The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

We know he lived only 40 years, was a famous poet, mystery writer, critic, and magazine editor. We know his poem “The Raven” and its most famous line: “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

We know Poe’s mystery stories, such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This, historians tell us, was the original detective mystery, the inspiration for many writers. Poe is also said to have influenced a new genre that became known as science fiction.

But who was he?

A man with two sides
Poe was a drunk, but was also a friendly and gentle man. He had a dark side that enabled him to write some gruesome stories, such as The Cask of Amontillado, in which a man is chained into a niche in the wine cellar and entombed behind a brick wall to die a slow death, and The Tell-Tale Heart, in which the heart of a murder victim continues to beat beneath the floor of a house.

But Poe was not dark all the time. He enjoyed close friends and dearly loved his wife, Virginia, a cousin he married when she was 13 and he was 26. She died young, of tuberculosis, in 1847 and he began to drink more. Maybe that is why many found him irritable and self-centered.

Some medical people believe Poe may have had a brain lesion that caused his dual personality and may also have driven him to drink. But in his lucid moments he is credited with a skilled sense of rhythm, meter, and story structure. As an editor, he promoted rules for the short story that still stand.

Ability unquestioned
Whatever drove Poe, he was an extremely able writer.

Isn’t that true for us? We are bundles of emotions and feelings. We have struggles, sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically. But, like Poe, we write on. And maybe, like Poe, a few stories or a spectacular poem among the many pieces we write will influence not only our readers, but also other writers for years .

Photo: Roger PalmsRoger Palms, a long-time Guild mentor, is the former editor of Decision magazine and the author of 15 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.


  1. says

    Few authors have influenced modern writing as he has. His life was unfortunately mythologized — often ignoring how well-read and diligent he was as a writer. Every word seems so perfectly, tightly chosen, giving a rich music to even his tales. The product of his hard work in such a short time inspires me.

  2. Judith Williams says

    I read some of Poe’s work when I was in college. I found his work disturbing and yet it was intriguing and graphic. He managed to convey the deep pain he was feeling. The heartbeat to me signified you can be alive and breathing and yet there can be no life. Reflecting on our on emotional roller coaster; makes you wonder how close we can relate some our own life experiences to The Tell-Tale Heart.

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