How the Women in Edgar Allan Poe's Life Influenced His Poetry
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1809. Poe's works remain popular today and are read all over the world. His poems and short stories reflect his tumultuous life and the deaths of four prominent women in his life: his birth mother; foster mother; young wife, Virginia; and Jane Standard. He was also influenced by his lost childhood love, Sarah Royster. Poe's macabre themes carried over into his own life as he suffered from hallucinations, depression, financial woes and grief.
Jane Stith Standard, a classmate's mother, inspired Poe to write the poem "To Helen" in 1831. Poe admitted his infatuation for Standard while he attended school in Richmond, Virginia, saying, "the first purely ideal love of my soul." Standard died in 1824 when Poe was 15 years old.
Poe wrote the poem "Lenore" in 1831. The poem depicts Poe's resentment of Sarah Elmira Royster's forced marriage to a wealthy older man. Royster was Poe's childhood sweetheart, and her family arranged her marriage, as seen in lines 15 to 17,
"The sweet Lenore hath gone before, with Hope that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride. "
In 1849, Poe learned that Royster's husband died, and she agreed to marry Poe. While in Baltimore, on his way to Philadelphia to visit Royster, Poe became ill and died within four days.
Lines five to seven in "Lenore" portray the grief Poe experienced when his young wife, Virginia, and his foster mother both died from tuberculosis.
"Come, let the burial rite be read; the funeral song be sung!
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young.
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young."
Like Poe's other poems, "The Raven", delves into Poe's feeling of pain and loss, but adds frustration and helplessness to the picture. When Poe wrote "The Raven," his wife, Virginia, was suffering with symptoms of tuberculosis. Poe was unable to purchase medicine for his wife because of his financial difficulties. He expresses the emotional pain he feels during his wife's final days throughout the poem, as seen in both the first and last lines.
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,"
"And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore!"
The poem "Annabel Lee" reflects the devastation Poe felt at loss of his wife, Virginia, to tuberculosis. Poe married Virginia when she was only 13 years old and he was 26. Virginia died when she was 25 years old. Poe and Virginia were deeply in love. The poem reflects Poe's love in lines five to 10,
"And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabel Lee."
Poe describes Virginia's death from tuberculosis in lines 25 and 26,
"That the wind came out of the cloud, chilling
And killing my Annabel Lee."
- "The American Tradition in Literature"; Edgar Allan Poe; 2002
- Poe Decoder; The Stricken Eagle, Women in Poe; David Grantz
- Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore: Edgar Allan Poe's Works as Autobiography
- The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: 2009
Karen Curley has more than 18 years experience in health and nutrition, specializing in healthy food choices for families. She received USDA certification in food components, nutrient sources, food groups and infant/child nutrition, and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts. Curley is also an avid gardener, home renovator, Collie breeder, dog groomer and dog trainer.