Edgar Allen Poe makes tales of imagination and fantasies the irrefutable realms of fear. His tales and poems “have influenced the literary schools of symbolism…as well as the popular genres of detective and horror fiction (Stern xxxviii).
However, as many of Poe’s tales and poems conjure terror and trepidation, they also penetrate the imagination with fantasy. Poe repeatedly attempts and succeeds at making his readers endure analogous feelings as those characters in his works. The most common realms Poe writes about are dreams, fantasies, the subconscious, and glimpses of the afterlife. These realms cannot be directly represented since individuals cannot directly comprehend them. Poe, acknowledged for his works involving the supernatural, masters tales involving a gothic atmosphere. Poe’s darker self troubles him, and in his tales of revenge and murder, his characters mirror the conflicts of his life.
Poe has a grievance; he knows he possesses a fine intellect and extraordinary ability, although he never receives the rewards, which he feels entitled. Many of his colleagues say, “there was a sadistic streak in him too, a malicious and wanton desire to hurt others for the perverse satisfaction it gave him” (Stern 288). “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” deal with a murderer who commits a crime a successful crime and escapes the consequences. Then, the killer betrays himself and confesses through sheer perverseness.
In some of Poe’s tales, “the murderer and the murdered merge their identities into one” (Myerson 287). “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of Poe’s most compact and brilliantly executed tales. It does not carry the gothic trappings some of his tales use, causing this tale to “read like a modern, tautly written psychological story” (Stern 289). Poe favors death and terror over any other genre. Death remains Poe’s favorite theme, his obsession; almost all of his tales and poems have variations of this theme.
Poe inflicts death and the fear of the unknown on his audience. What lies beyond the grave or in the mind inspires Poe. Other than Poe, no American writer continuously deals on the subject, digs so deeply into it, and involves himself in the doings of death. Throughout Poe’s life, he makes a continuous decent into the Maelstrm: a slow, relentless, downward spiral through the void which lay claim to him forty years into his life.
In Poe’s tales, “you cross wasted lands…and you catch a sight of lugubrious feudal buildings suggestive of horrible and mysterious happenings” (Unger 414). Usually, in his tales of terror and death, ghastly occurrences take place under the light of a blood-red moon. “ ‘Fantasy,’ E.M. Forester has said, ‘implies the supernatural, but need not express it’ ” (Stern 55).
To many, the ultimate fantasy involves a ghost or some other apparition. Poe never writes a “ghost story”, oddly enough. A ghost, in the sense that we ordinarily think of one, never appears in Poe’s writings. Poe’s characters, “…are not spectral visions but the resuscitated dead who rise from the tomb to confront the living with their…flesh” (Stern 55). Poe, nevertheless, creates characters that have no real existence.
Poe has two main personalities: the hardworking editor, intellectual critic, the respectable citizen, and “the disreputable fellow, who frequented low dives and who often wound up literally in the gutter” (Stern 55). Poe makes present the outcome of the lifelong struggle between his two warring selves in “William Wilson”. In this story, William Wilson represents Poe. This tale tells the most about Poe and gives its audience the greatest insight into the workings of Poe’s mind.
In “William Wilson” Poe writes not a tale but a symbolic confession. Poe considers himself as a poet, although, he leaves only fifty poems to the world. Poe says of himself, “with me poetry has not been a purpose but a passion” (Stern 586). Poe’s poems concern his love, his inner-self, and above all death, the ending of things, and the melancholy associated with loss and bereavement (Stern 586).
To some, Poe never achieves true fame, yet four years before his death, the life of his literary career climaxes. In 1845, “The Raven” appears in the Mirror, and in The Raven and Other Poems, his major volume of poems. In “The Raven,” Poe writes of a man who yearns “for an unattainable supernatural beauty” (Magill 2242). By beauty, Poe means something very specific: “the pleasurable excitement of the soul as it reaches for a perfection beyond this earth” (Magill 2242). The narrator of this melancholy poem losses a loved one, “…the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—” (Poe 396). Then, the narrator receives a visitor, “in there stepped a stately Raven…perched above my chamber door—Perched, and sat, and nothing more” (Poe 396).
This ebony bird, a “…ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore,” to some, represents a great evil (Poe 397). To some, it represents a messenger from the narrators long lost love. In “Romance” Poe makes his point through imagery, not argument like so many other poets. In “Romance” the contrast is not between poetry and science but between the ideal world of the imagination and the painful world of everyday reality.
In two stanzas, Poe shows a “painted paroquet” of a young man’s life. This paroquet, “hath been—a most familiar bird—taught me my alphabet to say—to lisp my very earliest word—While in the wild wood I did lie, a child—with a most knowing eye” (Poe 385). The narrator only sees the reflection of this radiant bird in waters of “some shadowy lake” (Poe 385). Since the bird can only be seen in the reflection, “Poe may be saying that poetry cannot communicate truth directly, but only as it is comprehended…” (Magill 2243).
In the second stanza, which contrasts directly to the first, Poe alludes to the Andean vulture, noted for courage and ruthlessness (Bradley 741). The narrator has no time—he must watch for the returning Condor. “Romance” becomes unmatched for the way subtle changes in rhyme and iambic pentameter reinforce its emotional impact. “Poe may be better known for his poems of longing for a lost love than for those on any other subject” (Magill 2244). In “Ulalume” Poe most fully reveals this theme.
In the poem, it is autumn of an important year. The speaker “wanders with his soul through a semireal, semi-imaginary landscape…” (Magill 2244). Poe, throughout the poem becomes increasingly interested in emotional effect. When night advances on the land, two bright figures appear in the sky, the moon and Venus.
Venus rises to “lead the mourner to a ‘Lethean peace of the skies’ ” (Magill 2245). The speaker does not trust this goddess, however, she coaxes him to “the end of a vista” (Poe 404). There the speaker stops at a tomb. He finds Ulalume, the name of his love, chiseled into the door of the tomb. Then, the speaker cries out, “…It was surely October, On this very night of last year, That I journeyed down here…That I brought a dread burden down here—” (Poe 404). Through the speaker, Poe asks just one thing: “Ah, can it have been that the woodlandish ghouls…to bar up our way and to ban it…from the secret…the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—Have drawn up the spectre of a planet from the limbo of lunary souls—from the Hell of the planetary souls” (404).
The poem ends with a question not an answer. Edgar Allen Poe, one of the greatest American writers, leaves to the world wonderful works of literature. He writes tales and poems of ghastly creatures, long lost loves, revenge, and death. Nearly all of his writings contain some macabre message, “William Wilson”, or sorrowful statement, “The Raven”.
In “William Wilson,” Poe writes, “ ‘You have conquered, and I yield. Yet henceforward art thou also dead—dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist—and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself” (Poe 200). Critics say of Poe, “during a short life of poverty, anxiety, and fantastic tragedy Poe establishes more in literature than any other writer. Many consider Poe to be an extraordinary poet although he is an insane man.