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Al Aaraaf and West Point

May 1829 - March 1831


Edgar left the army on April 15, 1829, with letters of recommendation from Lieutenant Howard and two other officers where they promised that Edgar was a good man who was well educated. He went back to Richmond and set to work at becoming a cadet. John Allan helped him in getting letters of recommendations from people in high places and also wrote one himself - he did, however, make it clear that Edgar was of no relation to him whatsoever. In May, Edgar brought his application to Washington and he was told that there were forty-seven people ahead of him on the waiting list, but drop-outs from the list was expected so Edgar still had some hope of joining in September.
Instead of going back to Richmond, Edgar headed to his father's family in Baltimore. In July he walked the thirty miles back to Washington and he learned that he still had a chance of getting in by September but if he didn't, he was promised to be first in line for admission in June the following year. Considering a possible delay of one year he returned to Baltimore.
As time went by without Edgar getting admitted, John Allan grew impatient. John Allan found Edgar lazy and accused him of having misled him. Edgar of course denied all this and said that he had done all he could. The reviving quarrel was later fed by Edgar's problem with money. In May John Allan sent Edgar $100 but one month later Edgar wrote back and asked from more since he had been robbed and needed money to pay for his replacement in the Army.
Edgar got acquainted with a man named William Wirt whom he asked for an opinion on a new poem entitled "Al Aaraaf" which had already been published partly under the pseudonym "Marlow". Wirt was a celebrated author but had not written any poetry and felt unqualified for judging Edgar's poem and advised him to bring it to a literary critic in Philadelphia. Edgar then went to Philadelphia, not considering John Allan's advice to be careful with his money, and showed the poem to the editor of American Quarterly Review, Robert Walsh. Walsh told Edgar that the chances of getting a poem published in America was very small but he promised to notice "Al Aaraaf" if it appeared.
As Edgar came back to Baltimore he wrote to John Allan asking for financial support to get his work published. It was very common back then to cover the possible losses yourself when publishing. John Allan was not totally opposed to the idea of Edgar getting his poems published and even asked to see the manuscript but in the reply to the letter there was written: "strongly censuring his conduct -- & refusing any aid". This answer was quite predictable considering Edgar's frequent requests for money. John Allan was on top of that also feeling ill and nervous after Fanny's death and he had also got involved with a woman named Elizabeth Wills (it was known later that she would be the mother of their illegimate twins). In July, John Allan wrote Edgar explaining "I am not particularly anxious to see you". Edgar replied and tried to draw a good picture of himself but as so many times before John Allan did not reply to his letters. In July Allan sent some money, but he still said that Edgar was not wanted at Moldavia. John Allan also sent $80 in November after numerous requests and Edgar was very thankful but still asked for more.

Al Aaraaf

While in Baltimore Edgar continued his work with his poetry and he sent one of his poems to American Monthly which published parts of it as a laughable example of its "sickly rhymes". To Edgar's delight it was published again by the editor of The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette, John Neal (sometimes nicknamed Jehu O'Cataract). He described Edgar's efforts as "though nonsense, rather exquisite nonsense" and he thought good of Edgar's future as a poet. Edgar was very pleased to read this and said that it was "the very first words of encouragement I ever remembered to have heard" and he began writing to Neal on a regular basis explaining what a good poet he was etc.
Later on, in mid-November Edgar found a publisher for his new volume of poems in a Baltimore firm called Hatch and Dunning. It is not known whether they were supported by John Allan financially but they offered to print 250 copies of it. The book finally appeared in December as "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems". This time the book was not published anonymously but it was signed Edgar A. Poe, the middle initial acknowledging but disowning John Allan's name. From this day this would be the way he would sign all his works.
In this book Edgar had reproduced Tamerlane, made it more easy to read and shortened it down by about 150 lines and cutting down on the Byronic influences. Edgar told Neal that most of the poems were written before Edgar was fifteen, which was probably not true. However, these poems showed of a wider range of skills than the first book and showed of new poetic influences (e.g. John Milton's).
The major poem of the book, "Al Aaraaf", was inspired by Tycho Brahe's discovery of a nova back in 1572 which was visible for about sixteen months. This nova was merged with Al Aaraaf which is the place between paradise and hell where people who have not been neither markedly good nor markedly bad had to stay until forgiven by God and let in to Paradise, as depicted in the Koran. In part one God commands the angel Nesace, "ruler" of Al Aaraaf, to convey a message to "other worlds". In part two Nesace rouses the angel Ligeia, and bids her to awaken the other thousand seraphs to perform God's embassy. Two souls however, fail to respond: the "maiden-angel" Ianthe and her "seraph-lover" Angelo (Michelangelo), who describes his death on earth and the flight of his spirit to Al Aaraaf.
The poem is a heavy mix of historical facts, pure imagination and religious mythology. Edgar was perhaps too ambitious to get it all in there since it made a complex mixture that was hard to grasp. The poem is also syntactically complex and it can be hard to find a rhythm when reading it. Considering all this it was not surprising that Edgar left it unfinished. To summarize it can be said that it is mainly about the afterlife, Ideal Love, and Ideal Beauty to passion. A Baltimore reviewer wrote: "all our brain-cudgelling could not compel us to understand it". This book however, unlike Tamerlane, brought Edgar some small public attention, it was reviewed in at least four different publications and some of the criticism was good, and the work was even described as "highly creditable to the Country".

West Point

In the Spring of 1830 Edgar gained admission to West Point. He was appointed to a cadetship beginning in June. He signed on for five years of duty to the United States unless sooner discharged. Before entering West Point he spent some time in Moldavia and living this close to John Allan was asking for trouble, they were quarelling as usual. Before Edgar left, John Allan bought Edgar four blankets and saw him to the steamer which might show of a sign of good will from the two but as soon as Edgar got to West Point in mid-June Allan wrote him and accused him for stealing some of Allan's books. Edgar denied of course.
The barracks were located on the highlands looking down onto the Hudson River about fifty miles from New York City. The new cadets were sent out in the field, and they were trained in using arms and field work. At the end of August Edgar and the corps moved to the barracks to begin their academic education. They were adviced to gain expertise in few subjects rather than skimming the surface of several, so Edgar took only French and Mathematics. In October he was ranked as one of the "Best" in French and in November also in Maths. In the general examination in January he distinguished himself again - he placed himself as seventeenth in Maths and third in French. After these examinations the class had diminished from originally 130 cadets to 87 (of which 24 would finally graduate)
By his classmates Edgar was considered interesting and amusing. He drew a picture of himself as adventurous and cursed from birth and exaggerated heavily. He amused the cadets by performing acts of horror and making fun of their instructors - among others, Lieutenant Joseph Locke whose duty was to report cadet's violations of regulations:

John Locke was a notable name;
Joe Locke is a greater; in short,
The former was well known to fame,
But the latter's well known "to report."

Edgar was doing fine at West Point, as he had in the Army, but the news that John Allan had remarried a twenty year younger woman named Louisa Gabriella Patterson upset him. He felt as if he would be kept out of John Allan's life and wrote to him in a friendly manner asking for some books and, of course, some money. His fears was confirmed at the end of the year when Allan sent what he called his final letter stating that he desired "no further communication with yourself on my part". On January the third Edgar replied with the longest letter he had ever written. Four pages with a sarcastic and furious tone where he accused John Allan for not keeping his promises and blaming him for his debts at the University since he did not provide well enough, "it was my crime to have no one on Earth who cared for me, or loved me". Edgar also expressed that he felt that John Allan had taken him away from a better life which he could have had with his grandfather if Allan had not adopted him. He wrote that he thought that John Allan had not cared for him after Fanny's death but had sent him to West Point a beggar - once again to drive him into debts.

"If she had not have died while I was away there would have been nothing for me to regret -- Your love I never valued -- but she I believe loved me as her own child."

Edgar wanted out of West Point but for this he needed Allan's written permission and he later said that if John Allan would not reply to his letters he would neglect his studies until he did. John Allan did not reply to his letter but he wrote on the backside of it that is was "the most barefaced one-sided statement". Edgar did as he promised and in September he appeared on a list of cadets who had committed most offenses that month. He rapidly dropped in his class and became the 74th out of 86 students. In January 1831 he had 66 offenses compared to the second on the list who had 21 (!).
On January 28, a court-martial convened at the academy and Edgar faced two charges, each with several specifications. Edgar pleaded guilty to all but the first specification of the first charge. The court found him guilty on all charges and that meant "that the cadet EA Poe be dismissed from the service of the United States". Edgar remained for a while and he managed to get 131 out of 232 cadets to put up $1.25 to cover the cost of printing a new edition of his poems.
Edgar left West Point on the 19th of February and headed for New York City. He was thinly clad and soon became ill and said to John Allan; "I hardly know what I am writing". Somehow he managed to make a living and it is not known where he stayed during these months but eventually he returned to Baltimore to settle among his father's family.

"Mr. Allan has married again and I no longer look upon Richmond as my place of residence"


Last modified: February 07 2006 19:05:39.