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Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

What's the difference between the blackbird and the raven? “Blackbird” (1968) is a classic Beatles song, while “The Raven” is a famous poem by the American poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809‐1849). Poe was a literary genius whose life story is often colored by the madness and sadness of his poems, stories, and characters. Although not all the mysterious tales of Poe's life are true, it is true that his poetry poignantly captures the eerie atmosphere that surrounds death and the grief of lost love. Though his name is associated with death, macabre, sadness, and the darkness of Gothic fiction, Edgar Allan Poe is also a light of the literary world.

Edgar Allan Poe, Portrait, StudySmarterEdgar Allan Poe was rumored to be a terrible madman due to false claims made by his rival, the American editor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

Edgar Allan Poe: Biography

Edgar Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. Poe’s biological parents were both traveling actors. His father left his mother a year after he was born, and his mother died a year after that. Poe was taken in by a wealthy merchant family called the Allans after his mother died. He was only two years old. They gave him the full name, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe lived an upper-class lifestyle with the Allans in Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar Allan Poe had a difficult relationship with his foster father, John Allan. He cut ties with his family at the age of 18 after his father refused to give him adequate funds to attend university. Poe attended the University of Virginia briefly, but accumulated great debts from gambling and left school heartbroken after finding that his fiancée, Sarah Elmira Royster, had married another man.

Edgar Allan Poe moved to Boston and enlisted in the United States Army around 1827. During this time, he wrote his first book of poetry entitled Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). Poe eventually went to West Point Military Academy but left to pursue writing after facing some issues at the school.

Poe moved to Baltimore, where he lived with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia Clemm. During this time, Poe began working on writing short stories and was eventually offered a job at the Southern Literary Messenger, prompting his move back to Richmond.

Maria and Virginia Clemm moved to Richmond with Poe, and he eventually married his cousin, Virginia (She was 13 when he was 27). Around this time, Edgar Allan Poe began having issues at work, likely due to his drinking habits.

In 1837, Edgar Allan Poe moved to Philadelphia, where he wrote famous short stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “Masque of the Red Death” (1842), and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843). “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is known as the first modern detective story.

Edgar Allan Poe, Detective Silhouette, StudySmarterEdgar Allan Poe is known as the inventor of the detective fiction genre of writing.

In 1845, Poe published his most famous poem, “The Raven.” The publication of “The Raven” made Poe a household name and gave him many literary opportunities. However, he hardly made any money from the poem's publication.

Around the same time as Poe’s literary success, his wife Virginia began suffering from tuberculosis. She died in 1847, at the age of 24. Poe was gravely impacted by Virginia’s death and struggled with his mental and physical health.

Edgar Allan Poe: Death and Legacy

Much like his stories, Edgar Allan Poe’s death is also infamous for having an air of mystery. Poe was spotted at a restaurant in Richmond at four in the morning on September 27th, 1849, and then boarded a ship to Baltimore. No one knows where he was from September 28th until October 3rd, when he was found drunk in a bar in Baltimore wearing someone else’s clothes.

Poe was taken to a hospital and was in an out of consciousness for four days. He died on October 7th, 1849, at the age of 40 and was diagnosed with inflammation of the brain (this was a common diagnosis at the time for unknown deaths).

Edgar Allan Poe is remembered for his great contributions to the detective, horror, mystery, and science fiction genres. His writings are dark and explore themes of death, madness, and lost love. Although Poe often struggled financially, he is known as the first American writer to support himself solely as a writer.

Edgar Allan Poe: Books and Poetry

Edgar Allan Poe's early writing was collected in three poetry volumes entitled, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829), and Poems (1831). His third poetry book, Poems, contains the notable poems, “To Helen” (1831) and “The City in the Sea” (1831).

Poe is often recognized for his later works, including the poems “The Raven” (1845) and “Annabel Lee” (1849) and short stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), and “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839).

Edgar Allan Poe's poem: “To Helen” (1831)

To Helen” is a short, three-stanza poem that is an allusion to Helen of Troy, a figure in Greek mythology known to be the most beautiful woman to have ever lived. Poe reflects his romantic nature through the imagery of nature, in this poem about the beauty and power of a woman. Here is the first stanza of “To Helen”:

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.” (1‐5)

The poem, 'To Helen' is inspired by the Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Edgar Allan Poe's poem: “The Raven” (1845)

“The Raven” is Edgar Allan Poe's most famous poem. It was popular upon its publishing and made Poe a household name. “The Raven” tells the story of a man's gradual descent into madness due to his inability to forget his lost love. Here is the first stanza of “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.” (1‐6)

Read the opening of “The Raven” aloud and notice the musicality and Poe's focus on sound in the poem. Can you spot uses of alliteration and rhyme?

Edgar Allan Poe's poem: “Annabel Lee” (1849)

“Annabel Lee” is a poem about a man whose childhood love died. Here is the first stanza of “Annabel Lee”:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.” (1‐6)

Edgar Allan Poe: Quotes

Edgar Allan Poe's poems and stories often have a quality of strangeness which helps him develop intriguing characters and plots.

There is no exquisite beauty...without some strangeness in the proportion”

from Poe's short story, 'Ligeia' (1838)

Poe had often linked beauty with macabre, or dark ideas such as death. He was particularly fascinated by the death of women. This is likely because he experienced the deaths of many of the women who were closest to him—his biological mother, his foster mother, and his wife, Virginia Clemm.

The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world”

from Poe's essay, 'The Philosophy of Composition,' (1846)

Although Edgar Allan Poe is associated with horror and eerie darkness, he was also a romantic at heart. Poe frequently wrote about the theme of lost love.

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched”

from a letter to Maria Clemm, Poe's Aunt (1849)

A clear example of Edgar Allan Poe's fascination with the death of women and lost love is his poem, 'Annabel Lee' (1849).

Interesting facts about Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, Sherlock Holmes Mural, StudySmarterEdgar Allan Poe's character, Auguste Dupin, inspired the creation of the character Sherlock Holmes.

  • The crime-solving main character in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.
  • Poe initially did not use his real name when indicating the authorship of his works. In his early life, he wrote under the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet. His first collection of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was simply signed “by a Bostonian.”
  • Edgar Allan Poe's third volume of poetry, Poems (1831) was published with finances raised through donations from his fellow cadets at West Point. The book is dedicated to the cadets.
  • Although Edgar Allan Poe is known for his dark tales and contributions to the horror and mystery genres, he wrote many comedies and explored the use of irony, satire, and dark humor.
  • There are over 26 published theories regarding the circumstances of Edgar Allan Poe’s death.

Edgar Allan Poe - Key takeaways

  • Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer who was born in 1809 and died in 1849, at the age of 40.
  • Poe is known for inventing the detective fiction genre and contributing to the science fiction, gothic, and horror genres.
  • Poe is known for his poems “The Raven,” “To Helen,” and “Annabel Lee.”
  • Poe wrote the short stories “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “Masque of the Red Death” (1842), and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843).
  • Poe's writing frequently revolves around the themes of death, madness, and lost love.

Frequently Asked Questions about Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe's exact cause of death was unknown. He was found drunk at a bar in Baltimore and drifted in and out of consciousness for days in the hospital. He died on October 7th, 1849, at the age of 40 and was diagnosed with inflammation of the brain (this was a common diagnosis at the time for unknown deaths). 

Edgar Allan Poe is known for the genres of horror, Gothic fiction, science fiction, and detective fiction.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809.

Edgar Allan Poe is a famous American poet and short story writer known for his dark poems and short stories. Poe is best known for his poem, 'The Raven.'

Edgar Allan Poe likely wrote about death because he experienced the deaths of many close to him including his mother, foster mother, brother, and wife. 

Final Edgar Allan Poe Quiz

Question

What year was Edgar Allan Poe Born?

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1809

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Which of the following cities did Poe not live in?

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Chicago

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Which literary genre did Poe invent?

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The detective fiction genre

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What are common themes in Poe's writing?

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Death, evil, lost love

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What is Poe's most famous poem?

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'The Raven'

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True or false: Edgar Allan Poe initially wrote poems and then progressed into short story writing.

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True

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Which of the following is not a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe?

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Answer

The Importance of Being Ernest 

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Which literary genres did Edgar Allan Poe contribute to?

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science fiction, horror, gothic fiction

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True of false: Edgar Allan Poe does not use rhymes in his poetry. 

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False

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What was the name of Edgar Allan Poe's wife?

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Virginia Clemm

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True or False: Edgar Allan Poe experienced the deaths of many women who were close to him. 

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True

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Who is the author of the poem 'To Helen'?

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Edgar Allan Poe

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Who was the inspiration for the poem 'To Helen'?

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Jane Stanard, the mother of one of Poe's friends. 

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What type of poem is 'To Helen'?

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A lyric poem

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Who is the name 'Helen' an allusion to in the poem 'To Helen'?

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Helen of Troy 

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Which of the following is not an allusion to Greek mythology used in the poem? 

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Aphrodite 

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What does the phrase "Nicéan barks of yore" mean? 

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Ancient Greek ships of times long ago 

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Why does the speaker compare the woman to a ship? 

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Her beauty metaphorically transports him to the world of ancient civilizations. Also, Helen of Troy is also known as "The face that launched a thousand ships."

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What does the description "hyacinth hair" refer to? 

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The curls of the woman's hair, which resemble the bunched flowers of a hyacinth. Also, the Greek hero, Hyacinth. 

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Which two ancient civilizations are mentioned in the poem? 

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Greece and Rome

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Line 11, "Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche" is an example of which literary device? 

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Ecphonesis 

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Who is Psyche? 

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A Greek goddess known for her beauty and for falling in love with Cupid

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What does the description "Naiad airs" mean?

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The woman has a mysterious, undeniable beauty like a sea nymph

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Who wrote "The Raven"? 

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"The Raven" was written by Edgar Allen Poe. 

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When was "The Raven" published? 

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"The Raven" was published in 1845.

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What type of poem is "The Raven"?

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"The Raven" is a narrative poem.

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What is the tone of "The Raven"?

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The tone of "The Raven" is somber and tragic.

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What inspired Poe to write "The Raven"?

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Charles Dickens's pet bird, Grip, inspired Poe to write "The Raven".

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What are some themes in "The Raven"?

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Two central themes of "The Raven" are death and grief.

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In Norse myth, what god had two pet ravens whose names meant "thought" and "memory"? 

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Odin had two pet ravens who would often perch on his shoulders. 

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How does Poe build suspense in "The Raven"?

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The intense focus and the isolated setting surrounded by death work together to build suspense from the onset of the poem. These elements establish the somber and tragic tone that is carried throughout the poem. 

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What is the meaning of "The Raven" by Poe? 

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Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is about how the human mind deals with death, the inescapable nature of grief, and its ability to destroy. 

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What is the refrain in "The Raven"?

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The central refrain in "The Raven" is "nevermore." 

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What is the raven's name in "The Raven"? 

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Answer

The raven's name is Nevermore. 

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