Arthur Miller or John Steinbeck or even Ernest Hemingway, and most likely he/she has heard the name, but cannot place it. Or, the response will be, "Isn't he a writer or something?" Ask someone in the field of literature the same question, and of course the response will be about the importance of this individual's works. That is one test of an author's impact. Now, ask that same typical person who is Edgar Allen Poe, and chances are he/she knows for sure it's a writer and will probably also know a poem or short story by Poe. That is another test of the author's impact: How much the average John or Jill Doe recalls. Meanwhile, people in the literary field may have mixed reactions, but will talk about the importance of Poe's works ad infinitum. The fascinating thing about Poe is that his works have stood the test of time with both critics and the public. Just that alone says a great deal about his abilities. Add to that his many unique writing talents, and it is easy to see how extraordinary of an individual he was and is still.
In a letter to Andre Gide, Paul Valery wrote: "Poe is the only impeccable writer. He was never mistaken." Charles Baudelaire used to make his morning prayers to God and to Edgar Poe (Bloom 1). Such praise came in the late 1800s by individuals who rated such high praise themselves. Since then, his works have resulted in uncountable want-to-bes and motivated artists, playwrights/screenwriters and composers. Commentators have seen foreshadowed in him William Butler Yeats, Walter de la Mare, Amy Lowell, Franz Kafka, Graham Greene, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Satre (Wagenknecht 7). Every year, scores of books and articles of different levels of depth and interest are written about Poe's life and works.
The question remains, why has he endured? The answer to such a short question can be guessed at, but definitely open to a great deal of debate. One reason is everyone finds something to relate to in his writings. His poems and stories cover all emotions and all topics of human life. In addition, his excellent literary techniques can be taken at many different levels, depending on the reader's ability and interest in evaluation. As said by Thompson: "Poe manages to send the mind spinning off in strange vagaries of thought, to touch as no other writer does the deep-lying apprehensions of his readers even while appealing to a coldly rational element in them. . . . Certainly the volume of writing on Poe justifies a separate publication for the study of the man, his works, his career, his place in his times, and his reputation" (2).
It is easiest to first look at what endears Poe to the average reader. Naturally, he recognized as the master of the horror tale and credited with nearly inventing the detective story. However, his stories go much beyond the horror or microbe. Says Lawrence: Poe's "best pieces, however, are not his tales. They are more. They are ghastly stories of the human soul in its disruptive throes. Moreover, they are 'love' stories" (22) and man likes love, wants it, wants it all the time. "Poe has experience the ecstasies of extreme spiritual love," and wrote about them. "Ligeia" is Poe's story of love pushed over the brink and the battle of wills between lovers. It is a horrible story of the assertion of the will to love. The dark poem of lost love, "The Raven," brought Poe national fame, when appearing in 1845. Said Poe about this poem: "With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence: they must not - they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind."
Yet is not just the emotion of love that draws readers into Poe's stories. It is the combination of love and hate. Every person who has truly loved has seen the other side of this duality. "Edgarpoe looked into the dark glass of his soul, and sees doubly." He sees the intense symbiosis between love and hatred. Love is rarely as simple or as happy as hoped" (Hoffman). Because there is this experience within everyone, Poe "touches a universal heartstring," so they understand how the passion of love can turn into murder. In the "Black Cat," the husband murders the one who loves him the most. In "The Premature Burial," Egaeus pulls the teeth from the mouth whose writhing lips obsessed him (234).
Yet, adds Hoffman, he makes jokes about love as well. "The Spectacles" laughs at the idea of love at first sight (242). Simpson, who can barely see but is too vain to wear his glasses, sees and is smitten by the beautiful Madame Lalande in the distance. However, there are two Madame Lalandes, and when Simpson's friends realize he has set his heart not on the young one but her elder companion, they play a trick. He woos this Madame Lalande, who makes him promise to wear his spectacles after the marriage. After the wedding, he sees that he has married the old woman of 82, who is actually his great, great grandmother! In the end, Simpson finds that the ceremony has been a joke and he gets to marry the young Mme Lalande, a cousin, not so many times removed -- ha, still incestuous.
Satire, absurdity and the strange are found in "Loss of Breath," where a man who is tortured a hanged for the benefit of an enthusiastic audience says, "I did my best to give the crowd the worth of their trouble. My convulsions were said to be extraordinary. My spasms it would have been difficult to beat. The populace encored!" Even in this state, he is still aware of what is being done to him. His legs and arms are broken and his skull is fractured while he is being placed into a trunk. An apothecary begins to dissect him, realizing he may be alive. The rest of the story is a satirical discourse about the stupidity of the people around him and the horrors of being dead.
This comical spoof on death leads to the reason why most readers enjoy Poe: Their love of the macabre. Tales such as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" cannot be forgotten once read. When going into a wine cellar, one cannot fail to recall the Cask of Amontillado. The narrator named Montresor relates a story about a man named Fortunato (who is not very fortunate) who has often offended him. He wishes to get his just revenge for such injustices "without impunity," and does not want any consequences for this act. Never does he reveal his hatred to Fortunato, but (in Jack Nicholson fashion in the "Shining") continues with "to smile in his face," secretly gloating over how Fortunato shall soon be dead.
However, it is not only readers who thoroughly enjoy and praise Poe. Critics do so as well for his imagination and literary style. Poe, for example, is known for his poems. However, many literary scholars also agree that this sense poetry -- rhythm and rhyme are also in his tales. Garrison (137) says that Poe, himself, would talk about the combination of his prose and poetry. Buranelli (87) points out the similarities in tone, mood and theme between the tales and the poems. He stresses that Poe freely introduced such literary devices without having any fear of them detracting from his work, suggesting that the two genres were truly compatible. Davidson (154) adds that Poe was encouraged sometimes "to leave behind the accepted naturalistic world around him and to explore the indeterminate regions which poetry had suggested." His tales, adds Davidson, "are indeed 'poems' and Poe always remained a poet ... "
In this vein, Poe saw the short story as preferable to the novel; just as the short poem was better than the long. It was a careful planning and of economy of means. He says, "having conceived with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he (the skillful literary artist) then events such incidents -- he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect (XI, 108). The word effect here means mood, emotion and strong feeling. Thus the use of poetic devices to emote feelings of the soul and madness as in Ligeia: "I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the Lady Ligeia. Long years have since elapse, and my memory is feeble through much suffering." Likewise in "The Tell-Tale Heart: "True! -- nervous -- very, very, nervous I had been and am! But why will you say that I am mad?"
Poe uses a variety of stylist approaches that show this poetic connection. In some stories, he uses satire to criticize human follies.…