Wanderlust Through Words

Poe’s fascination with the international world can be traced throughout his literary career. The author’s interest in countries across the globe is intriguing given that Poe appears to have had very little familiarity with the countries about which he wrote. Although he attended school in London between the ages of 6 and 11, no evidence exists that he visited countries such as Greece and France. A number of reasons exist to explain how and why Poe explored both remote countries and otherworldly realms in his texts including but not limited to, his desire to travel and explore, to escape from his physical surroundings, a yearning for his childhood and perhaps, a wish to connect with his past…

ligeia

Edgar Allan Poe. “Ligeia.” The American Museum of Literature and the Arts. September 1838. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

In Poe’s short story “Ligeia,” the narrator references Germany, Switzerland or France when he describes how he met his first wife Ligeia “in some large, old decaying city near the Rhine.” Poe’s reference to this region and later to England are telling of his wanderlust and perhaps indicative of his wish to reconnect with his birth family’s affluent background as his birth mother moved from England to the United States.

We are confronted with a similar situation in his first mystery titled The Murders In The Rue Morgue, as the speaker mentions “an obscure library in the Rue Montmartre,” “a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg St. Germain,” “a long street in the vicinity of the Palais Royal,” and a “quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis.” (Giordano) The landmarks Poe chose to reference in The Murders In The Rue Morgue are located in some of Paris’ most wealthy and renowned neighbourhoods, which would be compelling for a tourist and for someone grasping for a connection to an aristocratic past.

Edgar Allan Poe, page from manuscript of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

Edgar Allan Poe. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe. Philadelphia: William H. Graham, 1843. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

Poe’s poems appear to be equally focused on the international world, specifically the Mediterranean, as he describes the island of Zante in Greece in his poem titled “To Zante” and the Coliseum in Rome in his poem titled “The Coliseum” in impressive amounts of detail. In the former poem, the speaker exclaims, “Type of the antique Rome! Rich reliquary of lofty contemplation left to Time by buried centuries of pomp and power!” and in the latter, the narrator recounts his time spent in Zante when saying, “How many memories of what radiant hours at sight of thine at once awake, and ends up the poem remembering the “fair isle’s enameled shore.”

Edgar Allan Poe, manuscript of “To Zante” November 6, 1840. Philadelphia. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

Edgar Allan Poe. “The Coliseum.” The Poets and Poetry of America, edited by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1842. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

Both Zante and the Coliseum are described as being romantic places that evoke feelings of wonder and love which may be explained by the fact that Poe began experiencing financial troubles at this time and was possibly trying to escape from his actual life circumstances through these pieces. Indeed, his reference to Al Aaraaf, the Islamic version of purgatory, in his poem titled Al Aaraaf, is suggestive of a man trying to escape as the speaker spends the majority of the text exploring an otherworldly realm. The narrator mentions, “a mountain of enamell’d head – such as the drowsy shepherd on his bed of giant pasturage lying at his ease” which appears otherworldly because of the image of a relaxed shepherd lying relaxedly on a snowy mountain that is conjured.

al-aaraaf

Edgar Allan Poe. Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. Baltimore: Hatch and Dunning, 1829. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.

Poe’s numerous references to places outside the United States with which he had little to no actual familiarity reveal his awareness and fascination with a world that extended beyond his own and perhaps, a desire to reconnect or escape. However, Poe’s lack of travel experience and use of place-specific details raise the question of how he gained this insight, paving the way for a new exhibition in itself…

 

Works Cited:

“Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829).” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore – Works – Editions – Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829). N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Edgar Allan Poe, “First page of “Murders in the Rue Morgue”,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017, From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/718.

Edgar Allan Poe, “First page of “Murders in the Rue Morgue”,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017, From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/717.

Edgar Allan Poe, “Title page,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017,From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/687.

Edgar Allan Poe, “First page of “Ligeia”,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017,From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/646.

Edgar Allan Poe, “”To Zante”,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017, From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/653.

Giordano, Robert. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe.” Poestories. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Rufus Wilmot Griswold, “”The Coliseum”,” Exhibits: The Sheridan Libraries and Museums, accessed February 12, 2017, From The Susan Jaffe Tane Collection. http://exhibits.library.jhu.edu/items/show/648.

“Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Al Aaraaf” (Text-C), Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems (1829), pp. 13-38.” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore – Works – Poems – Al Aaraaf (Text-C). N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

 

 

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