Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

“Words have no power to impress the mind
without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death
Image by ProfessorMortis via Flickr

Mention his name and goth girls swoon, black cats hiss, and the timid turn away.  Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809.  More than 200 years after his birth, cities still fight for ownership of the dead writer’s corpse, whose tortured life and mysterious death were as strange as the tales he told.  Tales like “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death” still have the power to shock and enthrall readers all these years later.

In pop culture, Mr. Poe is most often revered as the master of the macabre, but his pen and his influence reach far beyond that.  He and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited as the fathers of the American short story.  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first detective story and created the genre.  “The Balloon Hoax” was an early form of science fiction and was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”  His poem, “The Raven” is still one of the most famous poems ever written.

He was born in Boston, was orphaned at age three, and taken in by the Allen family of Richmond, Virginia.  His older brother Henry died young and his sister Rosalie went insane.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and mother-in-law, before moving with them to the Bronx, New York.  He was married only once, to his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died at age 24 of tuberculosis.  He was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was labeled paranoid and perverse.  The day before he died, he was found on a Baltimore street, delirious, incoherent and wearing clothes that weren’t his.

All five cities have landmarks or museums dedicated to him and the Poe Wars over who gets his corpse (Baltimore has it now) aren’t cold yet.

edgar-allan-poeIn honor of his birthday, I’m happy to share this fantastic party favor, a make-your-own Edgar Allan Poe doll, courtesy of the Toy-A-Day blog. (Caveat: Lots of pop-ups, but definitely worth it.) Mr. Poe might roll his eyes at the frivolity of the gesture, but I like to think it would make him crack a smile.

Resources: Post A Day, Edgar Allan Poe Museum/Richmond, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Sity/Philadelphia, Edgar Allen Poe Cottage/The Bronx, Edgar Allan Poe Society/Baltimore.
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Curiousity, Responsibility and “The Little Prince”

On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

From “The Little Prince”
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A few weeks ago on Twitter, the writer Susan Orlean started the topic #booksthatchangedmyworld.   The topic became hugely popular within seconds and is still active.  Mostly fiction titles were mentioned, although non-fiction books, such as, “Toxic Parents,” “The Joy of Cooking,” and “The Joy of Sex” were popular, too.

I added a few of my own, but the titles that came to my mind were children’s or young adult lit:  “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume.

I could fill a few pages with a list of the books I love or books that affected me in a deep way, but the books that changed my life are mostly books I read when I was  young.

Today, I thought of a book that bridges the gap.  “The Little Prince” by  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is a children’s book that I read as an adult and it changed my life.

It was written as a children’s book, but its ideas of open-mindedness, curiosity, and exploration have a lot to teach adults who might have grown up and away from those child-like traits that keep the world new and exciting.

There are two parts that changed my world and have stayed with me since reading the book for the first time 15 years ago.  One is about our responsibility toward others.  The fox tells the Little Prince, who has fallen in love with a rose:

“Men have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You become responsible for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose.”

The second lesson is the quote at the beginning of this post.  It’s  the fox speaking to the Little Prince again.  “What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Reading that in the simplistic terms, the fox is saying the eye doesn’t see what matters most, it only sees what’s on the surface, but it goes beyond that.  It taught me that it’s important to dig deeper.  By examining, exploring, and questioning, I could learn what is essential to me, what matters most.  That lesson is something that changed my world in incalculable ways.

Happy birthday to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born June 29, 1900. The link is to his official website, which is in French.  Use Google Translate to translate it into any language. Très facile!

For Yeats: When You are Old and Gray …

A few weeks ago, I posted “Distractions, failures? Yeats had them, too,” about my visit to the National Library of Ireland, and what I learned about William Butler Yeats while I was there.

Today is Yeats’ birthday, so to honor him and spread the joy I’ve had in reading his poetry, I’m sharing one of his poems.  This is one of my favorites, both for its theme and for its slow, ethereal beauty.

When You Are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

Reprinted courtesy of poetry-archive.com.

At times, when I’m having difficulty getting the words right or my writing isn’t flowing, poetry helps me break through.  It gives me the in.  I don’t know if it’s the beauty of the words or the lyrical flow, but it opens up that part of my brain that’s not so uptight and rigid, and it allows me to write.

Do you use poetry this way? Do you have any favorite poems that stir your creativity?  Please share them here.

To learn more about William Butler Yeats or read more of his poetry, please visit the Yeats Society.