Good Night, Mr. Poe

October 7th is, for me, a quiet private holiday. On that day I celebrate the life of Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849).

I honestly can’t remember when I first read Poe’s work. Like lots of American schoolkids, I remember reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” at various points, but I think my parents introduced me to him earlier than that by giving me a book entitled Six Tales of Mystery and Imagination for Christmas when I was probably 9 or 10 years old that contained six Poe short stories (with the early-20th century Harry Clark illustrations). I’m sure “Mystery and Imagination” appealed to my folks, but I also don’t think they knew what was in the book. “The Gold-Bug” is a good kid’s tale of hunting for pirate treasure with some cryptography and some typical 19th-century Negro-minstrel humor thrown in. Aside from that, though, the stories were more or less all murder, death, and destruction. “The Oblong Box” about a man’s obsession with his dead wife’s corpse, “The Fall of the House of Usher” about a woman buried alive, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” being about, well, murder, as was “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and finally the Spanish Inquisition torture tale “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

For an intelligent but alienated kid like me with an imagination that darkened (typically) as I moved through adolescence, Poe’s work had a deep significance. Auguste Dupin, the original detective-story detective, used his intellect to solve the most inscrutable mysteries. There was the fatal hubris of Prince Prospero in the face of the Red Death. And of course, for a young guy who perceived slight at every step, there was Montresor’s creative, poetic, and absolute revenge upon Fortunado.

As I got older, I felt a little less alienated, but I still enjoy Poe’s work from time to time, both on its own merits and because it reminds me of my past life…some good times, and some recognition that I’ve grown beyond some of the bad times. So I still take notice of the man on the anniversary of his still-mysterious (was it alcoholism? Rabies? Hypoglycemia? Urban violence or cooping? 150 years later, nobody knows) death. And on Sunday night, I’ll read “The Masque of the Red Death” by candlelight. And for just a moment in time, Darkness and Decay and the Red Death will hold illimitable dominion over all.

Good night, Mr. Poe.

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