April 30, 2012
Edgar Allan Poe’s Beliefs about the Afterlife
What exactly is Poe trying to tell us about the afterlife? Is he saying one even exists? And if so, what are his thoughts about Heaven and Hell? Speculations could be made about Poe’s beliefs in the afterlife due to much of his stories implying the existence of an afterlife or at least the thought of an afterlife. There have also been books written solely as psycho-analytic interpretations of his work which delve deeper into his thought processes as he wrote these tales. It’s tempting to think that Poe believed in an afterlife as well as a Heaven and a Hell with only the text from his own tales as evidence, but there is also the possibility that in his whole life he still had no clear understanding of an afterlife or Heaven nor Hell, and he included the afterlife in a select number of his tales merely as a way of coping with the loss of his own loved ones. While there is no definite way of knowing whether he believed in an afterlife or not since it’s impossible to ask Poe himself, what we can do is take a closer look into a select number of his stories and some works of other scholars as well, and we can come to a strongly supported theory that comes pretty close.
Annabel Lee is a short, yet fascinating poem about young love and a love lost. In Annabel Lee, the narrator describes a love that he and the young maiden Annabel Lee have for each other as so great the angels in heaven blow a cold wind out of a cloud that makes Annabel Lee sick and eventually kills her. But their love is so great that no one on earth, heaven, or hell can separate their souls from each other, not even death. The use of an afterlife in this piece is obvious since the angels in heaven were the ones who took the narrator’s loved ones away from him. “Yes! --- that was the reason (as all men know, Sanchez 2
In this Kingdom by the sea) That the wind came out of the cloud by night, Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.” One could also argue that this poem was written as Poe’s personal way of coping with the loss of his wife Virginia Clemm. Poe is known for integrating his real-life experiences into most of his works, so Annabel Lee and the narrator symbolizing the relationship between Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm even after death is a definite possibility.
Spirits of the Dead is another short poem about a conversation between the spirit of a dead man and another man visiting his tombstone. In Spirits of the Dead, the soul of the dead man basically tells the man visiting him that the people you know in life, you will know in death as well. No clear afterlife statement is given in this piece but it strongly implies that you will reunite with all of your loved ones in death, possibly an afterlife. “Thy soul shall find itself alone ‘Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone--- Not one, of all the crowd, to pry Into thine hour of secrecy. Be silent in that solitude Which is not loneliness, for then The spirits of the dead who stood In life before thee are again In death around thee, and their will Shall overshadow thee: be still.” Once again, the argument could be made that the spirit in Spirits of the Dead could symbolize Poe’s own consciousness. If this were the case (which is definitely possible), then this story could have been written as Poe’s own way of comforting himself with the death of his wife and all other people he lost in his lifetime. Also, if this were the case, the existence of an afterlife is definitely implied since all spirits separated from their bodies would have to exist somewhere or someplace.
The Colloquy of Monos and Una is a strange tale in that the afterlife is present for the whole duration of the story. Monos had dies and left his lover Una behind yet feels her presence at times. It’s also weird and important to note that Monos was glad he had died during the story. Towards the end of the...