Edgar Allan Poe: dead, but still kicking

[READ COLUMN IN THE CAVALIER DAILY]

One thing I’ve noticed about the University is the great respect it gives to its mentally deranged student demographic, the one driven by severe sleep deprivation, manic depression and a proclivity for being named John Nelson.

Totally kidding on that last one, of course. But not really. I don’t know the guy, but I hear he’s in charge of some self-righteous political organization, thus automatically making him kind of a tool and worthy of some serious, ungrounded heat from the belligerent media.

But I’m a nice guy, so I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’d like to look back on the legacy of the University’s first mentally unstable student, the great Edgar Allan Poe, whose 200th birthday the University library is honoring this year with a special exhibition portraying the author’s enduring influence. To conclude the exhibition’s opening ceremony, one University official eloquently put forth the significance of the bicentennial, noting, “If Poe were alive today, he would be one decrepit-looking old dude.”

The University’s perennial respect and appreciation for the famous poet is quite understandable, as Poe spent almost an entire eight months on Grounds building upon his gambling debt, drinking heavily and doing next to nothing productive.

Records indicate that besides attending the occasional class, he rarely ever emerged from his room on the West Range, only doing so for the purpose of frightening his colleagues with his distorted facial features. His massive forehead, which had roughly the same surface area as Rosie O’Donnell, led his classmates to affectionately call him “Ed the Forehead.” A few of his teachers caught on to the hilarity of the nickname, calling him “Mr. Forehead” in class.

Poe’s response to the humiliation consisted of not only the creation of several disturbing short stories about murder and talking birds, but also the writing of a letter to the University’s founder, Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself. The letter complained that he should not be ridiculed for his “birth defect,” going so far as suggesting the abusive teachers should be punished with “mass executions on the Lawn at the hands of those exceedingly rabid squirrels and perhaps some man-eating crows.” To his dismay, Mr. Jefferson’s reply was addressed “Dear Mr. Forehead, I dare say you need to chill the eff out, you diminutive ogre.”

Poe left the University six days later, citing “gambling debts” and “a weak football conference” as his main reasons for leaving.

Despite the setback, Poe would go on to do great things, starting with his happy marriage in 1829 to his 13-year-old first cousin, Virginia Clemm. Friends and family members reacted appropriately to the 27-year-old’s questionable decision, saying things like “Really, Ed? Really?” and “Why, Edward, she has scarcely hit puberty!” Resisting his family’s concerns and ignoring his seventh-grade wife’s steadfast penchant for Chuck E. Cheese, Poe valiantly went forth and became the first man to try to earn a living through writing alone, a brave attempt that many years later would delude English majors everywhere into thinking they could come out of college and obtain successful jobs despite not having any useful skills.

Needless to say, his sole dependence on writing gave way to a financially troubling life and career, eventually climaxing with his apparent suicide. His path from writing to depression to suicide proved inspirational to many, as countless writers down the road would go on to do the same.

Poe is also credited with starting the trend of delayed literary appreciation, in which people don’t give a rip about a person’s writing until many years after they are dead. Like so many writers after him, Poe was way more successful as a dead guy than he ever was a living guy. Largely ignored during his lifetime, Poe was rapidly elevated from creepy, disturbing drunkard to larger-than-life literary sensation some 50 years after his death when some dude read one of his stories and claimed that it was, in fact, pretty good, and that the story’s author should probably be pretty famous. Shortly thereafter, Edgar Allan Poe became a household name, as millions of copies of his works were sold, making Poe one of the wealthiest poverty-stricken dead people of all time. It also made him one of the most pissed-off dead guys ever.

Such a reflection on this infamous old man makes me wonder how he would have fared as a student at the present-day University. For starters, he would certainly not have the kind of flawless credentials possessed by today’s Lawnies, so he definitely would not even live near the Lawn. Rather, he would undoubtedly live just about as far away as humanly possible from that sublime location, instead residing in a place where all the other crazies of this school spend their days under attack by crazed turkeys — Gooch/Dillard. Maybe one night, he would tire of the building’s war against the turkeys and venture out to a frat party, where he could indulge in his love of booze.

I can see it now. A few hours into the party, a frat brother approaches Poe and says, “Yo, wut up, Eddie Money?”

“Nevermore, you murderous swine!” Poe stutters.

“Say what, brah?”

“Do you not hear it, you imbecile?! ‘Tis the beating of his cursed heart! I can take it no more!”

Annoyed, the fratstar turns to some of his brothers and says, “Damn it, broskis! What did I say about letting The Forehead near the punch? You just don’t do it!”

By his life’s end, the remarkable achievements of Poe were so numerous that many of them continue to go unnoticed to this day. For instance, did you know that he correctly predicted the Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XXXV? Ironically, he was chastised by his friends for the bold prediction, mostly because football had not yet been invented so no one knew what he was talking about. His accomplishments, however, are not just constrained to his living years. Just last year, for example, Poe was ranked No. 3 in Us Weekly’s list of the 50 Biggest Creepers of All Time, ranking behind Carrot Top and John Wilkes Booth.

So, Edward, if you can hear me from the grave, I’d just like to say that my classmates and I continue to look upon you with awe — mostly because you married your 13-year-old cousin, to be honest. I mean, come on man, that’s pretty messed up. But besides that, you were an amazing man, and as an English major, I will strive to match your success through writing. At least after I’m dead, that is.

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