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Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe -- Who Never Visited San Francisco and May Never Even Have Thought of It -- Would be 200 Today

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 6:00 AM

It seems so right. It should have been true. Edgar Allan Poe, his jaw taut and his eyes bloodshot, ought to have been wandering along a foggy San Francisco alley upon a midnight dreary, pondering weak and weary.

Alas, 'twas not the case. Poe -- who would have been 200 today (and barely made a fifth of that in his mortal coil) -- did not leave his Telltale Heart in San Francisco.

Since we don't trust Wikipedia, we called the Poe Museum in Richmond, Va. and spoke with tourguide Keith Kaulfelt, who assured us that Poe likely never even left the East Coast. He was born in Boston and tagged allong with his actress mother until her death in Richmond when he was still a toddler. He was then raised in the future capital of the Confederacy by the Allan family (which is why he is Edgar Allan Poe) and spent time in New York, Philadelphia and, of course, Baltimore. He found time to marry his 13-year-old cousin before dying in 1849.

The closest Poe ever came to The City was in 2007, when the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Baltimore Ravens -- certainly the only American professional team to have its name inspired by a poem (with the possible exception of the Trenton Grecian Urns). It was a dreary day for all involved; the home side lost 9-7.

For what it's worth, however, Poe did pen this poem, "The City in the Sea," with several San Francisco-like references:

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently-
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
Up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
Up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol's diamond eye-
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass-
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea-
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide-
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
The hours are breathing faint and low-
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

-The End-
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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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