I recently acquired the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe in one brand-new, thick, leather-bound, gilt-edged volume, complete with satin ribbon marker. My only experience with this short story writer and poet was when I was made to read his poems in school and I didn’t remember anything other than the fact that his poem The Raven was- at that tender age- difficult to understand. So from that point on I regarded his works as mysterious and mythical; nothing more.
After listening to a tale about his life which was greatly romanticized my curiosity was piqued and my compassion awakened. I sympathized with him in his need to express himself in the written word. To be able to write as he did, one must deeply feel every emotional current which is almost tangible in his words (the story quoted some of his more lyrical works, albeit dark and dreary).
I must say, I was excited about receiving this beautiful book. Gilt-edged pages are just one of the reasons I love to buy new Bibles. The muted green swirl design inside the front cover gave tell-tale evidence of what lurked between the pages, but as yet, I hadn’t explored them.
That same day my brother-in-law warned me against reading it, having read a short story of Poe’s himself when he was in school and never forgotten the horrors of it. So I peeked inside again… and not just to breathe in the aroma this time. I skipped around until I could gain a foothold in Poe’s writing and held on.
It didn’t take long before I closed the book with eyes wide and heart pounding, willing my brain to reproduce the cells that were just blown to bits. I didn’t finish the story. But what I read in that short time was enough. I’m not certain of the title, but it may have been The Pit and the Pendulum. It had something to do with a clock… but more to do with torture, horror, fear, death and the details of dying, and homosexuality. Not something I cared to finish. I’m sure the man didn’t live anyway; not with what had already been done.
Now, I don’t shelter myself from everything that may cause me some discomfort. I’ve read novels that were heavily detailed before, but I trusted the author and knew him to be gentle in the telling, yet reveal the whole truth (same century author as Poe). I knew he would focus on the harsh realities only long enough to convey his point, and then he would continue with the story.
But I don’t allow myself to read stories that have no morals or principles either, and focus only on the sickness of mind and the horrors of death and the morbid fascination of it all. Constant exposure to such can only result in desensitization and a lust for blood oneself.
Mysterious and mythical? Hardly. His words are powerful… the power not all his own. From what I understand he lived in a state of mental torment. He would often wake in the night, in deadly fear, and see eyes staring at him from around the room. The mind is powerful in and of itself, but I believe there to have been a greater force which drove him to write as he did; a force which penetrates the reader like no man’s words alone can.
I’ve felt the urgent need to write many times, but his was a maddening desire. If he didn’t set to paper what haunted his mind, he surely would have lost all sanity.
His premature death is unexplained. Found alongside a road in clothes not his own, he was delirious and “in need of immediate assistance" (Wikipedia). Taken to a hospital, he died days later without ever being coherent enough to speak other than call out the name “Reynolds.”
I no longer have that once-beautiful volume. That left the house immediately after I regained my senses. I’m no worse for the reading, but I think I’ve learned some things from having done so. Poe opened himself up to the ‘dark side’ and never felt peace or joy because of it. A writer will usually feel release after penning his thoughts; Poe was never without torment.
He didn’t write simply to amuse or entertain his readers as is often said about him; anyone who views his works can see that there was more to it than that. One would almost believe that he was the tortured main character in every story he wrote. Mark of a good writer? Sometimes, yes. In his case it was the mark of a tortured soul.