was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in this condition.

One theory is that Poe was a victim of cooping. He was at the time wearing clothes that did not belong to him. The night before he died he kept repeating the name “Reynolds”. Poe was found on an election day. Cooping was a practice by which unwilling participants were forced to vote, often several times over, for a particular candidate in an election by means of changing clothes each time that person is taken to a different voting booth. Copious amounts of alcohol consumption was often involved.

Edgar Allan Poe was lost and alone in his final hour. But, do not grieve, dear hearts, for he lives on in all poets who love his works. Poe lies by his beloved Virginia and Virginia’s mother, Maria. In spirit they are together again at last – Poe and his beautiful darling, his life, his bride, are once again side by side.
~ ~ ~ ~

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?
– Edgar Allan Poe
~~~

Author’s Note

Did Edgar Allan Poe live within a dream? My personal view of Poe is that he did live within a dream, for it was in his deep darkness where he could, for awhile, find solace and peace from the torment of sorrow. His poetry came from that part of himself that was a dream-like state. The poem above, like much of Poe’s poetry, may be hard to fully understand – it takes the ability to see without eyes, to hear without ears and feel in the depths of the soul.
~~~~

© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns

Phyllis Doyle Burns
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Phyllis Doyle Burns

Site Manager, Senior Editor at The Creative Exiles
I have always liked to write.It is important to me that I write with spirit and heart. When writing poetry, if I do not feel a spiritual connection to what I am writing on, I will discard it and go on to something I can connect with on a spiritual level. I live in the moment, I write from the past or beyond the veil. When writing fiction I go with whatever inspires me at the moment - it could be funny, sorrowful, romantic or sometimes done with the use of colloquial language from mountain folk or other cultural regions. Thank you for visiting.
Phyllis Doyle Burns
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Phyllis Doyle Burns

I have always liked to write. It is important to me that I write with spirit and heart. When writing poetry, if I do not feel a spiritual connection to what I am writing on, I will discard it and go on to something I can connect with on a spiritual level. I live in the moment, I write from the past or beyond the veil. When writing fiction I go with whatever inspires me at the moment - it could be funny, sorrowful, romantic or sometimes done with the use of colloquial language from mountain folk or other cultural regions. Thank you for visiting.

10 thoughts on “Edgar Allan Poe – His Loves, His Sorrows

  • July 20, 2017 at 12:24 AM
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    Beautifully and dutifully penned Phyllis, as Poe is undoubtedly one of my favorite poets. And it was the darkness to which I relate, shed truth and the harshness of reality with the ink on a page is truly what a poet is. He was astounding in his outpourings and remains one of my influences in writing. Great work Phyllis.

    Reply
    • July 20, 2017 at 1:07 AM
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      Thank you so much Tony for your compliments. Poe is one of my favorites also. He was truly a master of poetic writing. Take care.

      Reply
  • July 20, 2017 at 2:34 AM
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    Phyllis, it seems Edgar Allan Poe is the flavour of the month and I have no problem with that as I found him such an interesting and talented human being.
    His poem “a Dream Within a Dream” is one of my favourites. Brilliant work here. Loved it.

    Reply
    • July 20, 2017 at 6:23 AM
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      Thank you, John. Vincent’s poem made me remember this article I wrote a few years ago. I appreciate your compliment, John.

      Reply
  • July 20, 2017 at 7:24 AM
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    I’ve read his life story numerous time and your account of it is close enough to perfection Phyllis. He was definitely a man of sorrows, for his tomorrows where tarnished with grief from so many venues. The loves in his life tragically died so young, his beloved mother left a deep wound in his heart. Then Virginia’s passing left it broken. He never fully recovered, he spiraled even deeper into his Abyss. There is no greater sorrow than losing a LOVE of your life, we all at some point in our life will experience it, I know I have and much of my work comes from those darkest moments. Poetry has been a release valve for me and it continues so. Your authors note highlights Poe’s living within in a dream, I too live in my own dream or fog, always hoping for a clearer view, so that I may awake from it. Yet if I do, then possibly my words will cease and my existence will end. I pray that God heard Poe’s dying wish for forgiveness and made room for his tattered and wretched soul. For I know he lingers in the hearts of many poets and I be one of them. Poe has stirred much in me and he will always remain my favorite poet. Beautiful write Phyllis, it ranks up there for certain.

    Reply
    • July 20, 2017 at 7:33 AM
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      Thank you so much, Vincent. I believe many of us have some Poe in us, some losses, heartbreaks and sorrows. I so understand what you say about these sorrows are what many poets draw on and that is the reason for such emotive writes. Thanks again, I really appreciate the compliment.

      Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 11:45 AM
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    In having just read this eloquently penned article, Phyllis, I have learned many new things about this dear poet, Edgar Allan Poe. His love for his wife was so intense, and enduring! This fact conveys the depths of the tremendous love he had within himself.

    My thought is that he died of a broken heart. This is such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man, Phyllis. Again, I just learned many new things; it would take an entire page for me to list them all, but I appreciate having been enlightened by you about this great artist, individual, and soul.

    Tamara

    Reply

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