Edgar Allan Poe and lives defined by loss

The more I read about Edgar Allan Poe, the more that I can feel his loneliness permeating every word, how the trauma of being denied love in early life can chase you until you’re exhausted with the pain. For all my suffering – I can’t fathom what it’d be like to be Poe, with a father who abandoned him and a mother who died when he was barely three. With an engagement that was broken off, several mother figures who died, a wife that died, and a storm of poverty and broken poet-loves and rivalries and lost jobs.

Trying to live haunted by loss in such a way that the loss begins to define you. So that when he writes, he can only see beautiful things through how they’re framed by melancholy.

To have the people that he loved reject him, turn away from him. A cruelty that was heartwrenching, but often, self-imposed.

In his letters, Poe often lashes out like a child.

He writes to his aunt, Maria Clemm, after learning that Neilson Poe offered to take her and his wife Virgina in:

“I am blinded with tears while writing this letter — I have no wish to live another hour. Amid sorrow, and the deepest anxiety your letter reached — and you well know how little I am able to bear up under the pressure of grief. My bitterest enemy would pity me could he now read my heart. My last my last my only hold on life is cruelly torn away — I have no desire to live and will not ”

I see myself in those words and it hurts, to feel the childish gray warmth of sadness. Its familiarity. To think that if other people knew my pain, they would take pity on me, love me.

But it was never pain that drew people to me – it was all the things that’d survived in spite of it.

When I read about Poe, I see a sort of learned helplessness. He longs for other people to take care of him. Over and over I see him put himself into danger and poverty as if he’s trying to shine a beacon for help. He writes several letters to his adoptive father, John Allan, alternating between lashing out and asking for money and pity, until he’s forced to cut him off. He gets drunk so that his Maria Clemm must put him to bed. He broadcasts his pain, blaringly loud.

There were so many moments in his life where he could have found a way to pull himself together – to have his own magazine, or get steady employment, or after Virginia’s death – to have someone to love. But he deliberately destroys all of it with a startling, steadfast deliberation. Over and over again he puts himself into misery because he wants love to pull him out of it.

Poe never learned how to take care of himself. One of the greatest American writers of all time, a brilliant mind who actually wrote about the Big Bang years before it was an actual scientific theory, and his childlike desire to be picked up and helped and given affection often seemed to supercede all of his intelligence and insight.

It hurts to see the slow, spindling destruction of a life. An unnecessary destruction. It hurts because I see in many ways how he could be me, and I could be him, and all the paths my life could go.

I would not wish Poe’s life upon anyone. The writing hardly seems worth it for the constant, drilling, abject suffering that he puts himself through.

Not for the writing. He doesn’t suffer for the writing. He suffers for the child inside of him that comes out to wear his skin and sob across letters, desperate for the love of a mother that he can never have

I spent so long waiting for something beautiful to happen to me, that I thought maybe I could make waiting and sadness and inertial longing beautiful.

I often dreamed of Edgar Allan Poe coming through my window, holding out his hand to take me away from the hole that was my life. Virgina, Edgar, and I often played hide-and-go-seek in the dark woods. In my dreams, we weren’t exactly happy, but we were at home, together. Two melancholy writers holding out for the sun, one wife between us.

But nobody is going to come through my window and give me all of my dreams just because I want them. The beacon of my sadness doesn’t even penetrate my skin.

For all the ways I’ve struggled to stay independent and support myself, the child inside of me wants to be rocked and held and loved without conditions. It wants people to see our pain and take pity on us. As if by the virtue of our pain – we deserve affection.

But the reward for suffering is only more suffering.

He wept on her grave. He pressed his cheek to the cool dirt.

He wrote about the inception of the universe in “Eureka”, its expansion and eventual contraction, to try to come to terms with the way things died.

Women in his stories died, but they rarely stayed dead. They moved through death like a transformation. They lingered in the narrator’s mind, in the walls of his home.

I feel like he was trying to come to terms with the way things you loved died and left holes so enormous that it was as if you were forced to now live life looking up from their bottom.

We’re so afraid of loss that after a while, it felt like all we knew how to do was scream, to cling -please don’t go-. We built our lives around the fear of it. We tried so desperately to see it before it happened that we ended up perpetuating it. Loss becomes the raven, perpetually sitting on a bust of Athena. It is the constant, cawing companion.

But a life cannot be built around the fear of loss. Stability is a dream and nothing is permanent. If you could see the atoms of a boulder it’d look like the swirling of a catastrophic ocean.

Even the dream of forever doesn’t last forever.

One day you will lose the greatest thing that you possess – yourself. Your molecules will collapse in on itself, rearranged in infinite combinations, and continue on, but it will never recreate you again.

I can’t cry for the things that I lost anymore. Maybe one day I will become a brilliant writer, but I’ll never be able to enjoy it, entertain it – as long as I nurse the brink of loss and struggle to keep the ocean from slipping out of my hands.

You are always going to lose.

So I think – if I want any kind of peace, I have to ride the waves of loss, and write about the things that hurt, but also the little wondrous things, and look eastward, past all the sepulchres, to see what gifts that loss will bring me next.

Because loss did not just take things away from me. It is the same mechanism that brings me new joy, and people to love, and inspiration, and surprises, and warmth.

I wonder if Poe understood that, when he wrote Eureka, so close to his death. When he saw the universe perpetually unraveling and curling up, over and over and over again.

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