Edgar Allan Poe, Innovator in Literature of New England Renaissance
“And so being young and dipped in folly I fell in love with melancholy”. This quote by Edgar Allan Poe hints at the estranged life he lived. Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who suffered a life of hardships and whose only solace came from writing poetry. Poe died at the age of forty in Baltimore, Maryland with the words, “Lord help my poor soul” (Loveday). The poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, which broke the rules of the New England Renaissance literary period, has contributed to the American literary heritage.
Poe’s rocky relationship with John Allan, combined with his complex romantic affairs greatly influenced his dreary style of writing. After Poe was orphaned, he was raised by his neighbor, John Allan, and his wife, Frances Keeling Valentine. Poe was only eleven-years-old when he had the first of countless major fights with John Allan. He learned that John was having an affair against Frances and confronted him. Years after their disagreement, Poe was accepted into the University of Virginia, where he surmounted all expectations in his studies. His future looked bright, until John refused to send him adequate money to pay for books, boarding, and food. Soon after, Allan refused to pay for any of Poe’s schooling. Poe became infuriated with Allan causing a second major fight. Their fighting continued until the day of Allan’s death, where Poe did not receive any morsel of inheritance (Loveday). Besides John Allan, the women romantically involved with Poe brought him despair. When he was only sixteen-years-old he fell in love with his neighbor, Sarah Elmira Royster. Only months later, Poe had to leave for schooling in Virginia. When he returned a year later, Poe learned Sarah had become engaged to another man. Poe was heart-broken. At twenty-seven-years-old, Poe met and married his first cousin Virginia Clemm. Eleven years later, Virginia fell ill and died, leaving Poe alone once more (Loveday). Thus, Edgar Allan Poe endured years of quarrels with John Allan as well as years of disappointment in his romantic life.
Poe was influenced by a series of events in his life, such being orphaned at a very early age and moving to rural country with his wife when she fell ill. Edgar was the second of the three children of David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Poe. When Poe was very young, about one-year-old, his father abandoned their family. Therefore, Elizabeth had to raise the family of four. That is, until she fell severely ill and died a little over a month before Poe would have turned three. In contrast to the hardship of Poe’s early orphanage, he made a fortunate move to the country with his wife years later. Poe was thirty-six-years-old when he moved to the country with his wife, Virginia. Virginia was very ill, and he felt that moving to the country for a while would aid in improving her health. While in the country, Poe himself found peace and tranquility. Although the moments of calm were fleeting, he used that time to write his most famous poem, “The Raven” (Loveday). The misery that followed Poe after his parents died, and the serenity he found after moving to the country immensely influenced his outlook on life and his writing.
The New England Renaissance was a period overflowing with hopeful and idealistic views, views that Poe did not share. Whilst the Renaissance was a hopeful period because of the reforms of the church, state, etc., Poe went against those ideas, because he wrote of darkness and human weakness (“American Gothic”). Two examples of the eerie darkness he wrote about are poems “The Lake” and “The City in the Sea.” The poem “The Lake” shows themes of loneliness and how one can find peace within despair, themes that reflect Poe’s own lonely livelihood. The lines, “So lovely was the loneliness” and “Yet that terror was not fright, /But a tremulous delight-” exemplify the themes and feelings Poe portrayed. Similarly, the poem “The City in the Sea” depicts a theme that if one lives by sin on earth, one will be ruled by sin and death in the afterlife. The verses “Death has reared himself a throne,” “No rays from the holy heaven come down,” and “Hell, rising from a thousand thrones, /Shall do it reverence” reflect the theme. Hence, Edgar Allan Poe created themes that were significantly more morbid then the common, optimistic themes of his era, the New England Renaissance.
Although Poe did not reflect the common themes of the Renaissance, his style of writing more closely identified with that period. Poetry from the New England Renaissance abounded in imagery and lyric verses (“New England Renaissance 1800-1850”). For instance, the poem “The Bells” teems with these lyric verses such as “Hear the loud alarum bells–/Brazen bells! /What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!” In addition to “The Bells,” Poe’s poem “The Valley of Unrest” is also rich in rhyme and imagery, as seen in verses 12-13, “Nothing save the airs that brood/Over the magic solitude.” The rhyme from these poems allows the work to flow and entrances the reader. Moreover, the imagery of the poems appeals to the readers’ senses which allow them to read as though they were living in the poem. Despite Poe’s inconformity to the hopeful themes of his era, he did follow the style of writing.
Edgar Allan Poe accomplished numerous literary feats because he went against his period’s poetic normal. Namely, Poe created a new type if fiction know as detective fiction. Because Poe was very dark in his writing, many of his poems and short stories revolved around death, which lead to Poe creating “murder-mystery” pieces. Furthermore, Poe was known as one of the first literary critics. Lucas Tromly, an author from the INSPIRE website noted, “Poe’s most conspicuous contribution to world literature derives from the analytical method he practiced both as a creative author and as a critic of the works of his contemporaries.” Poe was a relentless critic who frequently exposed writers he believed had plagiarized another author’s work. One American author that Poe often called out for plagiarism was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Although, not all of Poe’s criticism was necessarily bad, writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne were praised by Poe. He even referred to Hawthorne as “a man of true genius” (“Major Works and Achievements – Author Study – Edgar Allan Poe.”) Thus, Poe’s uniqueness allowed him recognition as the first critic and inventor of detective fiction.
Regardless of Poe’s literary achievements, many scholars have opposing ideas concerning him and his works. While many critics such as Warren and Shaw revere Poe, critics such as Winters and Elliot believe his works are all but juvenile. Warren referred to Poe’s works as the “embodiment of pure poetry,” yet Winters claimed he should be removed from literary history. Additionally, critics cannot agree on a singular movement that Poe belonged to. There are debates about whether Poe belonged with the Romantics, Gothics, or Transcendentalists. Poe wrote of fantasy, beauty, torture, death, glory, and Heaven. Because of Poe’s wide range of writing, people cannot agree upon a specific movement (Tromly). Thus, despite his contributions to literature, people still have controversial beliefs concerning him.
In conclusion, Edgar Allan Poe was a poet whose work went against the New England Renaissance period, and notably contributed to the history of American literature. His poetry was dark and troublesome, yet his writing was the only thing that could bring him solace. Poe had a great love for his work, stating “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty”.
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