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Does Sorrow Help to Shape a Great Poet?

When he was a young boy, Edgar Allan Poe’s father left his young family. Not long after, Poe’s mother died. Sorrow and death, coupled with separation and loss, became Poe’s companions during his life’s journey. They also became themes in his written works.

Poe’s parents were actors, and his mother was known to audiences as “an enchanting creature.” Actors in the early 19th century, however, were members of a low-paying profession. Poe’s family was therefore poor.

Eliza Poe became ill with tuberculosis (called “consumption” at the time) which ravaged her body. Coughing-up blood was just the first of many symptoms she endured and her small children observed.

Why is "acting" such a celebrated profession today compared to its status in the early 19th century?

What might explain that drastic change in attitude—from condescension to elevation?

What might explain the 19th-century use of the word "consumption" to describe tuberculosis?

What does Poe mean when he writes that he "could not bring my passions from a common spring?"

Do you think Poe’s life circumstances helped him to become a poet? Why, or why not?

Do you think the overwhelming emotional environment, in which Poe spent his childhood, shaped him into a poet whose themes still resonate with 21st-century people?


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