Biography of Famous American Poet Edgar Allan Poe

About the famous American poet Edgar Allan Poe, biography and history of his poetry.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

"I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity."

On January 19, 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston where his actor parents were performing. His father, an alcoholic, deserted his family shortly after Edgar's arrival. His mother died of consumption soon after that, and Poe was adopted by wealthy Virginia merchant John Allan and his wife.

The Allans were generous with their son and educated him at good schools in England and America. He was of medium height, with dark, rather haggard features. His piercing eyes were accented by long lashes. At the age of 17 he entered the University of Virginia but withdrew after a term, because of his excessive drinking and gambling.

The repentant young man returned home, but after repeated quarreling with his foster father, he ran away to Boston. There he spent all his money publishing his 1st volume, Tamer-lane and Other Poems. Winning little recognition, he temporarily changed his name to "E. A. Perry" and joined the Army. After a few years he was dismissed for disobeying an order.

Penniless, and struggling desperately to overcome his need for alcohol, he took refuge with his aunt, Maria Clemm, in Baltimore. It was a productive time for him and he managed to win some popular acclaim with his short stories. Poe was 27 when he married his tubercular cousin, Virginia Clemm--who was only 13 at the time of the wedding. Mrs. Clemm became a mother to both of them. When Poe was writing, he demanded that she stay awake with him, providing him with coffee every hour until 4 or 5 in the morning. Secure in Mrs. Clemm's care, he wrote his finest metaphysical poems--including Annabel Lee and The Bells. He pasted the pages of his manuscript together to form a long scroll. He would roll it tightly, then at his dramatic readings would unroll it slowly, letting it hit the floor.

When it became apparent that Poe's gentle, plump, teen-aged wife was incurable, the poet went to pieces. He had periodically gone on drinking sprees but now he began to use opium heavily as well. Unable to hold any job, Poe moved his wife and mother-in-law to a poor cottage in Fordham, N.Y. Living in complete poverty, Virginia slept on a straw mattress. There was no money for firewood so they wrapped the sick girl in Poe's old army coat and forced Poe's cat to sleep on her chest to provide warmth. When Virginia died during the winter, Poe removed the coat from the body and wore it to the cemetery.

During the last 2 years of his life, Poe lived in dissipated and gruesome isolation. Shortly after recovering from an attempt at suicide by an overdose of opium, he went on a drinking spree and was found delirious in a Baltimore tavern. Four days later, talking to specters "that withered and loomed on the walls," he died on October 7, 1849, at the age of 40. He was buried in Baltimore.

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