‘Edgar Allan Poe’ by Timothy Thomas Fortune is a fourteen-line sonnet that is contained within one block of text. The poem does not follow a standard rhyming pattern. Fortune has chosen to take from two of the best-known sonnets types to craft his own. It follows a rhyme scheme of abbabaabcdcdee. This poem can be separated into three distinct sections. The first eight lines, or octave, the following four, or quatrain, and the concluding two-line couplet.
Fortune has utilized and altered the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet in the first eight lines, as well as in the following four. In a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, the lines traditionally rhyme, abbaabba. They are then followed with a variation of cdcdcd or possibly cdecde. In this case, Fortune has reused the ‘a’ and ‘b’ rhymes but changed their order. He has also cut the sestet short by concluding the poem with a rhyming couplet. While this type of ending could be seen in a variant of a Petrarchan sonnet, it is more commonly seen within Shakespearean sonnets.
A reader should also take note of the fact that this piece can be read as both a eulogy, or song for the dead, and a paean, or a song of praise, in this case for someone’s life. This someone is of course Edgar Allan Poe who was known in life more for his short stories than for his poetry/verse. The poem’s speaker, who is likely Fortune himself, is celebrating Poe’s life through his text.
The mood and tone of this piece are both cheerful and somewhat dreamy. Fortune brings his own enthusiasm and crafts a speaker who has nothing but praise for Edgar Allan Poe. An image of light, representing the warmth of the sun as well as hope, is seen throughout. By the end Poe has returned to his “mother element” which may be regarded as a warm and bright afterlife.
Summary of Edgar Allan Poe
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is from the same area as Poe. This is perhaps why he feels such an intimate connection to him. It is likely that the speaker and Timothy Thomas Fortune are one and the same, considering where they both spent most of their lives. The speaker professes to love Poe, even in the writer’s darker moments.
As the text continues the speaker’s praise of Poe becomes more grandiose and romanticized. He celebrates the path Poe tried his best to walk during his lifetime and the skill of his song. The poem concludes with the speaker acknowledging that Poe is dead. His “echo” has returned from the world it originated from.
Read more poetry by Timothy Thomas Fortune.
Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe
I know not why, but it is true—it may,
In some way, be because he was a child
Of the fierce sun where I first wept and smiled—
I love the dark-browed Poe. His feverish day
The speaker begins this piece with a statement declaring that does not “know…why” something is the case. This is an interesting way start to a piece as a reader is instinctually compelled to look further into the text to try to discover what “it” refers to. One is immediately told that there is a man, a “he,” who the speaker is compelled by. This person, who is soon revealed to be Edgar Allan Poe, holds an important place within the speaker’s mind. He is unsure why this is the case but makes a guess in the first stanza that it has something to do with their both coming from under the same “fierce sun.” With some investigating, one can come to the conclusion that Fortune is the intended speaker of this piece.
Both he and Poe were from the same area of the north-eastern United States. Fortune lived in Delaware, New York, and eventually died in New Jersey. While Poe was born in Massachusetts and died in Maryland. Although not from the same city or state, they would’ve experienced the same environments and types of people. The speaker is making an intimate connection between himself as a child and the life he sees Poe as having led.
Fortune was not born until almost ten years after Poe’s death at the age of forty-nine. This gives the eulogy a distance that allows for the elaborate praise and unrelenting devotion to the former writer. There is no hint of Poe as a real person. To Fortune, or to his speaker, Poe is a figurehead—the ultimate role model for an aspiring writer.
The first set of lines concludes with the speaker stating that he “love[s] the dark-browed Poe.” Here he is calling attention to Poe’s complexion and the general air of darkness that surrounded him in life and after death. He is not put off by this feature in the least. It makes Poe all the more interesting.
Was spent in dreams inspired, that him beguiled,
When not along his path shone forth one ray
Of light, of hope, to guide him on the way,
That to earth’s cares he might be reconciled.
The next four lines of the poem lead a reader, through enjambment, into the fifth line. Fortune cut the text off after the word “day,” an unnatural stopping point. This forces a reader forward and into the rest of the narrative. He is describing how Poe’s “feverish,” meaning both sick and restless, “day” was filled with inspiring dreams. Here again, is another example of the speaker elevating Poe to the highest level possible. There is a steady romanticization of Poe’s life.
Next, the speaker describes how Poe was “beguiled” by his own path and the “dreams” that were set upon it. There were times he was “not along his path.” Whenever this happened “one ray” of life guided him back to where he needed to be. It represented “hope” and was there to try to ease Poe’s life. The speaker makes a vague reference to the “earth’s care.” This is the only mention of Poe’s own problems in his everyday life involving loss, alcohol, and poverty.
Not one of all Columbia’s tuneful choir
Has pitched his notes to such a matchless key
As Poe—the wizard of the Orphic lyre!
Not one has dreamed, has sung, such songs as he,
In the next section of lines, the rhyme scheme changes and becomes even more celebratory of the life Poe led. No matter the darker facts of the poet’s life, Fortune’s speaker is able to see past them and praise Poe for what he accomplished. His deeds are said to have reached a “key” that is “matchless.” No one, not even “all Columbia’s tuneful choir” is able to sing with the same skill as Poe wrote. It is unclear what “choir” it was that Fortune is referring to. It is enough though to know that they possessed a respectable level of skill that is not normally surpassed.
In the next two lines, the speaker describes Poe as being the “wizard of the Orphic lyre.” This is a reference to the legendary musician from Greek mythology, Orpheus, and the “lyre” he played. Orpheus was also known as a poet and is praised throughout various stories for his ability to entrance all living things with his music. Poe is as good, if not better than Orpheus at charming people, animals, and objects alike. The last line concludes this section of the poem and sums up the speaker’s opinions. There is “Not one” other person on the planet who has done as well as Poe has.
Who, like an echo came, an echo went,
Singing, back to his mother element.
In the last two lines, it becomes clear, if it was not already, that this is indeed a eulogy. Poe is dead and the speaker addresses this fact by describing his entrance into and exit from the world as an “echo.” His sound moved melodiously through many lives and then returned “to his mother element.”