RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Poe's genius overcame a sad, sometimes scabby life

Once upon a noonday bright, while I drove, both weak and bleary,
While I zoned out, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As something strange came gently rapping, rapping like a woodpecker sapping,
Rapping ‘neath my engine hood.
“‘ Tis some quirk,” I muttered, “tapping deep within my Ford –
“Just a noise and nothing more, just a tap that’s best ignored.”

I have seen the Edgar Allan Poe museum here before, but some things you can do more than once and enjoy.
Besides, my old van is at 213,000 miles and needs to rest every few hours now, and so do I. This stop seemed as convenient as any and lots more interesting than a shopping mall.
I like Poe’s poetry, dark as his life, and admire any writer who could keep at it after inspiring such mean reviews. Most scribes would curl up and die after being savaged by occupational cohorts. Poe never quit.
Mark Twain said he would read Poe’s work only “on salary,” and Emerson called Poe “the jingle man.” Poe lived and died poor and nearly friendless, gambling and drinking his way through several failed publishing ventures, the death of his wife and persistent depressions. His poetry, especially “The Raven,” was famous, and so was he. Somehow that didn’t translate into a living wage.
Poe came by his dark view honestly. He was born the son of traveling actors. His father deserted the family, and his mother died before Poe was 3. A rich man named John Allan took Poe in, but failed to adopt him. Allan and his foster child parted ways when Poe ran up a hefty gambling debt. At least the wealthy Allan saw to Poe’s education and baptized him with the now-famous middle name.
I bought matches in the gift shop and paid the geezer rate to tour the collection of houses that never housed Poe. (He lived in several Richmond houses, all of which were torn down.) Even so, the museum is fascinating. There’s a lock of Poe’s hair, an original manuscript and lots of Poe portraits by artists who had no idea what he looked like.
A dark life is often an interesting life, and rarely does a fat, happy, family man write beautiful poetry. Poe paid the tremendous price of literary immortality, and evidence of those lifelong payments are everywhere in this quirky little museum. There are traveling trunks and failed literary journals and a portrait of his wife who died young. Heavy, macabre stuff.
As I finally drive away in a Ford that’s knock, knock, knocking, I’m grateful for geniuses like Poe who use a sad life as grist for the creative mill, who scab over again and again for the sake of their art, who refuse to throw up their hands and throw down the pen and say, “Nevermore!”

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

NEMS Daily Journal

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