Edgar Allan Poe, the Man

A Short Biography

by Sodiq Yusuf

You probably know Edgar Allan Poe was a renowned American author, poet, short story writer and literary critic, but what else do you know about him?

Born the second of three children on January 19, 1809, to Elizabeth and David Poe, Jr., Poe was orphaned at the age of three, and adopted by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar showed interest in writing at an early age. When he attended the University of Virginia, John Allan refused to pay his fees because of Poe’s gambling habit. Edgar left the school, angry, and found his first love, Elmira Royster, in Richmond.

He enlisted in the Army in 1827 under the name of Edgar A. Perry. John Allan later helped him enroll in the U.S. Military Academy. There he published Tamerlane and Other Poems. Shuffling between Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, he continued to write, winning literary prizes and becoming the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. As the editor, Poe brought fame to the magazine and became a fearless critic of popular writers, including Rufus Griswold.

Although Poe was already famous after publishing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), and “Raven” (1845), he was poor. After the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, Poe returned to Richmond, devastated. He and his first love, Elmira Royster, (then widowed) were reunited.

At a later date, Poe disappeared for a few days, only to be found inside a bar house. At the end of a derelict life, he died in a Baltimore hospital on October 7, 1849. The cause of his death remains a mystery, but he was remembered as a gentle man with a great sense of humor.

After Poe’s death, his literary opponent, Rufus Griswold, wrote a libelous obituary and memoir, describing Poe as a lunatic, womanizer and lonely drunkard. Ironically, that writing would later be regarded as one of the best biographies ever written about Poe.

If there is a moral to be had, let it be this: one of the greatest gifted men of all time wasted his time, his talent, and his life. Don’t let the same be said of you.

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