Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Meal Of Edgar Allan Poe

Portrait of American Writer Edgar Allan Poe 
Since the dawn of American gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe’s life, he was surrounded by  poverty, isolation, coldness, loneliness and death.  His stormy life was drawn from good and evil which provided the groundwork for his famous dark literary masterpieces.   

Poe was born in 1809 and 40 years later in 1849, his short life ended abruptly, causing a stir of mystery to his enigmatic persona that continues to fascinate us until today.  His death was reported in a newspaper as having been stricken on a cold night in a tavern in Baltimore, where he was found delirious, in great distress, laying in a gutter and later carried to a hospital where he died a lonely death four days later.

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague.  
Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? - Edgar Allan Poe  

Scholars conclude that Poe’s life of misery could have psychologically been self inflicted.  He published masterpieces that today are recited, performed in theaters, reenacted and made into films in many languages around the world.  Yet there are accounts of him living in dire poverty, barely making enough money to pay the rent.  Many nights, he was found wandering the streets in Baltimore begging for a meager 50 cents to buy a meal.  It was the amount that in those days, a simple plate of food in a tavern would have cost, which would include a pint of ale.           

The writing desk and bed of American writer Edgar Allan Poe
Poe would stay most nights in his rented room writing until dawn.  In the winter months, when the cold was waiting in the shadows, he often kept himself sheltered from the bone chilling wind and had only a candle or an oil lamp for light and the warmth of ragged old blankets.  By the end of his life, he had suffered much loss including the death of his beloved wife Virginia, which he immortalized in his poem: Annabel Lee.  His ruined finances provided very little money to feed himself and there were accounts of him not having much to eat except bread, wine and occasionally cheese.  He was a man of refined taste and he enjoyed a good brandy or a Spanish Amontillado sherry, but he could rarely afford it.  Most days, a piece of bread was all he ate during the day, saving the wine and cheese, and maybe a crusty crumb for the evening supper. 

It was October 7th, a dark, icy night when he uttered his last words: “Lord help my soul.”  At his last breath, strange rumors began to circulate across many towns and his macabre stories were not very well appreciated among the society, whom considered them too eerie and horrific.  There was never an autopsy report, and the cause of his death was disputed.  Bone deep hunger, emotional emptiness, depression and loneliness could have been the reasons of his untimely death, with hunger being the principal cause which provoked all the other symptoms to follow him like a dark plague.     

In those days, it was the Victorian era when good food and refined tastes were in fashion.  Meal times were an opportunity for the rich to display their wealth and elaborate feasts were the norm.  Employed people and farm laborers ate reasonably well and could afford heartier food such as sausage, bacon, cheese, eggs, fish, beef, game, fruits and vegetables.  The tables of that era were splendid and much cheer, sweets and good wine were customary.  Luxury was high on the menu and the quality of food greatly improved as agricultural methods continued to evolve in abundance.  But the diet of the very poor marked a stark and terrible contrast.   Those with very little money survived on potatoes, bread and gruel of little nutritional value.  Poe, lived way below poverty level, which for him meant no food at all for long stretches of time.  It was very hard to earn a living being a man of letters.  He was at the mercy of greedy publishers yet he was determined to pursue his literary ideals.
The Last Meal Of Edgar Allan Poe
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In the last days of the young poet’s life, dessertion, darkness, mystery, unbearable pain, beauty and his genius mind were all that were left.  On the menu, his las meal most undoubtedly consisted of bread and wine, and if a few coins came his way, he was able to afford cheese.  His writing desk, his pen, an ink well and a wax candle were his only companions.

Only Edgar Allan Poe, who knew the secrets of madness could concentrate his brilliant mind away from the thoughts of biting hunger and steer his pen to create intense suspense, terror, sensation, simple truth, stories and poems of grim realities that mirrored his own life.   

He was caught between a fine line of rationality and irrationality.  For what is considered one of the greatest poems published to his name, The Raven, he earned only $14 dollars.  Just about what a bottle of wine would cost these days.  

In a strange macabre way, The Raven is a narrative poem of a kind of rehearsal for his own death.  A poem which, can be interpreted as Edgar Allan Poe speaking thru The Raven as he recounted the words: Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore...    

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seaming of a demon that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor,
And my soul from out that shadow that lies of floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!  
Quoth The Raven Nevermore! - Edgar Allan Poe

By Leticia Alaniz © 2015  

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