He was a rum, one, though, wasn’t he?
I have just officially freaked myself out during my research into Edgar Allen Poe.
I googled a picture of him and found one above which does that ‘your country needs you’ direct follow-you-round-the room stare. I found my gaze locked by a dome-forheaded sepia pair of eyes: and I found myself getting more and more discomforted. I cyberfled, pressing anything at all to get away from that direct, disconcerting glare.
An eccentric of genius, Edgar Allen Poe’s story is gothically magical in the telling. When he was one year old in 1810 his father, an actor, deserted Poe and his mother. She, an actress, died of consumprion a year later: so Poe went to live with a wealthy merchant who sold tobacco, wheat, cloth, slaves and, wait for it, tombstones.
In flights of fancy I can see the little boy wandering round the warehouse taking in these little monoliths of death, weaving stories already, at a time when the world was rather taken with the paranormal.
But I am just fantasising.
You know the trail of Mr Poe’s life: he had five odd, unsettled years in England starting around his sixth year, schooling in Irvine,Scotland, and Chelsea, and Stoke Newington in London. He returned to Virginia and when old enough started at the state’s university, running up huge debts and falling out with his stepfather over the amount of money with which he equipped him for his studies.
He dropped out of the University of Virginia after a year, and went to Boston, clerking and working as a journalist to make ends meet; and it is said he began to call himself Henri Le Rennet.
Then he became someone else: Edgar A. Perry, aged 22 (an extra four years for good measure), a private in the U.S. Army earning five dollars a month. His story meanders through Charleston, Carolina, where Poe reached the highest rank a noncommissioned officer can achieve; but after two years he wanted out.
Tragedy dogged him, really: he married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia only to have her die two years after The Raven was published. The poem rendered Poe finally – after three books of poems and a host of appearances in other journals- an overnight success.
The thing is, somehow, he knew things.
He wrote about the Big Bang theory 80 years before it was touted by scientists, as part of his prose poem Eureka. And there was the strange business of Richard Parker.
On July 25, 1884 a ship left Southampton with a 17-year-old cabin boy, named Richard Parker, as part of the crew. The ship was 1,600 miles away from land when the ship was overtaken by a hurricane and sank, leaving the crew in lifeboats with scant supplies. The cabin boy drank sea water and became delirious: and the crew decided to kill him and survive on the proceeds until help could be found.The trial was a sensation in Victorian England.
Gruesome. And so very Poe.
In 1837, almost half a century earlier,Mr Poe had written a story.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket dealt with the very same plot. And the name of the cabin boy in his story?
And his death, now. Poe was erratic: he drank. But how did he end up on the streets of Baltimore in someone else’s clothes, in dire physical and mental distress?
A lonely figure toasted the anniversary of Poe’s death annually, beginning in 1949, leaving cognac and three roses to remember him. The tradition carried on for about 60 years.
I’m going out on a limb here: but what if that figure were Poe himself?
Me, I think Poe knew how to time travel. And his death? It was one temporal journey too far.
But I am just fantasising.
Picture source here