Edgar Allan Poe “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity” “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” Edgar Allan Poe emerged as a writer in the 1820s , during which the major influences came from Europe, especially, Britain and Germany.
In that era, the British and the German authors dabbled in gothic literature, which was heavily criticised due to the sacrilegious themes adopted along with extravagant language and implausible characterization. However, a section of the critics felt that this could develop into a new genre which could be the identity of American Literature and they could not have been more right and Poe emerged who carried this genre to newer psychological heights.
Poe yearned for recognition as a poet and his style of poetry was shaped by the elements and touches from the Romanticism era. He painted pictures of misty natural and artificial landscapes with his words. He wanted readers not only to read the poem but see it and experience it as well and it is evident he was very adept at it. There is a great use of rhetoric and visual symbolism often indicating a dream or in Poe’s case, a nightmare setting. His famous work as a poet is the unforgettable “The Raven”.
However, poetry was not enough to feed himself and his family and this was the reason he took to writing stories (and I thank God he did). It is his tales that continue to be the most admired part of the compendium of his works. Poe realized that he take the gothic conventions to greater psychological plausibility and second, he could use the erratic perspectives of the ‘drunk’ mind to pursue more ‘sober’, subtle endings.
A lot of his tales are about psychological realism and he often talks of terrors. Most of his inspiration came from disturbed minds which allowed for greater physical and emotional torture. Poe portrays the human mind as fascinating but also capable of things much more sinister and dangerous. Most of the horror in Poe’s work occurs without a supernatural help which makes it all the more frightening and horrifying.
Poe’s work has survived the test of time and they continue to fascinate and horrify readers even today because the he touches on timeless, existential themes. Poe prepares the reader to enter into the human mind and be aware of both its beauty and as well the dark side. His writing is often brief suggesting the setting to be that of a dream and the reader moves across the work as a dreamer moves through a dream. Poe is one of the greatest writer , of the 19th Century (and perhaps of all times, I feel) and he reinvented a genre adding elements and touches of his own. A man who “wished to write as mysterious as the raven” did as write as mysteriously and as beautifully.
P.S. Do read The Raven, Murder in the Rue Morgue , The Cask of Amontadillo. You will be left spellbound.