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Baltimore, Maryland, 1829: a young, 20-year old, slightly odd fellow has just relocated to the city that would eventually be the setting for a great HBO show. He had moved back after attending the University of Virginia—where instead of racking up GPA points, he racked up gambling debts. While back in Baltimore, he published some poems, but he really hoped to get his life on track by…going to West Point? Um, as in the United States Military Academy?
Yep, it's no joke. The same dude who brought us dark fantasies like "The Raven" once tried to make it as a military man. That may sound bizarre, but what else would you expect from Edgar Allan Poe, the guy who wrote stories about houses spontaneously imploding, dudes burying other dudes alive, mysterious immortal black cats, and all sorts of other macabre things.
Poe was definitely, absolutely cut from a different cloth. He marched to the beat of his own drummer, like when he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, or dropped out of the army only to join the military academy. And that's before we get into the crazy, wild, Stephen-King-style stories he was writing nearly 150 years ago.
EAP—as we like to call him—definitely knew he was different, and he wrote about it a lot. Enter "Alone," a short poem he wrote in March of 1829 (when he was only 20) and that remained unpublished for over fifty years, finally seeing the light of day in 1875.
You see, 1829 was a tough year for Mr. Poe. In February of that year his foster mother passed away (his birth mother died shortly after he was born, and his real father had already rolled out), and he was in the process of figuring out the whole military situation. Throw into the mix ongoing issues with his foster father and constant rejection as a struggling writer (Poe's volumes of poetry weren't selling at all), and you have a recipe for a giant migraine.
"Alone" expresses very candidly Poe's feelings of isolation and loneliness as a child, where—if the poem is any indication—he was pretty much different from everybody else he knew. And yet, that difference became an important part of Poe's identity. The second half of the poem, for example, is all about how the speaker is possessed by some "mystery." Clearly, being different—being all alone—has its perks. It's almost like the speaker is privy to something special, some visionary power, like ESP or something.
It is difficult to figure out what exactly this "mystery" is, but the bottom line is that sometimes being different is all that bad. Sometimes, being different is actually a sign of one's creativity and uniqueness. Look at Poe. Sure, he's weird, but, hey, he's one of the most revered writers in all of American Literature. It seems like a small price to pay…right?
There's probably a really strange kid at your school—every school has one. He (or she) probably wears different clothes than everybody else, or his hair looks really odd. Maybe he talks to himself.
And it's not just that this dude spends all his time hanging out by himself. He's got completely different tastes, feelings, and desires than everybody else, too. We have no doubt that you know exactly the type of person we're talking about, someone who fits the dictionary definition of the word "loner."
Now, if this "different" person were to write a poem, it would be Edgar Allan Poe's "Alone." The first nine lines are all about how the speaker was different from everybody else he knew in his childhood. All his peers liked one thing, but he liked something else. His passions were different, his feelings were different, even his sorrows were different. To sum it all up, he was…well, alone.
This sounds kind of emo, right? Sure the speaker calls his childhood the "dawn of a stormy life," but the poem ends up being about how being "alone" can actually have some benefits. He goes on and on later in the poem about how he has access to some "mystery" that he sees everywhere around him. In other words, it's almost like he's saying "Yeah, I was really lonely and different, but in exchange I was given this really cool gift that was almost like a sixth sense."
Now, here's the thing about this loner kid: at some point in time, somewhere, in some way, that loner is going to be…you. No matter how hard you might try, chances are that one day you'll be the odd one out, feeling isolated and alone. And that's when this poem will spring to mind. Being alone doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can actually be a kind of gift, giving you special, mysterious insights that others just don't have.
So consider this poem bummer insurance. It may not at first be fun to feel left out, but non-membership can have its privileges, too.
It's Always Sunny at Poe's House
Wait, he lived in Philly?
When in Baltimore…
Here's a website for one of Poe's homes in Baltimore.
As Pink Floyd would say, these are "just the basic facts."
R. I. Poe
Hmm, this seems a little too pretty for a cemetery.
Poe and Tim Burton—Together At Last
Check out this cool video mash-up of a Tim Burton movie and a reading of the poem.
Price Does Poe
Ever wanted to spend an evening with Poe? Here's an old video of Vincent Price reciting Edgar Allan Poe stories for almost an hour.
"Alone" Out Loud
This guy really has the perfect voice for this poem.
Well at least it has a raven on it.
You handsome devil, you!
Poe's Famous Pose
Hmm, a little serious aren't we?
"Alone" in the Woods
This captures it just perfectly.
"On Edgar Allan Poe"
This New York Review of Books article is a deep dive into Poe's work and legacy.
The Collected Works
If you want more Poe, this is where to go.
Well, at least there's no shortage of these.
The Poe Shadow
Here's a cool literary mystery involving Poe if you're interested.
John Cusack plays such a cute Poe.
Poe on Screen
This IMDB page is proof of Poe's influence on both TV and film.