Dear Edgar: Talking To A Dead Man

What would you say if you could talk to Edgar Allan Poe?

There have been millions of things written about Edgar Allan Poe. Maybe it was a text or a tweet or a literary analysis in a dusty tome—whatever it was—his works have been deeply analyzed, the man investigated past the point of recognition, the details explored with dedication. With that in mind, apologies if you’re expecting another article full of poetic summaries or trivia about one of the greatest authors ever to have put pen to paper. Instead, I thought I would address this article to someone that seems quite overlooked among all of this, the man himself.

Dear Edgar,

It stands to reason your life was filled with rhymes and riddles. Of course, I would love to know the greatest mystery; where were you those five long days? Were you nursing a heartbreak with Elmira(Shelton) that we’re not aware of? Did someone else break your heart instead over those unknown nights? Was it simply another adventure in the tragedies that seemed to haunt you? If you’re staying silent, that’s okay. After all, this is your story to tell…and what a story it is.

Since your passing, the Poe “legend” has grown a bit. I know you’ll be horrified to learn (Rufus) Griswold had a hand in shaping that mystique and helping others find your work. In his spite to create hateful tales and failed mythologies, he only showed that revenge serves nothing. Did you expect he would step in to write an obituary? Or even your biography? I can only imagine that you had inklings that a person with such animosity would act in such a spiteful way. Don’t worry about him. He has been long forgotten and only spoken about when referring to you. Ironic isn’t it? His dubious attempt at spreading falsehoods about you only left him as a footnote in your history.

For the record, I’ve tried to relay to friends, family, or anyone else who was in earshot what was wrong about his facts. Somehow, I think it’s easier to believe that the “details” of drug abuse, violence, madness, and perversion over the truth. Maybe that’s why these bitter tales caught on so easily? What better story than a writer of such dark works taking part in an equally disturbing life to finalize the illusion? Those notions didn’t end with you, our literary and creative history since your first published poems seem to always run with those same lurid backstories. Sometimes they’re mere mythologies, sometimes all too true for our own good.

But enough about boring stories, you never were one for such things. Instead, let’s talk about what’s happened since you’ve been gone. You knew success with “The Raven,” which is still your best-known work. In fact, it’s been featured in everything from cartoons to films. What are the films you ask? Long story, but trust me when I say the medium has loved your poems and novels. Some adaptations have been faithful, others not so much; sorry to report the latter is far more prevalent than the former. Writers still don’t have much control over what’s done with their properties once some company expresses interest in making it the next big thing. Basically, everything you knew them on a much grander scale.

Take heart, Edgar; you have become an inspiration to creatives around the world. Filmmakers like Dario Argento and Tim Burton are just some of the people who constantly find a renewed sense of artistry in your words. When it comes to writing, it’s hard not to see the influences in novels, short stories, and poems spanning the decades. Prominent horror author Stephen King cites you as an influence. I know it’s hard to believe but a writer, much less a horror writer, can actually make a good living doing this. They might also accrue a fair amount of prestige among their colleagues.

You didn’t just reach the morose, somehow you brought us the detective genre as we know it today and helped another writer create one of literature’s best-known characters: Sherlock Holmes. That’s right, there may not be the Poe name splashed across these titles, but the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was quick to give credit where credit’s due.

Without your work creating the building blocks, murder mysteries wouldn’t be the same. In case you’re wondering, the genre did quite well for itself; you can’t turn around without being faced with a series, movie, or book on the subject. Unsurprisingly, tales with a real spin, also known as “true crime,” do quite well. That should be no great shock to a man who saw that the human condition could be fraught with deep darkness mixed with inherent curiosity. Unfortunately, cruelty and suffering are one of those hallmarks that always seem to stay around.

Fandom can be a strange thing, even when you’ve long since passed. Would you believe that people make your grave a tourist attraction? Some come out of praise, while others come out of curiosity. No matter what, they come to see the spot where you lie. Even in the course of cold January nights, a mysterious visitor paid their respects to your final resting place. What could the roses and cognac mean? I’m sure you know the answer and the reason it finally ended after such a long time. This unique calling must have spanned generations. Oh, you keep these secrets so well. Death has a way of doing that too us all.

The most important thing to take away from all of this is simple, you mattered. So many people go through life wondering if their words or actions even matter at the moment, much less over a lifetime. While some will leave a legacy that stays with those who knew them best, others will experience the closest thing we have to immortality. For you, that sliver of forever comes on the wings of a raven, the beats of a guilty heart, and the woeful cries of love lost.

Forever is a long time, yet that is where you are and will always be. Sleep well knowing that daylight hits your darkest stories every day. No biography can slander, no trivia can malign what you did. That’s all there is; there is no more.


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  1. Regarding “The Raven,” credited by historians to Edgar Allan Poe, I have a great deal of evidence that the real author was Mathew Franklin Whittier, younger brother of poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

  2. This is beyond good! I enjoyed reading it and you have keen insight into Poe and his life. Thank you. Jeff Jerome, curator emeritus, formerly with the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Baltimore Maryland.

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