Why is it that a writer of some of the most horrifying, bloody stories is so famous? Well, probably because once you read anything by Edgar Allan Poe, there is no unreading him. There is no forgetting about hearing the heart beat of the mutilated body under the floor boards. There is no forgetting about the raven knocking on the window and saying “Nevermore!” And don’t even try to forget about that black cat. It didn’t leave Poe’s narrator alone, and it won’t leave you alone.
To celebrate Poe’s 206th birthday today, I’m flashing back to when I visited his house and grave a few years ago, during Spring Break when I was a student at Salem State University. I was visiting some friends in DC, and they brought me to visit his house, and his grave…
Poe’s house seemed just like any ordinary house on the outside. And the inside? A mystery. The house was undergoing renovations when we went, so I didn’t have the privelege of seeing where he lived and, more importantly, where he wrote.
Visiting his grave was an experience, though. The day was overcast, the trees mostly bare: a perfect way to visit Poe. The tower of Westminster Hall rose behind a tall red brick wall, partially hidden by branches of a tree starting to bud. Inside the gates of the graveyard Poe’s grave stood, eternally gaurding the body of one of the best writers of the Romantic period. A single red rose lay flat but vibrant on the white stone near the writer’s name.
As I continued into the graveyard, I realized the visit would produce a melancholy that reflected Poe’s stories. The name Virginia Clemm Poe was engraved on the side of the same stone as his, Poe’s cousin-wife whose life ended so soon. I noticed some of the other graves had dates on them marking bodies of people who’d died very young. Catacombs contained whole families: dozens of bodies buried under stone. A small pathway around Westminster Hall led to more graves and catacombs. I could feel the presence of all those souls, many who were gone from the world too early. And, in the center of it all, Poe’s original burial site, the Raven at the top of the grave marker with the most famous line of Poe’s work; “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore,’” and dead roses lying in the dried up dirt on the ground.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason. My friend, the same one who took me to see Poe’s grave, was visiting Massachusetts this weekend, and she brought with her Christmas presents for me. And one of those presents, given to me today on Poe’s 206th anniversary of his birth, was Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems.