Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lord, Help My Poor Soul...

On this day in 1849, poet and author Edgar Allan Poe joined his beloved Virginia in the realm of the great beyond. After several days of delirium, Poe finally succumbed to a 'mystery illness.' Newspapers from that time gave the cause of death as 'cerebral inflammation' or 'brain congestion' (nice ways of saying he drank himself to death). Other causes of death have also been thrown about, from rabies to syphilis to cholera to epilepsy. But as with much of Poe's life, his actual death remains shrouded in mystery.

It is said that Poe was never coherent enough in his remaining days to tell anyone just how he came to be in his wretched state, but several clues point to anything but a natural death. For one, he was not even wearing his own clothes when he was found in his dreadful condition. Likewise, it has been told that Poe repeatedly called out the name 'Reynolds' on the night before he expired. Who was Reynolds? A friend? A business partner? A figment of Poe's delirious mind?

Here is a short poem by Poe that seems very personal - I imagine he was writing of himself. It seems somehow fitting on this grim, dreary, overcast day:

"TO ____"

I heed not that my earthly lot
Hath —— little of Earth in it —

That years of love have been forgot

In the fever of a minute:
I mourn not that the desolate
Are happier, sweet, than I,

But that
you sorrow for my fate
Who am a passer by.

As many know, a mysterious cloaked figure in a wide-brimmed hat leaves three roses and a half a bottle of cognac on Poe's grave on the anniversary of his birth. But who remembers the death of this once-great poet? All medical records - including his death certificate! - have been lost, stolen, or destroyed. All remaining information about the life, and miserable death, of Edgar Allan Poe remains shrouded in mystery – such as the assertion that Poe's final words were: "Lord, help my poor soul!"

Lord, help his poor soul, indeed...

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