Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe: Still Making Dreams Within Dreams

Today marks the 207th anniversary of the birth of the American writer, Edgar Allan Poe. He was born in Boston, , spent his lifetime living and working between the coastal cities of Boston and Charleston, and died Baltimore in 1849 wrapped in the mystery and tragedy that surrounded him during much of his life. Four years before his death he wrote the poem, The Raven. It brought instant fame and ensured him a secure place in American literature. Poe's appeal to readers rests in his dark subjects, fantastic plots, ethereal settings, netherworlds, and rich, descriptive writing. Few American writers have had such a broad impact on the arts. In his 2009 commentary on the bicentennial of the author's birth, Jeffrey A. Savoye, Secretary/Treasurer of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore said this:

We can see that his writings still work their magic on succeeding generations of readers, and yet Poe’s secrets remain distinctively his own. We can ape and parody the form, but legions of would-be disciples have too often created mostly pale imitations, and scholars have laid waste to forests of trees in printing articles and books that attempt to explain the essence of his genius. Yet, traces of Poe’s influence can be seen in the writings of such diverse authors as Jules Verne and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ray Bradbury, Charles Baudelaire and Allen Ginsberg. (His writings have also been translated into every major language. One Japanese author and critic so greatly admired Poe that he changed his own name from Tarö Hirai to Edogawa Rampo.) And this influence has not been limited to the written word. Such artists as Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham, and Édouard Manet have illustrated his works. Sergei Rachmaninov, Leonard Slatkin, Philip Glass, and many others have composed musical tributes. In an interview published in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock, the great movie director, commented that “It’s because I liked Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so much that I began to make suspense films.”

I don't recall when Poe's work first entered my life, but I was reading him long before high school.  Little did I know that Poe and I would eventually share a bit of history at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. He was stationed there for about a year beginning in 1827. The fort and island are the setting for his short story, The Gold Bug. During my career, I spent several weeks walking the damp tunnels, the grassy terreplein, and studying the character of this historic fort and those who garrisoned it over the centuries. I watched the sun rise and set over its walls, and stood at the gun emplacements at midnight listening to the invisible surf breaking on the beach or watching ship traffic moving in and out of Charleston harbor. For all I know, Poe's shadow watched my every move. For certain his work and legacy will continue to provide all of us with fantastic entertainment. 

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone? 
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photograph by Edwin H. Manchester taken November 9, 1848 in Providence, Rhode Island


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