O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
(A Dream within a Dream, 21-24)
Edgar Poe was born on Jan. 19, 1809, to David Poe Jr. and a widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins (née Arnold), both actors. Edgar and his sister Rosalie were orphaned in Richmond, Virginia, when their parents died of illness in December 1811. Taken in by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan, Edgar was baptised Edgar Allan Poe two years later. After a five-year trip to England, the Allans returned to Richmond, where Edgar in school read Latin and Greek, attended Monumental Church with his mother, and proceeded in 1826 to enter the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he studied ancient and modern languages. Gambling forced him out of university and Poe entered the United States army as "Edgar A. Perry" in 1827. During this time, and later when he was for a short time admitted to West Point--which court-marshalled and expelled him for disobeying orders--Poe read widely in English literature and published his first books of poems, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1827) and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1831). His literary career then turned to writing fiction, reviews, and other short pieces for journals and occasionally on commission. In 1836 Poe married his cousin 14-year-old Virginia Clemm in Richmond and they lived in New York and then Philadelphia. Poe's writing gradually gained respect when his two-volume Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque came out in 1839. Six years later a New York publisher, Wiley and Putnam, brought out both his Tales and The Raven and Other Poems, and Poe's reputation was made. The Poes moved next year to a cottage in Fordham, New York (now Poe Park), partly to nurse Virginia, who died in 1847. Poe's alcoholism worsened and he died on Oct. 7, 1849, in Baltimore.
Rufus Wilmot Griswold became Poe's literary executor. His four-volume Works, brought out from a New York publisher, J. S. Reffield, from 1850 to 1856, widened the audience for Poe's writings. When a monument to him was unveiled in 1875 at the (now) Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, Walt Whitman attended and letters were sent by Longfellow, Whittier, Tennyson, Swinburne, and Stephen Mallarmé.
For a modern biography of Poe, see Arthur H. Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe (1941) and the "Annals" by Thomas Ollive Mabbott in his edition, Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969), I, 529-72. John Ward Ostrom published a two-volume edition of Poe's letters in 1948 from Harvard University Press.
Most poems by Poe exist in a number of different versions because he was inclined to revise them after their first publication, sometimes as a result of a friend's request for a manuscript copy or of a public reading. Critical editions are there to help the reader decide among these versions and understand why they exist. The most authoritative modern edition of Poe's poems, with exceptionally full commentary, is by Thomas Ollive Mabbott. Floyd Stovall's edition (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1965) also delivers good texts and fuller variant readings, more attractively presented. Several facsimile editions of Poe's books are also available: Tamerlane and Other Poems, edited by Mabbott (1827; New York: Columbia University Press for the Facsimile Text Society, 1941), Poems by Edgar A. Poe, 2nd edn., edited by Killis Campbell (1831; New York: Columbia University Press for the Facsimile Text Society, 1936), and The Raven and Other Poems, edited also by Mabbott (1845; New York: Columbia University Press for the Facsimile Text Society, 1942).
Given name: Edgar Allan
Family name: Poe
Birth date: 1809
Death date: 1849