Hearing the name Edgar Allan Poe brings to mind tales of horror and a raven who croaked "Nevermore." We may wonder about the man who wrote these eerie prose selections and verses and speculate on his motives. The fact is that most of Poe's poetry is a response to a woman in his life at the time. Poe hungered for maternal love, female companionship, and fulfilling passion, but was left wanting in most cases.
Born in Boston on January 19. 1809, Edgar was the second son of David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, two travelling actors. The expense of raising the two sons, frequent moving, and David's alcoholism plagued the family. Edgar's father abandoned his family responsibilities while they lived in Richmond, Virginia, at the same time that a third child was born. A few months later Elizabeth Poe died from pneumonia, and the three children were separated. Edgar, who was only three years old, was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy merchant in Richmond.
Although the merchant did not legally adopt Poe, his surname was taken by the young Edgar. Life for “Master Allan” in the homestead was not always happy since John Allan often made the child feel unwanted. His wife, however, interceded on Edgar’s behalf. John Allan did spend a considerable amount of money educating Poe at the best schools in England.
While in the Allan home, Poe became quite the attached to Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard, the mother of one of his friends. She noted his obvious writing talent and encouraged him to pursue a writing career. It was this material attention that Poe so sorely needed. At age fourteen, he wrote the first of his “To Helen” poems (“Helen, thy beauty is to me”), envisioning Mrs. Stanard as a goddess. Her death from tuberculosis left Poe very depressed.
Poe’s first girlfriend was Elmira Royster, whom he met in Richmond during a summer vacation. The romance flourished, and before Poe departed for school in England, he and Elmira became engaged. Elmira’s father, however, knew Poe would not be able to provide a financially secure marriage for Elmira. Thus, Mr. Royster intercepted the correspondence from Poe and suggested to Elmira that she should find a more devoted and suitable husband. In a few months, Poe received the devastating news that his fiancée had married a rich Richmond gentleman.
Poe returned to the U.S. for his college education and attended the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, his excessive drinking and gambling habits led to the loss of the small allowance his guardian had provided. Eventually, Allan used his business influence to get Edgar accepted into West Point. When he was dismissed from the academy a short time later, John Allan disconnected his affiliations with Poe and refused to allow him on his Richmond estate.
Poe turned to his paternal aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, for a home. Poe tutored her ten-year-old daughter, Virginia, and found joy in sharing his knowledge with the inquisitive young girl whom he called “Sis.” Although they were first cousins, Poe and Virginia eloped when she was thirteen years old. Eight months later, Virginia and Edgar were married again, with Mrs. Clemm’s permission.
The marriage was not a happy one. The couple continued to live with Mrs. Clemm, since both were more or less dependent on her. Financially, Poe could not support his wife. Virginia was frail and unable to manage a house. Because of the nineteen-year age difference, Poe “babied” Virginia and tried to humor her. His excessive drinking placed an additional strain on the marriage.
The Poes and Mrs. Clemm moved several times as Edgar sought work. Mrs. Clemm liquidated their possessions and begged for money. She saw potential greatness in Poe’s literary works, and, while disappointed in their material worth, she loved Poe as a son and never deserted him. Poe recognized that Mrs. Clemm was a forceful organizer and provider in his life and worst a sonnet “To My Mother” in her honor. In it, he claims her as his real mother and the epitome of maternal affection he longed to feel.
When Virginia became totally bedridden, the rumors of Poe’s love affairs began to circulate. Virginia heard the gossip about an aspiring poet who was pursuing Poe in hopes of attaining his praise. Virginia received anonymous letters implying that Poe was having scandalous liaisons with numerous women. There was some truth to the stories, since Poe was indeed “chasing women.” One notable affair was with Mrs. Sarah Helen Power Whitman, a spiritualist and poet who habitually dropped shawls and handkerchiefs in a seductive manner and referred to Poe as “her Raven.” Poe’s second “To Helen” poem is about Mrs. Whitman. She in turn flattered him with her poetry. Some of her friends warned her that Poe was after her money. Others speculated that the romance dissipated because of Poe’s flirtations with yet another woman. Mrs. Frances Sargent Locke Osgood and Poe met when her husband was hired to paint Poe’s portrait. After the paintin