Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edgar Allen Poe's grave

Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence– whether much that is glorious– whether all that is profound– does not spring from disease of thought– from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect."

~ Edgar Allen Poe, from"Eleonora"

I arrived in Baltimore today, where the boat is docked for the next ten days. The first thing I did was hop on my bike and check out Poe's grave. Last week marked the 159th anniversary of his death. There's a lot of mystery surrounding Poe's death, and it's possible that he had a brain tumor. This new premise by a Harvard scholar who wrote a novel called The Poe Shadow seems plausible.

Poe is buried at the Westminster Hall Burying Ground, which surrounds Westminster Hall, a converted Gothic Presbyterian Church.

The grave, church, and cemetery are now owned by the University of Maryland's Law School. I was impressed by the info displayed at the site.

Poe is one of my favorite writers and I planned on writing my Master's thesis on how his addiction to laudanum affected his writing. My premise was that his heavy use of this liquid form of opium -- which causes hyperesthesia, or an abnormal increase in sensitivity to stimuli of the senses--explains the plethora of references to minute sensory details in his work.
"Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?" (The Tell Tale Heart).
My idea was met with enthusiasm and encouragement by a Harvard Ph.D. who was also an MLA scholar, so I thought it would get the green light for sure. But when I presented my argument to the department head, she shot down the idea because I wasn't an M.D. and therefore had no authority to be arguing about medical conditions. What a disappointing response. If I were an M.D., why the hell would I be writing a thesis in Literature in my spare time? Perhaps one day I will write the damn essay anyhow.

Back to the grave. Here's his cousin-slash-wife, who is buried at the grave too. First cousins? Thirteen years old? Perhaps for crazy alcoholic writers, anything goes.

No comments: