Saturday, March 11, 2006

Death Series: Edgar Allan Poe

Some of our OG fans may have slight death fixations. But we know for sure that Edgar Allan Poe had a doozie of a death fixation. It was his constant theme
To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes that has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. That it was frequently, very frequently, so fallen, will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from Death, are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called. They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul?

[Poe goes on to describe a case of premature burial.]

The lady was deposited in her family vault, which, for three subsequent years, was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term, it was opened for the reception of a sarcophagus;--but, alas! How fearful a shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the door. As its portals swung outwardly back, some white appareled object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in her yet unmouldered shroud.

A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived within two days after her intombment—that her struggles within the coffin had caused it to fall from a ledge, or shelf, to the floor, where it was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been accidentally left, full of oil, within the tomb, was found empty; it might have been exhausted, however, by evaporation. On the uppermost of the steps which led down into the dread chamber, was a large fragment of the coffin, with which it seemed that she had endeavored to arrest attention, by striking the iron door. While thus occupied, she probably swooned, or possibly died, through sheer terror; and in falling, her shroud became entangled in some iron work which projected interiorly. Thus she remained, and thus she rotted, erect.
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial” (1844).

Poe’s obsession bled easily into the realm of necrophilia, especially in stories such as “Morella”, “Berenice”, and “Ligeia”, all of which deal with one of Poe’s very favorite topics: the death of a beautiful woman. He called this subject “the most poetical topic in the world.” We promise a fuller discussion of sex and death in a later post. We promise. It will be good. Full of sex and death and many petit morts.

Poe himself died under bizarre circumstances, deliriously wandering the streets of Baltimore, in clothes that were not his own, muttering the name “Reynolds”.

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