Though he lived only forty years, Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most prolific writers of his times. The most often reported number of short stories is sixty-nine, the number provided by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. I haven’t been able to find the number of poems he wrote, but his poetry output exceeds his fiction. During the month, I couldn’t read everything he wrote—or even come close. I tried to give you a sample of his writings and a demonstration of his range.
If you found this exploration of Poe’s works interesting and wanted to further your study of him, here’s a roundup of other noteworthy work. I have a simple but functional definition of poetry: Writing meant to be recited. To honor that definition, I embedded YouTube videos for the
When I first started to read “The Bells,” my first impression was not favorable. I thought it formulaic and gimmicky. But as I moved deeper into the poem, I began hearing the bells in his words. He captured the tintinnabulations of ringing bells. The poem is still formulaic and gimmicky but to a surprising effect. Poe takes us through the various purposes of bells—from the exciting bells of a sled ride, to joyful wedding bells, to the frightening alarm bells, and to the mourning bells of death.
A common theme in Poe—in both his stories and his poetry—is the death of a young woman. Often she’s the beloved of the poem’s narrator. He explored these themes in such poems as “Lenore,” “The Sleeper,” and “The Raven.” “Annabel Lee” is my favorite poem of his that explores this theme.
“Ulalume” is another poem that explores the death of a beloved woman. Unlike the other poems on this list, I heard “Ulalume” before I read it. While looking for videos of the other poems, I discovered the one below. Like Poe himself, Jeff Buckley (1966-1997) was a talent taken too early from this world. I believe much of the beauty in the video has as much to do with Buckley’s penetrating voice and his music as it does with Poe’s verses. Compared to “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume” has a dark, supernatural quality to it. If “Annabel Lee” explores memory, “Ulalume” explores grief.
The Black Cat
In “The Black Cat,” Poe explores some of the darker elements of humanity. These include spousal abuse, animal cruelty, and alcoholism. This story explores dark, even violent moods. At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells us that he’s a nice guy, but everything he does during the story reveals the sinister truth. I love the ironic way he received his comeuppance.
The Cask of Amontillado
I meant to review “The Cask of Amontillado” in a dedicated review during the month, but I was ill that week and neglected to write the review. I’m sorry about that. In truth, I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it. It’s an interesting story, well worth reading. Like many of Poe’s stories, it explores a murderous mind. When I was studying literature in college, this was the work by Poe that was often assigned in classes. I’m not convinced that it’s the most literary of Poe’s stories, but college professors and anthology editors love it. I love it too.
The Purloined Letter
In my review of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” I introduced you to Poe’s detective, C. Auguste Dupin. Poe wrote three Dupin stories. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first; the second—which I have yet to read—was “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” Poe considered the third, “The Purloined Letter,” the best of the trilogy.
I like to compare this story to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Without a doubt, Doyle base some characteristic of Sherlock Holmes on Dupin. And without a doubt, he found inspiration for “A Scandal in Bohemia” from “The Purloined Letter.” In both stories, the detective is tasked with recovering sensitive material from a blackmailer. Their strategies are similar, but with different results.
Though Poe is known as a gothic writer, few of the stories I’ve reviewed—both in dedicated reviews and in this roundup—has a supernatural conflict. “Ligeia” does invoke the supernatural; it is a ghost story. After losing a wife he loved, the narrator married another woman for convenience. The ghost of the previous bride haunts this new marriage. It’s a typical ghost story with an atypical ending.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
Poe completed only one novel,The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Thinking I would write a dedicated review about it, I read it, but I decided it didn’t live up to the quality of his other work. It’s the least satisfying of all I’ve read of his.
It started great. It’s a seafaring adventure novel about survivors from a mutiny and hurricane. That first half of the book kept me glued to my reading chair and turning the pages. After a ship of exploration rescued the survivors, the conflict of the second half shifted from survival to exploration. A change in pacing accomplished this shift. It was well-written and imaginative, but it lacked the suspense of the earlier conflict. Though the early novel reminded me of Melville’s Moby Dick or London’s The Sea Wolf, the later story reminded me of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
As the Jane Guy sailed farther to the south, seeking the South Pole, the novel became very speculative. I think that it’s misleading to call it science fiction, but it hints at what science fiction will become. In our time, science fiction often focuses on space exploration. It makes sense that in Poe’s time, speculative fiction focused on exploring unknown regions of our world. Since Poe speculated about what might be found in the far south, the second half of the novel reads like a Jules Verne novel.
The biggest discovery for me from featuring Edgar Allan Poe this month is his poetry. You would think, since I loved his short stories, I would’ve spent hours of my life reading his poetry. In reality, except for “The Raven,” before I started this survey, I knew little about Poe’s poetry. As a fiction writer, I prefer to focus on stories and novels rather than on verse. But during this survey, I’ve read more of his poems than I have ever done before. I found they are beautiful and haunting. Rest assured, for the rest of my life, I will spend hours pouring over his poetry.
My source for these stories and poems was Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (2009: New York: Simon & Schuster).