It's the birthday this month of Edgar Allen Poe, and you've been hearing Ted Jacobs' fine musical interpretation of one of Poe's poems, "Alone," from a CD called "The Days Gone By -- Songs of the American Poets."
This haunting statement of Poe's painful sense of otherness, of his gothic isolation from the mainstream is one of the hallmarks of his work, and his life. Born in Boston to a mother and father who were both actors, he was orphaned when he was two, and taken in by the Allans, a wealthy, childless Richmond, Virginia, merchant family, whose name he took, though they never formally adopted him. He was well educated in private schools in America and England, where he lived from the age of six til he was eleven. He went off to the University of Virginia when he was seventeen, and was soon addicted to alcohol and gambling, ran up huge debts, and was disowned by his foster father. And then began the spiral of dissipation and self-destruction that would eventually claim his life. The miracle, of course, is that he wrote as much and as wonderfully as he did.
Another miracle is that our middle-school teachers let us anywhere near his work, let alone had us commit to memory a half dozen of his poems and plot the structure of an equal number of his stories. He was used in our English classes to teach us about onomotopoeia, the ballad form, the clever, unexpected twist that a short story was supposed to have, and about the artist's life -- the kind of life we weren't supposed to want to lead, even though our own "Tell Tale" hearts were beating with curiosity to know more. Emerson called him "the jingle man." That may be, but that's too easy a dismissal. Poe's jingles are the stuff of worried, windswept dreams -- and most of us have memorized at least a few lines of their meters.
Copyright © 2001 by John Cech
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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:23:36 EDT