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Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive (Lord Byron, Poe, and Poetry)

6 minutes

(male narrator) Bright, quick-witted, and rebellious, Edgar deliberately set himself apart. He became a fan of the popular bad boy poet of the day.

(male #1) George Gordon, Lord Byron, was an English poet who cultivated this image of the isolated artist at odds with the rest of the world. Poe consciously adopted that Byronic pose. Even to the point of dressing in black, looking in the distance at nothing in particular.

(male #2) The similarity between Poe and Byron is quite remarkable. They had a similarly very difficult childhood: abandoned, abused. It pervades the way they think about the world and the way they see the world: loss and fear. Two great subjects in both of their writings.

[raining spattering]

(Poe) "From childhood's hour "I have not been as others were-- "I have not seen as others saw-- "I could not bring my passions from a common spring-- "From the same source I have not taken my sorrow-- "I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone-- "And all I lov'd-- I lov'd alone."

(male #3) The woman who encouraged him to write poetry was the mother of his best friend.

(male #4) When Mr. Allan was arguing with Poe and telling him not to waste his time reading this Lord Byron garbage, she gave him that encouragement that he needed.

(male #1) I think Poe had a little school boy crush. She must have reminded him of his own biological mother, in certain ways. She had that same sort of ethereal look about her.

(male #3) Unfortunately, mental illness took her; We don't know the origins of it. And then she died... and it affected him profoundly. He went to her cemetery at night and kept a vigil at her grave.

(male #5) I can't imagine that he had a profound love relationship with Jane Stanard, but he made it into something which had emotional, romantic, and literary potential that could be exploited.

(Poe) "Helen, thy beauty is to me "like those Nicéan barks of yore. "That gently, o'er a perfume sea. "The weary, way-worn wanderer bore to his own native shore."

(male #6) Some years later, Poe said he wrote the poem to Helen.

(Edgar Poe) "Thy hyacinth hair, "Thy classic face, "Thy Naiad airs have brought me home to the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome."

[birds chirping]

(narrator) Young Edgar was not alone in his experiences of loss. Early 19th century America had a mortality rate more than three times that of today.

(male #7) You could have someone who was in good health, carried away very quickly and very tragically. You could also have someone because of TB slowly dying away. And childbirth was another great cause of mortality.

(male #5) Very elaborate cemeteries were becoming popular in America at the time. This was a great age of funereal sculpture and mementos.

(male #1) While it sometimes seems odd to 21st century readers that Poe was always writing about death, it's not unusual if you think about what he was witnessing in the 1820s and 1830s when he was surrounded by this culture of death.

(Poe) "And so being young and dipped in folly, "I fell in love with melancholy, "and used to throw my earthly rest in quiet "all the way in jest. "I could not love except where death was mingling his with beauty's breath." Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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In this segment, students explore the topic of death in literature through the analysis of the writings of Poe and Lord Byron. Part of the "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" series. Please Note: This video includes photographs of dead people, a culturally accepted practice to honor loved ones during the 19th century. Teachers should exercise discretion in evaluating whether this resource is suitable for their class.

Media Details

Runtime: 6 minutes

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