Text: William F. Hecker III, “Private Perry and Mister Poe,” The West Point Poems, Facsimile Edition, Louisiana State University Press, 2005, pp. xvii-lxxv (This material is protected by copyright)


[page xvii:]


Private Perry and Mister Poe

EDGAR ALLAN POE enjoys a shadowy but surprisingly enduring presence at the cultural heart of the United States Army, the Military Academy at West Point. The Academy officially recognizes Poe as an important part of its cultural heritage in several ways. In honor of the centennial of the poet's birth, West Point erected a marble doorway that emphasizes Poe's romantic genius.(1) Further, West Point's Association of Graduates honors Poe with an uncharacteristically lengthy biographical entry in its periodically published catalog of both graduates and former nongraduating cadets that declares him “one of the great lyric poets ever to write in English.”(2) The Military Academy's alumni magazine, Assembly, occasionally makes Poe the subject of its articles. Recently, Assembly offered the following anecdote as evidence of West Point's Poe heritage: “Poe's fondness for nocturnal visits to Benny's [a local tavern] caused him much trouble. Poe became notorious for cutting mandatory drills and classes. Another tale is told of Poe stumbling back to his barracks one night and sprawling supine on the steps of his tactical officer's quarters. When the tactical officer awoke and inquired as [page xviii:] to who might be present outside his door, Poe allegedly responded in verse: ‘On Linden when the sun was low / All bloodless lay the untrodden snow / And dark as winter was the flow / Of I SIR, rolling rapidly!” The same article asserts that Poe's frequent trips to this tavern were largely responsible for his subsequent court-martial and dismissal from the West Point's Corps of Cadets.(3)

If West Point's official view of Edgar Allan Poe quietly emphasizes the rebellious aspects of his persona, the unofficial stories that circulate among current cadets and graduates are positively anarchic. As a young boy who enjoyed the stories told by a great-uncle who graduated from the class of 1924 and a father who graduated in 1965, I recall one holiday discussion in the mid-1980s that turned to the infamous ex-cadet. Both father and great-uncle agreed that Poe had been dismissed for an uncontrollable urge to hurl baked potatoes across the Academy mess hall. As a cadet myself from 1987 to 1991, I concluded, after consulting various classmates, that West Point dismissed the poet for reporting to a parade naked except for his crossed white ammunition belts and hat. As an assistant professor of English at West Point from 2000 to 2003, I informally polled my students about their knowledge of Poe's cadet career. In addition to the anecdotes related above, I found that several other tales about the poet circulate as well. The most notable of these stories, told by an entertainingly earnest young cadet, asserted that Poe, in a fit of rage, threw his tactical officer off a cliff into the Hudson River and was subsequently charged with murder. Surely, [page xix:] the continued circulation of such raucous Poe mythology suggests that the poet complicates the ways in which the American military understands itself.

As entertaining as the military's construction of Poe seems, these legends are useful only to people trying to understand the mythos surrounding West Point and the military. Such tales have little basis in historical fact and add little to our understanding of either Edgar Allan Poe or his writings. The military's enthusiastic distortion of Cadet Poe's time at West Point and its odd adoption of Poe as a favorite black sheep have served as dead ends to researchers trying to make sense of Poe's early adult life.

Poe's prominent modern biographers, Arthur Hobson Quinn, Kenneth Silverman, and Jeffery Meyers, suggest that the void of material about Poe's military career means that this episode of his life had little impact on his later writing.(4) Quinn cursorily provides the basic information about the poet's postings and promotions from Poe's official army record, but fails to dig deeper into the poet's military experience. His conclusions about Poe's army career are superficial: Poe must have been an “unhappy boy” who “intended to disappear,” and the regions in which Poe's artillery battery was stationed “made a lasting impression upon Poe.” Quinn eventually dismisses Poe's enlisted time out of hand, stating, “Poe had already decided that he was wasting his time in the Army.” Meyers maintains that Poe found his army enlistment a “complete dead end” and “desperately wanted to escape.” Despite this assertion, he also notes that Poe probably found a [page xx:] “challenging new experience,” escape from his “ambiguous social status,” and the “satisfaction of belonging to a group” in his enlistment. Kenneth Silverman offers the same biographical facts as Quinn, but provides a more thoughtful reading of their impact on Poe's life. Instead of concluding that Poe was unhappy, Silverman suggests that Poe's enlistment was “understandable,” citing as evidence “his grandfather's association with the Revolutionary army; his own earlier service in the Junior Morgan Riflemen; admiration for the martial ambitions of Byron and of Tamerlane; the prospect of familylike camaraderie?’ While he goes further than Quinn and Meyers in showing how the military filled some of Poe's psychological needs, Silverman still shares their understanding of his enlistment as a period of “interruption” in Poe's career: “Edgar felt that after two years he had had enough of the army.” Richard Wilbur, perhaps the highest-profile contemporary poet/critic concerned with Poe, uses military metaphors to explain Poe's poetic vision, but he never attempts to trace the appropriateness of the language back to the poet's military service.(5) Certainly any enlisted service by an educated American in that era was uncommon, so it comes as no surprise that critics dismiss the poet's army career as a biographical oddity; however, by not delving more deeply into the character of Poe's army and the training he received as a soldier, the literary community overlooks the possibility that the young poet's military experience might contribute to his poetic vision in important ways. [page xxi:]

A more thoughtful exploration of this period in Poe's life reveals that his military experience formed and reinforced key aspects of the aesthetic underlying his poetic vision. This introduction hopes to expose these connections and demonstrate their relevance to Poe criticism.


In October 1825, young Edgar Allan Poe participated in a parade and then stood inspection in a junior militiaman's uniform to honor the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. Quinn calls these Junior Morgan Riflemen an “organization of some importance.” Meyers names his participation in this group Poe's “first military experience.” Kenneth Silverman offers this event as evidence that Poe was “ambitious” and “desired to lead others.”(6) While Silverman and Quinn convincingly argue that young Edgar craved the recognition that comes with “command” in the public eye, a broader exploration of General Lafayette's 1824-25 triumphal tour finds that Poe actively joined a popular movement: a movement that celebrated the revolutionary and apocalyptic undercurrents in the American spirit.

As the generation of American revolutionaries began to pass from the national scene, President James Monroe repeatedly urged Lafayette to revisit the United States. In December 1823, Monroe suggested that Congress formally invite the old soldier to the United States. This resulted [page xxii:] in a January 1824 congressional resolution extending the courtesy of a “national ship (with suitable accommodations)” to bring the Marquis to American shores. Lafayette accepted the invitation from a nation that, according to Monroe, “ardently” desired to welcome Lafayette and began preparations to receive its distinguished visitor.(7)

Typical of these preparations was a series of resolutions passed unanimously by the New York Common Counsel on June 21, 1824. These resolutions included the following language: “Resolved, That a Committee of Five be appointed to prepare suitable apartments for his accommodation, and to furnish and Supply them, in a manner corresponding with the greatness and hospitality of our City, and the generous feelings of a free people.” This statement, inspired by a “highest esteem for the public and private virtues of the Marquis De Lafayette,” avoids celebrating the general himself. Instead of calling for quarters suitable for the general, the resolution demands arrangements that correspond to the “greatness and hospitality” of New York City and the “generous feelings” of the population.(8) The Marquis's revolutionary heroism lay in the past; the city celebrated its “greatness,” found only in the aftermath of the Revolution's violent culmination. Other cities and towns that Lafayette visited throughout the young United States feted the returning general in equally extravagant terms. Thus, Poe's participation in the October 1824 Lafayette review in Richmond not only filled the personal void posited by Silverman but also swept the [page xxiii:] young poet up in a nationwide celebration of the virtues of American revolutionary idealism.

The verse many minor poets contributed to commemorate Lafayette's visit supports this observation about New York's preparations: that American culture happily endorsed the explosive potential of revolution to move citizens from bondage into “greatness.” Generally, these poems praise the general for his revolutionary spirit and exploits, as in this stanza printed in the New London Gazette on August 25, 1825:

HAIL patriot, statesman, hero, sage!

Hail freedom's friend! Hail Gallia's son!

Whose laurels greener grew in age,

Plucked by the side of WASHINGTON!

Hail, champion in a holy cause,

When hostile bands our shores beset!

Whose valor bade th’ oppressor pause —

Hail hoary warrior, LA FAYETTE!

While the poem clearly places Lafayette as the subject of its paean, it privileges the historical and cultural myth above the historical figure. The text proclaims Lafayettes's eminence as “patriot, statesman, hero, sage”; yet the hero no longer filled any of these roles as he began his triumphal tour. In fact, Lafayette had lost the bulk of his wealth and political power during the chaos of the French revolutionary period. Not only had Lafayette been imprisoned and his estates confiscated during the Great Terror, but he [page xxiv:] tellingly refused to serve as a senator under the Napoleonic regime on the grounds that the “government was not chosen by the [French] people in a free election.”(9) Even as he approached the United States, an indebted and tragic figure, the popular press celebrated him as the American hero “whose laurels greener grew in age.” Clearly Lafayette had not earned these laurels through his political achievement as a Frenchman; rather, he had done so through his patently American “valorous” sacrifice for “patriotic” and “heroic” revolutionary ideals.

Other poems written in response to Lafayette's triumphal tour emphasize this recursive belief in self-sacrifice in pursuit of an intangible ideal. The poem “Welcome La Fayette” in the August 28, 1824, Boston Evening Gazette calls for its readers to “surrender” their hearts to Lafayette for his past sacrifice for the American nation.(10) Henry Ware's poem, “Vision of Liberty,” casts the general as the subject of a romantic dream vision that can only be understood “When slumbering Reason drops his stern control.” The September 7, 1824, Hartford Times printed “To Gen. Lafayette,” a poem claiming that the hero's sacrifices for liberty lie in the realm of the eternal:

Sires, who sleep in glory's bed,

Sires, whose blood for us was shed,

Taught us, when our knee we bend,

With the prayer thy name to blend:

Shall we e’er such charge forget?

No! — “NOUS VOUS AIMONS LA FAYETTE.” [page xxv:]

When our blooming cheeks shall fade,

Pale with time, or sorrow's shade,

When our clustering tresses fair

Frosts of wintry age shall wear,

E’en till Memory's sun be set,


This poem echoes popular conflations of Lafayette and liberty. It, like Ware's “Vision of Liberty,” places this revolutionary ideal beyond the confines of human reason. Those who access the hero's romantic realms are the “sires” who sacrificed themselves on “glory's bed” during revolutionary combat. Those who inherited the post-revolutionary American nation can enter into such a sublime state only when their “blooming cheeks fade,” their hair bears the “frosts of wintry age,” and they pass beyond memory into death. Collectively, the national response to Lafayette's return suggests that American society concerned itself less with landscape and democracy, and more with an innate willingness to embrace sacrifice, pain, and death in search of a more perfect liberty. Poe's leadership of his youthful peers during the Richmond stopover of the triumphal tour finds him, at age sixteen, a player in a national celebration of this peculiar brand of American romanticism.(12)

Key aspects of his personal heritage tie young Poe's view of his American identity to the romantic celebrations of Lafayette's return. His earliest understandings of the American military must have come from stories [page xxvi:] about his grandfather, David Poe. Quinn's research finds that David Poe was an American patriot commissioned as Baltimore's assistant deputy-quartermaster with a rank of major in the Revolutionary Army. According to Quinn, the citizens of Baltimore publicly lauded Major Poe's services and popularly brevetted him to “General.” This public acclaim surfaced when, as Lafayette's troops passed through Baltimore, David Poe supplied the general with five hundred dollars out of his own pocket and had his household oversee the making of five hundred pairs of pants for Poe's men. David Poe survived until 1816. While he retained his rank of major, “General” David Poe's patriotic service earned him acquaintance with and recognition from such luminaries as General Lafayette, who remembered him as “my friendly and patriotic commissary.”(13) Quinn also notes that David Poe's occupation is listed as “gentleman” in both the 1810 and 1812 Baltimore directories; yet, despite his renown, he was not particularly well off financially. Silverman labels David Poe's efforts “self-sacrificing,” thereby constructing the poet's family heritage within the spirit of the Lafayette celebrations. The fact that David Poe's notable military service did not leave him well off financially casts him as a fallen romantic hero, much like Lafayette: the public recognition and accolades for his revolutionary activity transcended the economic consequences of his efforts. In fact, young Edgar Poe dwelt on his heritage throughout his time in the army. In an 1828 letter to John Allan from the poet's duty station of Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Poe brags to his foster-father about the continuing [page xxvii:] importance of his grandfather's memory in military circles: “Since arriving at Ft. Moultrie Lieut Howard has given me an introduction to Col: James House of the 1st Arty to whom I was before personally known only as a soldier of his regiment. He spoke kindly to me. Told me that he was personally acquainted with my Grandfather Gen Poe.” Supporting this idea that Poe fixated his understanding of a successful military heritage on David Poe, Meyers notes, “Edgar, with characteristic exaggeration, later promoted his grandfather to Quartermaster General of the whole United States Army during the Revolutionary War.”(14) Surely, David Poe's example led his grandson to view the prospect of a military life with an eye to the potential for some similar martial glory.

Despite the distinctly romantic tone of Poe's personal military heritage, his biographers all find signs of desperation in his enlistment. As already noted, Quinn speculates that Poe must have been an “unhappy boy” when he enlisted in 1827, citing as evidence Poe's military alias of Edgar A. Perry and his misrepresentation of his age.(15) After years of aspiring to the social class of his foster-father, he found himself cast aside by that benefactor. Lacking a complete university education and the support he relied on as he grew up, and given the self-sacrificial romanticism he associated with military heroes, perhaps Poe turned to his revolutionary heritage with hope instead of desperation. Enlistment offered a path out of his personal debt left over from his sojourn at the University of Virginia and a way of defying John Allan's role in his life. It also served as a pyre [page xxviii:] upon which to burn his Richmond identity in hopes of finding the public recognition and adoration achieved by Lafayette and David Poe. Certainly the enlistment eradicated his mercantile Richmond identity. Not only did Poe change his name, but he also, on May 26, 1827, joined a military brotherhood that represented the antithesis of his genteel Richmond childhood: the enlisted corps of the United States Army.


Poe's decision to give up his middle-class Richmond identity for a military career was a leap of faith that paralleled the American cultural veneration of self-sacrifice. In a letter to John Allan, Poe wrote: “I have thrown myself on the world, like the Norman conqueror on the shores of Britain &, by my avowed assurance of victory, have destroyed the fleet which could alone cover my retreat — I must either conquer or die — succeed or be disgraced.(16) Consideration of post-revolutionary America's antipathy toward enlisted soldiers easily reveals how joining the service equated to Poe's burning his bridges to merchant-class Richmond.

While Poe's culture venerated revolutionary heroes, it paradoxically despised the soldiers who filled the army's ranks. Meyers notes that Poe's enlistment plunged him into America's lower class, but he fails to show the extremity of the young poet's fall. The enlisted ranks of the post-revolutionary American army were full of immigrants and [page xxix:] laborers, groups viewed by most of the nation as riffraff and generally condemned for voluntarily giving up the rights that proper civilians enjoyed. European observers of the early U.S. Army called the enlisted corps “the scum of the population of older states, or ... the worthless German, English, or Irish emigrants.”(17) Soldiers themselves considered their comrades derisively: “Two thirds of those in service are foreigners, generally of the lowest and most ignorant class. The few Americans to be met with are men who have led dissipated lives and incapacitated themselves for any respectable business, taking up the army as a last resource.(18) In addition to earning the general disgust of respectable society, enlisted soldiers were subject to discipline, danger, hardship, likely illness, poor food and clothing, limited shelter, and inadequate pay.(19) These conditions generally drew only the most desperate elements of society, and recruiters struggled to keep the army supplied with suitable soldiers. Very few soldiers ever advanced into the officer corps.(20) By immersing himself in this lower caste of societal castoffs and misfits, Poe staged his own personal revolution against his upbringing.

The reality of enlisted service in this era revolved around uninspiring manual labor. As an artilleryman, Poe would have spent much of his early career learning cannon drill and maintaining the coastal forts at which he was stationed. Servicing the forts themselves took up much of the enlisted soldiers’ time: they logged for firewood year-round, maintained and built roads around the fortifications, gardened to supplement their poor rations, [page xxx:] and maintained the earth- and stoneworks themselves to ensure a proper defense of the coastal fortifications.(21) In addition to these mundane duties, the artillerymen were required to understand how to employ their cannon. A coastal gun required five soldiers to operate efficiently, and used a series of eighteen commands to load and fire the gun. Successful execution of these duties required intricate cooperation and teamwork among the gun crew. Failure to perform these duties properly had potentially catastrophic consequences for the crew, ranging from premature detonation of the cannon to crushing a crew member by the cannon's recoil.(22) Officer leaders expected enlisted artillerymen to know and perform the duties of infantry foot soldiers in addition to gunnery duties. Foot drill, guard mounts, and small-arms marksmanship rounded out the list of activities that enlisted soldiers of Poe's time faced daily.(23) Most Americans considered persons employed in such dangerous and menial work expendable and beneath their notice.

If one of Poe's motivations for joining the army was, as Silverman suggests, the “prospect of familylike camaraderie” or, as Meyers asserts, that Poe was seeking the “satisfaction of joining a group,” the young man must have been disappointed by the peer group he discovered. Poe's education and upbringing likely imposed a significant rift between himself and his fellow soldiers. His early aspirations toward the upper strata of Richmond's wealthy merchant class doubtless left both the budding poet and his immigrant comrades-in-arms at a loss for what to make [page xxxi:] of each other. One has difficulty imagining Private Poe signing up for an army night school or engaging in serious intellectual debate with his bunkmates. It strains the imagination only slightly less to picture him organizing or producing an amateur theatrical performance with his immigrant comrades.(24)

In fact, military records reinforce the idea that Poe held himself aloof from his fellow soldiers. Private Poe's education must have shone brightly from the dull ranks of his enlisted peers, for his initial commanding officer, Lieutenant Joshua Howard, positioned him off the gun line as company clerk, thus insulating him from the “familylike” atmosphere of the typical private artilleryman.(25) The 1933 detective work of Carlisle Allan, a West Point graduate and Academy English instructor, provides reasonable conjecture about Poe's probable duties as a company clerk:

As such it was his duty to prepare the routine papers of his organization and to serve as messenger between his company orderly room and regimental headquarters. He wrote letters at the dictation of Lieutenant Howard. He prepared the payrolls and muster-rolls of his company, and these documents, from July 1827, to April, 1828, now on file in the Old Records Division of the Adjutant-General's Office, are probably in his handwriting. Because of his clerical work he was excused from the normal garrison duties of his comrades. He probably never served more than one tour of guard [page xxxii:] duty during the entire period of his Army service; he was not required to serve as a waiter or scullion in his company mess; and he did not attend drill. He had more leisure time than any other man in his company.(26)

This description of Private Poe's duties is reasonable, although Allan probably overstates the insulation that he had from mundane military duties. Note that the record of Poe's clerkship began in July 1827 — giving the young private a full month to become intimate with the often mind-numbing rhythm of post-revolutionary enlisted life. Upon his elevation to battery clerk, Poe undoubtedly avoided much guard duty and many menial tasks such as logging, fort maintenance, and waiting in the mess hall; however, he needed to be thoroughly familiar with these jobs to prepare duty rolls and manage the day-to-day business of his artillery battery efficiently. These administrative duties would not have relieved Poe from the study and practice of basic artillerist's skills, however. In fact, Poe's early familiarity with that uncomfortable labor probably served as an inspiration to the exemplary execution of his clerk's duties that eventually earned him the recommendation to West Point from his superior officers.

The “leisure time” described by Allan was more likely filled with creating and maintaining records concerning everything from soldier's pay to disciplinary action. Despite the essential nature of these duties, many of Poe's fellow soldiers, like Allan, probably viewed them as “leisure-time” [page xxxiii:] activities since they did not involve much manual labor. Additionally, they placed Poe in the company of his organization's officers, winning their trust and heightening Poe's awareness of the distance between himself and his enlisted peers while no doubt generating some latent resentment of the clerk's privileged status. This inevitably widened the social rift that already existed between Poe and his peers; it also fanned Poe's aspirations to bind himself to his officers by gaining military rank. Remember, Poe stated that his ultimate goal was not “familylike camaraderie,” but instead accession to some romantic nirvana promised in his culture-worship of revolutionary military heroes: “I must either conquer or die — succeed or be dis-graced.”(27) This assertion is supported by Poe's acceptance of the technical position of “artificer,” a new job that would further separate him from his enlisted peers.

Private “Perry” served as a private soldier until May 1, 1828, when he advanced to the position of artificer. His rapid promotion to such an important position demonstrates that Poe impressed his superiors as not only a hard worker but also the most technically competent artillerist in his battery. In fact, Poe was so confident in his mastery of the artillery's technical details that he believed he could breeze through West Point's demanding engineering curriculum in only six months. This promotion to artificer placed him higher in rank than any of the other sergeants in his battery while simultaneously doubling his pay and providing him with a daily ration of whiskey or rum. Poe now held, and no doubt prized, a position of importance [page xxxiv:] in the battery: both the officers and gun crews relied on him to craft the artillery bombs properly and oversee the ammunition supply for the battery. But with this elevated importance came even more personal isolation. As an artificer, Poe occupied a technical realm. His daily business concerned the weights and measures of ores and chemicals. His value to his artillery battery became, in many ways, correspondingly technical. Poe himself claims mastery of the technical side of his era's artillery as he bragged to foster-father John Allan that he had “already passed thro the practical part of even the highest portion of the Artillery arm.”(28) Through this promotion, Poe's officers now publicly endorsed his value to the organization by relying upon him to produce the unit's artillery rounds.

The OED provides a limited treatment of the military sense of artificer, defining it as a “soldier mechanic attached to the ordnance, artillery, and engineer service, to be employed in the construction and repair of military materials.”(29) A close look at the 1809 American Artillerist's Companion provides an expanded understanding of what Poe's duties as an artificer entailed. This book established the textual foundation for training artillerists throughout Poe's military sojourn.(30) Its detail demonstrates that Poe spent the middle portion of his enlisted career not as a mere military mechanic, but instead as one of the few expert craftsmen in the United States Army's most technically challenging branches of its era. This two-volume work, subtitled Elements of Artillery and containing “An Introductory Dissertation on Cannon,” defines an artificer [page xxxv:] as one “who makes fireworks, or works in the artillery laboratory, who prepares the fuses, bombs, grenades.” The Companion's glossary further states that artifice “comprehends every thing which enters into the composition of fireworks.”(31)

A “bomb,” according to the Companion, is a “hollow globe of iron, which is filled with a certain quantity of powder, destined to burst into as many fragments as possible.” In order to deliver the bomb successfully to where it was “destined” to burst, the artificer calculated the projectile's ballistic time of flight to the target to ascertain the correct fusing and charging of the round. Based on this mathematical result, the artificer pierced a hollow iron globe; mixed, measured, and filled the globe with explosive powder; and then tamped a fuse down into this volatile mixture.(32) Carefully following these steps, the artificer readied the bomb for use. Miscalculation in any aspect of the bomb's construction potentially had catastrophic consequences for either the artificer himself or the crew firing the round. Thus, the artificer served as more than a bomb maker; he was the army's expert bomb artisan, carefully designing, preparing, and constructing interconnected systems of iron and chemicals with the ultimate goal of explosively destroying his creation.

Many critics have recognized similar dramatically destructive impulses in Poe's writing. Consider French critic Charles Morice's recognition of Poe's “expert construction” of his fiction, the “perfect mastery with which he builds up our interest, step by step, to a final explosion.” Richard [page xxxvi:] Wilbur, a careful twentieth-century critic of Poe's poetry, asserts that his “poetry is pure negation.” These insights about the “explosive” quality of Poe's vision and the need for “negation” of flawed worldly beauty nicely capture both the poet's military training and his poetic vision: the poet/author crafts his art out of carefully measured literary devices and explosive content to deliver his desired effect. Examination of Poe's critical writings strengthens this connection. In “The Poetic Principle,” Poe strongly criticizes other poets for positing that a poem's main function is eliciting moral truth, a poetic approach he names the “heresy of the Didactic.” Instead of poetry serving a moral function, Poe insists that it functions in the realm of “Taste,” a concept that blows apart any didactic function poetry might otherwise serve. Since poetry serves to satisfy “Taste,” it must generate “the fitting, the appropriate, the harmonious,” feelings of beauty.(33) A close look at this conception of beauty reveals strong parallels between Poe's understanding of the poet's role and the official role of the military artificer.

In “The Poetic Principle,” Poe complains about the “corruption of our Poetical Literature” by American writers who assume that the object of all verse is a moral “Truth.” Poets searching for “Truth,” by insisting that every poem should inculcate a moral, commit the “heresy of the Didactic” by judging the poetical merit of poems by their embedded moral lesson. Rather than recognizing a moral imperative to write and judge verse, Poe labels the object of poetry as beauty, declaring that humanity has an “immortal instinct, [page xxxvii:] deep within the spirit of man,” that “administers to his delight in the manifold forms, and sounds, and odours, and sentiments amid which he exists.” He carefully notes that these sensations, or even the mere repetition of these sensations, do not constitute beauty: even in description's greatest verisimilitude, there still exists a “thirst unquenchable” which the poet has been “unable to attain.” Thus, the height of poetic ecstasy comes not through an “excess of pleasure”; instead, it comes from a “certain, petulant, impatient sorrow at our inability to grasp now, wholly, here on earth, at once and forever, those divine and rapturous joys, of which through the poem, or through the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses.” A poem's ability to awaken such a thirst for “the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense,” according to Poe, derives from a well-crafted contemplation of beauty.(34)

We can find distinct traces of this dedication to aesthetic vision in what the American Artillerist's Companion terms the “destiny” of the artificer's bomb: the delivery of a specifically designed explosive effect to a target through the means of his study and craftsmanship. Rimbaud suggests that a poem's effect should be the “derangement of all the senses” of its reader. This notion captures the explosive impact Poe hoped his conception of beauty would have. He describes the “immortal instinct, deep within the spirit of man,” for beauty as the desire of the “moth for the star,” a desire that, if attained, would cause the insect to burst into flame. He goes on to explain this metaphor in equally explosive terms: “Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of glories [page xxxviii:] beyond the grave, we struggle, by multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time, to attain a portion of that Loveliness whose very elements, perhaps, appertain to eternity alone.”(35) Again, Poe describes a poet's desire to cause Rimbaud's “derangement of all the senses,” and so connect his reader with “brief and indeterminate glimpses” of the “glories beyond the grave.” Here, Poe places the location of beauty in the afterlife. Just as Poe the artificer carefully constructed elements of gunpowder and iron to explosively carry military targets into death, Poe the poet strove for similar effects with his verse and prose. Thus, Poe's desire that his poems act as aesthetic “bombs” figures him both as a poet-artillerist and artillerist-poet.

In addition to this explosive aesthetic, the roots of Poe's oft-noted preoccupation with craftsmanship can also be found in his military experience. The American Artillerist's Companion provides minute instructions for constructing bombs:

The vent must also be examined. It should be perfectly smooth, and have no cracks, honeycombs, or bubbles in it, which sometimes remain after casting. These precautions being taken, the powder is put in by means of a funnel. About six pounds are put into a bomb of 8.79 inches; and one pound and a quarter into a howitz of 6.53 inches. Then the fuse is forced in, by striking hard upon the driver, which is placed upon the fuse, taking care that it [page xxxix:] does not split. The fuse should be driven in as far as possible into the eye of the bomb. In bombs of 12.79 inches, it ought not extend more than 1.06 inch; to those of 8.79 inches, it should not exceed more than 0.89 inch; and to the 6.53 inch howitz about 0.71 inch. But before driving the fuse, it must be cut slanting at the end, in order to facilitate the communication of the fire to the powder. The fuse being driven into the bomb, it must be waxed, with capping wax, on the outside around the vent.

This excerpt captures the technical nature of the artificer's military duties. All artillery bombs would have come through Poe for inspection, charging, and fusing. He would have to determine the time of flight and the effects desired, and custom-design each round for a specific artillery mission. Failure to construct the round properly could be potentially fatal to either him or his fellow soldiers. The Companion contains various warnings about “the bomb bursting immediately” and admonitions to avoid “splitting the fuse” for fear of equally catastrophic malfunctions. Accidents from artillery bombs were frequent enough that senior officers referred to the firing of the guns as “experiments” instead of routine training.(36) Attention to craftsmanship and detail was of paramount importance to both the reputation and safety of Poe the military artificer.

A similar concern with craftsmanship is crucial to Poe the literary artificer. In “The Poetic Principle,” Poe states [page xl:] that it is the poet's struggle to find “multiform combinations among the things and thoughts of Time” that render beauty in verse. Poets find such beauty in rhythm: “various modes of metre, rhythm, and rhyme” that are essential to the creation of “supernal Beauty.”(37) Poe's other seminal discussions of versification and poetic craft, “The Philosophy of Composition” and “The Rationale of Verse,” consider the craftsmanship of poetry in even greater detail. Even if some critics correctly consider these essays, “The Philosophy of Composition” in particular, satiric pieces about the misuse of prosody, Poe's belief in the importance of poetic craftsmanship remains his preeminent concern. An attack on the ignorant misuse of prosody implicitly asserts the critical nature of the proper employment of poetic technique. Just as an artificer's failure to construct a bomb properly always results in the failure of the round to achieve its effects and potentially results in injury to the artificer himself, failure to construct a poem well renders its effects impotent and damages the reputation of the poet. The attention to detail, the appreciation for minute nuances of sound, and the modulation of rhythm that Poe built into his verse to achieve his aesthetic of beauty were reinforced by the artistic craftsmanship required to build a functional artillery bomb. Poe's training as an artillery artificer not only enhanced his appreciation for careful craftsmanship, but also reinforced his post-revolutionary belief in romantic sacrifice, as each carefully constructed bomb fulfilled its destiny in its own destruction. Poe's success as an artificer allowed him to continue carefully constructing [page xli:] his military career in hopes of attaining the sort of transcendent public glory that he saw in his own grandfather and that his culture had found in Lafayette.


Poe's artificer duties brought him into greater contact with the highest-ranking officers in his artillery regiment. This contact quickly led to his promotion to sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank, on January 1, 1829, a situation that fanned his aspirations for military advancement. The first prominent officer Poe came into contact with was Colonel James House, a man entirely lacking in formal military education who had adopted a military career following early attempts to make a living as an artist. Melvin Helfers suggests that the colonel's artistic background colored his relationship with the poet: “Poe was promoted to sergeant major in less than two years of army service because the colonel of his regiment, James House, was a student of literature and therefore took a special interest in him.” Upon considering the official history of the First Artillery Regiment, Carlisle Allan notes the notorious laxness of Colonel House's command style and suggests that “the discipline to which he [Poe] was subjected in the Pt Artillery was of a kind that could not have been irksome even to his free spirit.” Both Allan and Helfers seem to want to create a connection between Poe and House that reflects some sort of artistic camaraderie. This, in turn, creates a paradox that neither Allan nor Helfers successfully [page xlii:] resolves: if, in fact, Poe found camaraderie with an officer as important as Colonel House, why would he still find the army an oppressive burden from which he required escape? Allan suggests that such friendship was simply not enough: “Even with security against hunger and poverty and with ‘one ration of whiskey or rum per day,’ he [Poe] was ready after eighteen months in barracks to let his estranged foster-father know of his desire to leave the Army.”(38) Colonel House's patronage of his young artificer-poet must not have been as strong as Allan or Helfers argues if that is the case.

An alternate, more reasonable interpretation of this time period exists. Even if Poe did share interests with the commander of the regiment, he had still risen through the ranks based on his value to the organization. At a minimum, he proved himself a competent administrator and master of the most technical elements of artillery. As he quickly separated himself from his enlisted peers and made himself more valuable to the officers of his regiment, his peer group began to shift. When the regiment promoted him to sergeant major, Poe found himself more often in the company of officers. In addition to his friendship with Colonel House, Poe managed to establish a relationship with Colonel William Drayton of Charleston while stationed at Fort Moultrie, and further, to impress Colonel Worth, who had recently come to the regiment after serving as the commandant of cadets at West Point.(39) This was the class of people with whom John Allan had raised Poe to interact. Through promotion, the army had given Poe a [page xliii:] venue by which to garner these senior officers’ positive attention and possibly overcome his black-sheep status with his foster-father.

Unfortunately, an unbridgeable gulf separated the young artillery artificer and sergeant major from this imagined peer group: even more entrenched than the class ties that bound Poe to the officer class was the hierarchical chasm between officer and enlisted ranks. Rather than interpreting Poe's efforts to gain discharge from the army as a flight from an unbearable autocratic bureaucracy, it is more appropriate to view these efforts as an attempt to establish himself in the army by joining the officer class that had promoted him so quickly. Surely a young man as intelligent as Poe would see the absurdity in fleeing his reasonably comfortable life as a sergeant major for the notoriously severe discipline of the Military Academy. The best explanation for his gaining a discharge is that he was ambitious for an officer's military career.

Since the United States Military Academy was still a relatively new school in the late 1820s, the mythos that eventually surrounded the Academy following the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War thereafter, had not yet fully materialized. Poe's expectations of West Point must have come from the officers who encouraged him to undertake West Point's challenge. In addition to Colonel House, Poe gained letters of recommendation from three other officers: Lieutenant Joshua Howard, Lieutenant Henry Griswold, and Colonel William Worth. Howard, who would have had the most contact with Poe, was not a [page xliv:] West Point product, but had served in close proximity to Academy graduates throughout his army experience. Griswold, who served as the regimental adjutant, graduated from West Point in 1815 as number ten in a class of forty and had been rewarded with an artillery commission.(40) Of this group, the most significant of the officers with whom Poe interacted was Colonel Worth.

Serving as Fort Monroe's post commander at the time of Poe's discharge from the army, Worth had been promoted twice for gallantry during the War of 1812 and had just left the Military Academy, where he had served for eight years as its second-in-command. His demeanor was so impressive that Ethan Allan Hitchcock, an officer who had served under Worth, later wrote glowingly about him in his diary: “Major, afterwards General, Worth, whose military bearing in the presence of troops filled the very ideal of a gallant soldier in the field. To young and impulsive natures designed for the military profession, Major Worth was by far the most captivating man.”(41) Rather than being a notable artistic influence on young Poe, Colonel House was likely held up in contrast to Worth's example by the young lieutenants Howard and Griswold to convince Poe of the desirability of entering the Military Academy. Worth, after all, having just returned from duty at West Point, personally embodied the ideal that the Academy strove to produce. At least one large component of Poe's expectations about the cadet experience must have come from Colonel Worth's example and the subsequent respect shown to him by his subordinate officers. [page xlv:]

The other great expectation Poe must have held as he anticipated his appointment to the Military Academy was that of an excellent education. The Academy was at that time reaping the benefits of the groundbreaking academic reforms that Colonel Sylvanus Thayer had begun in 1817. Colonel Worth and other officers associated with West Point would have presented the quickly growing reputation of academic excellence to Poe. In 1831 the North American Review acknowledged that “those who have been accustomed to observe the progress, and reflect upon the tendency of our institutions, have doubtless remarked the rapid progress of the Military Academy at West Point in the public estimation; nor can they have failed to notice the important position which it now occupies, among those objects that ought to be well understood by all who pretend to a knowledge of our national policy.” In addition to the prestige that the school was earning, the remarkable character of Thayer himself would have been passed on to Poe. The young poet would expect the strong hand and strict regulations that marked cadet life to be tempered by Thayer's sterling character and genuine concern for individual cadets. George W. Cullum, who served as a cadet during Thayer's tenure and crossed paths with Cadet Poe on several occasions, noted that Colonel Thayer was so involved with each cadet that he could “call all by name, and understand their characters and habits.”(42) Between the impressions left on him by Colonel Worth and the promise of a Spartan and challenging intellectual existence at his nation's Military Academy, Poe no doubt held lofty expectations [page xlvi:] about the ideal gateway to achieving the public recognition he craved.

The actual experience of entering the Academy as a cadet could not have lived up to these expectations. In the first place, Poe's initial roommates after his summer training experience certainly did not rise to the standards set by Colonel Worth and Lieutenants Griswold and Howard. Poe's roommates, Thomas W. Gibson of Indiana and Thomas Pickering Jones of Tennessee, were court-martialed around the same time as Poe, with Jones leaving the Academy after a November 1830 court-martial. Both roommates gave extensive interviews about Poe much later in their lives. Drawing conclusions about Poe's cadet life requires that their testimony be filtered through the Academy records and common sense.

Carlisle Allan details Jones's testimony about Poe as a cadet. Jones said that Poe was a “brilliant student, but had an aversion to mathematics, and that his inability to do well in that subject made him decide to leave West Point.”(43) He also recalls Poe's confinement to Cadet Light Prison on numerous occasions, uncontrollable and under the effects of intoxicants. While he ascribes this behavior to Poe, Mr. Jones more likely was describing himself. Allan's examination of the Academy records finds that Jones's court-martial was in fact for drunkenness, a charge that elicited cadet courts-martial almost weekly during the fall of 1830. Poe's other roommate, Gibson, was likewise court-martialed for “drinking or otherwise partaking of intoxicating liquors,” among other major offenses that included [page xlvii:] the noble achievement, according to Allan, of “setting fire to a building near the barracks, after he first disabled all the pumps in the vicinity.” Gibson's recollections of Poe contradict Jones's sensational assertions. According to Gibson, Poe had no drinking problem — in fact, he had never seen Poe drink. He also recalled Poe as a brilliant student who easily mastered his lessons in the section room while other plebes executed their daily recitations.(44) Conspicuously absent from the record of Poe's court-martial is any mention of alcohol, a rampant discipline problem among the Corps of Cadets in that era. The documented immaturity of Poe's peers, along with an absence of evidence about his complicity in his roommates’ activities, strongly suggests that Poe did not find the future Colonel Worths he expected to find at the Academy. Instead, he found himself confined in a cold and bare room with sophomoric drunkards, one a liar and one a pyromaniac, whose antics earned them quick dismissal from the Academy.

Poe's assessment of the officer corps shepherding the cadets at the time was probably just as gloomy. He does mention his great respect for Colonel Thayer and the Academy as a whole in a November 1830 letter home: “I have spent my time very pleasantly hitherto — but the study requisite is incessant, and the discipline is exceedingly rigid. I am very pleased with Colonel Thayer, and indeed with everything at the institution.”(45) This letter, however, fails to paint a complete picture of his cadet experience. The officer in charge of Cadet Poe initially was Lieutenant Joseph Locke, a young artillery officer assigned [page xlviii:] to West Point in lieu of artillery duty, whom Poe likely knew while garrisoned at Fort Monroe.(46) Somehow, because of either Locke's status as one of two junior officers utterly detested by the cadets or some other, more personal animosity, Poe took it upon himself to roast the officer in verse:

As for Locke he is all in my eye

May the d——l right soon for his soul call.

He was never known to lie —

In bed at a reveille roll-call.

John Locke was a notable name;

Joe Locke is greater; in short

The former was well known to fame,

The latter well known to report.

The number of quatrains skewering the Academy's staff and faculty allegedly grew to book length. Poe's roommate Gibson suggested that while the poet was “very moody” and came across as “worn, weary, and discontented,” he was also popular for his literary lampoons of West Point's officers. General George Cullum, a distinguished graduate who served as Poe's first cadet superior, remembers Poe well for his book of “ridiculous doggerel.”(47) Apparently, the quality of his roommates and his antipathy toward his tactical officer, despite his respect for Colonel Thayer, led to Cadet Poe's disillusionment about the Academy's general population. [page xlix:]

As Poe's opinion about the American officer corps dropped from the high standards set by Colonel Worth, his personal motivations also dramatically changed. Since the Academy could not live up to his elevated expectations, the only reason to complete his studies was to enter into a profession that would redeem himself in the eyes of his foster-father and eventually offer the promising life of gentleman-soldiers he saw through his associations with Colonels Worth, Drayton, and House. As Arthur Hobson Quinn notes, John Allan remarried, thus dashing young Cadet Poe's hopes of inheriting an income that would allow him to subsist at the social level expected of a young officer and gentleman.(48) In fact, Poe lists this as his primary reason for leaving the Academy in an 1841 autobiographical sketch: “The army does not suit a poor man — so I left West Point abruptly.”(49) Once the poet made his decision to leave the military, he meticulously developed and executed a plan that would get him dismissed from West Point quickly and with minimal pain. The easiest way out of the Military Academy was simply to refuse to go to class and to disobey orders.

The specifications of Poe's February 8, 1831, court-martial read:

Charge 1st: — Gross neglect of duty.

Specification 1st: — In this, that he, the said Cadet Poe, did absent himself from the following parades and roll-calls between the 7th of January, 1831, viz., absent from evening parade on the 8th, 9th, 15th, [page l:] 10th, 24th and 25th January, 1831; absent from reveille call on the 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 25th, and 26th January 1831; absent from class parade on the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 24th, and 25th January 1831; absent from guard mounting on the 16th of January, and absent from church parade on 23rd January 1831; all of which at West Point, New York. Specification 2nd: — In this, that he, the said Cadet E. A. Poe, did absent himself from all his academic duties between the 15th and 27th January 1831. Charge 2nd. — Disobedience of orders.

Specification 1st. — In this, that he, the said Cadet E. A. Poe, after having been directed by the officer of the day to attend church on the 23rd January 1831, did fail to obey such order; this at West Point, New York.

Specification 2nd. — In this, that he, the said Cadet E. A. Poe, did fail to attend the Academy on the 25th January 1831, after having been directed to do so by the Officer of the day; this at West Point, New York.

To which specifications and charges the prisoner pleaded as follows:

To the 1st Specification of the 1st Charge: Not Guilty.

To the 2nd Specification of the 1st Charge: Guilty, and Guilty to the 2nd Charge and its specifications.

The court, after mature deliberation on the testimony [page li:] adducted, find the prisoner guilty of the 1st Specification of the 1st Charge, and confirm his plea to the remainder of the charges and specifications, and adjudge that he, Cadet E. A. Poe, be dismissed from the service of the United States.

The proceedings of the general court-martial in the ....... cases of E. A. Poe ......... have been laid before the Secretary of War and are approved.

Cadet Edgar A. Poe will be dismissed from the service of the United States, and cease to be a member of the Military Academy after the 6th March 1831.(50)

The plea of “Not Guilty” was patently false; Poe must have entered that plea to ensure his dismissal from the Military Academy. Just as surely as one of artificer Poe's bombs would detonate and carry its target into another world, Cadet Poe ended his successful army career as it became apparent that his expectations would not be fulfilled. The rumors of alcohol abuse and radical ill discipline treasured in West Point lore are unfounded; had he been an illicit drinker or a discipline problem, those charges would have been included in the court-martial's specifications.(51) Poe, if the questionable memory of then ninety-year-old ex-roommate Timothy Pickering Jones can be charitably believed, left West Point in “tears” and ended his period of national military service.(52)

Perhaps, instead of tears of regret, Poe shed tears of relief at the revelation that finally, after a self-sacrificial end [page lii:] to his military career, he could search for the renown he craved in the realm of beauty instead of martial glory. Poe took his belief in the sublimity of patriotic sacrifice and his personal military training and projected their promises onto his blooming poetic vision. The result is the explosive verse and short prose that continues to resonate almost two centuries later. This resonance, while created by Poe's personal literary genius, still comes, at least in part, from his exposure to, experience and training in, and beliefs about the American army and West Point.

Poems (1831)

As compelling as this military connection to Poe's aesthetic seems, other poets have written verse that seems to explode the reader's mind. Percy B. Shelley shares Poe's abhorrence of “didactic” poetry and asserts that poetry is “a strain that distends, and then bursts the circumference of the reader's mind.” Keats's poem “Hyperion: A Fragment” seems to disintegrate as Apollo bursts, supernova-like, into divinity. Early in Poe's career, traces of Byron's style creep into his poetry.(53) A good case can be made that his familiarity with the British romantics accounts for Poe's explosive aesthetic.(54) Still, the question remains — can we find traces of his American military experience in his poetry as well as his aesthetic? His service as a military artificer functions as more than a clever metaphor for his poetic vision; it also models the impact the United States Army and the United States Military at West Point had upon his 1831 Poems. [page liii:]

Just as biographers dismiss the important connections between Poe's military life and his poetic vision, critics, likewise, fail to consider the possibility that military culture might be embedded in his poetry. Apart from the biographers Quinn, Silverman, and Meyers, who engage the early poems as a matter of biography, critics generally dismiss Poe's poetry and move on to his criticism and short prose. Even Edward H. Davidson, the critic who most deliberately analyzes the poet's early verse, does so with trepidation. Davidson apologetically titles his chapter that looks closely at the early poems “The Necessary Demon: The Poetry of Youth.” He asserts that the value in looking into the early verse arises from an enhanced understanding of Poe's youthful “self” which allows scholars to see the development of the ideas that shaped the rest of Poe's writing.(55) Still, this approach places even Davidson's careful readings of the poems in the limited biographical context that governs almost all critical consideration of the early verse. The dominance of this incomplete biographical approach, combined with the limited existing scholarship about the early poems, makes this new military consideration of the poems unique in Poe scholarship.(56)

Poems (1831) consists largely of reprintings from Poe's two earlier books of poetry; however, the book also contains six new lyrics and Poe's first published piece of criticism. The reprinted poems (which include “Tamerlane” and “Al Aaraaf”) offered revisions of the earliest poems, often extensive, a process that continued until 1845's [page liv:] Raven volume. Among the new lyrics were the gems “To Helen,” “Israfel,” and “City in the Sea.”

Kenneth Silverman's chapter about Poe's 1831 Poems asserts that the volume “records an inner life of unusual paradox and conclusion.” He pins this observation to his close reading of “To Helen,” in which he notes the literal and figurative centrality of the word home. According to Silverman, Poe viewed life as a “running battle with John Allan over school money, affection, the army, West Point.” Onto these biographical facts he overlays the American preoccupation with the “so-called cult of memory.” He therefore suggests that such a preoccupation with the memory accounts for the number of Poe's poems about “death and the afterlife”; however, Silverman finds that the “special character” of Poe's poems revolves around either the permanence of death or the poet's ambivalent wish to reunite with departed souls. Silverman concludes that Poe's paradoxical view of death lies in latent childhood denials of death: “His simultaneous belief and unbelief, finally, produces not only beings and landscapes at once living and dead, but such other derivatives as images of things at once conscious and unconscious, near and far, present and absent, lost and inalienable, evoking opposed feelings of grief and joy, despair and hope, loss and return, separation and union — expressions of what he himself called his ‘innate love of contradiction.’”This analysis leads Silverman to assert that Poe's career can be understood as a “sort of prolonged mourning, an artistic brooding-on and assemblage of the fantasies activated by an ever-living [page lv:] past.”(57) While his treatment of Poe's work captures a traditional interpretation of the poetry, does Silverman's reading fully account for almost four years of determined effort to rise through the military hierarchy? Certainly, Silverman mentions the army and West Point as contributing factors to Poe's mental state; however, a critical analysis that fully accounts for Poe's military experience grounds the poet solidly in his American culture. It is important to recognize that I offer a way of expanding our understanding of Poe's writing by viewing his work through a military-cultural lens — in other words, adding to, not supplanting, existing criticism. In support of this goal, I offer close readings of “Tamerlane” and “To Helen.”(58)

Perhaps the most obvious nod to Poe's military career in the 1831 Poems is the reprinting of “Tamerlane.” Originally included in the 1827 Boston booklet Tamerlane and Other Poems, and later in the 1829 Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, it is almost universally recognized as an inferior attempt at a long poem by a juvenile prodigy.(59) Both Quinn and Silverman write about “Tamerlane” in its 1829 context and form. Quinn notes themes of independence, pride, beauty, and love in tension with one another throughout the poem as the speaker tries to reconcile his conflicted ambitions into a sort of spiritual integrity. Silverman's reading of the poem is even bolder, arguing that “Tamerlane” recalls not only Poe's personal military heritage and his rebellious defiance of John Allan, but also a “vulnerable need for parental comfort and care.” A close look at Poe's military career adds another dimension to [page lvi:] “Tamerlane” that critics rarely explore, as the poet fills Section V of the poem with martial imagery:

So late from Heaven — that dew — it fell

(Mid dreams of an unholy night)

Upon me with the touch of Hell,

While the red flashing of the light

From clouds that hung, like banners o’er,

Appear’d to my half closing eye

The pageantry of monarchy,

And the deep trumpet thunder's roar

Came hurriedly upon me, telling

Of human battle, where my voice,

My own voice, silly child, was swelling

(O how my spirit would rejoice

And leap within me at the cry!)

The battle cry of victory.

The images of “red flashing of the light / From clouds” and “deep trumpet thunder's roar” figure not only general battle, but also the flash and roar of the artillery pieces with which artificer “Perry” had spent nearly a year of his young life in constant contact and study. Further, the speaker associates such battle with “the pageantry of monarchy,” tying Old World systems of government (against which Poe's personal and cultural heritage rebelled) to the “battle cry” of “human battle” and “victory.” Thus, military battle figures not only Silverman's “lieutenant of junior riflemen and the General Poe-like defying of John Allan,” [page lvii:] but also the oppressive cultural conditions from which the poet flew for the promise of military glory.(60) Poe's italicized emphasis of “own” further emphasizes the biographical connections noted by Quinn and Silverman — even more so, given that the poem's main revision occurred after Poe's enlisted service and during his cadet career.

Further evidence of this American cultural connection lies in sections XIX and XXIII of the poem. In section XIX, the speaker establishes that an “eagle that tower’d” represents “hope.” The eagle serves as a symbol of the United States’ strength also, thereby connecting the young nation's military might with “hope” for its future:

When hope, the eagle that tower’d, could see

No cliff beyond him in the sky,

His pinions were bent droopingly,

And homeward turned his softened eye.

Here, the speaker's “hope” turns away from the martial “pinions” and “cliff” it can conquer and turns its eye “homeward”; thus, the nation's cultural beliefs begin to emerge out of the personal biographical hopes of the young poet. The belief in a Lafayettesque sublime, accessed through personal sacrifice and military glory, has failed the hopes of the poem's speaker — and, as the eagle associates these hopes with young America, has failed the nation as well. As the speaker reaches “home,” he offers the following dialogue to his father: [page lviii:]

Father, I firmly do believe —

I know — for death, who comes for me

From regions of the blest afar,

Where there is nothing left to deceive,

Hath left his iron gate ajar,

I do believe that Eblis hath

A snare in every human path —

Else how when in the holy grove,

I wander’d of the idol, Love,

Who daily scents his snowy wings

With incense of burnt offerings,

From the most undefiled things;

Whose pleasant bowers are yet so riven

Above with trelliced rays from Heaven,

No mote may shun — no tiniest fly

The lightning of his eagle eye —

How was it that Ambition crept,

Unseen amid the revels there,

Till growing bold, he laughed and leapt

In the tangles of Loves very hair?

“Father,” if we accept the poet's italicized self-insertion “own” in section V, represents either the revolutionary generation that preceded Poe's or the fawning sons of the Revolution who welcomed Lafayette in 1825 (or perhaps both). The American cultural promise of the benefits of martial glory, exemplified in the cultural fervor over General Lafayette's visit, parallels the promises with which young Tamerlane was raised: [page lix:]

... the crush

Of empires, with the captive's prayer,

The hum of suitors, and the tone

Of flattery, round a sovereign's throne.

Thus the “snare” in both Poe's and Tamerlane's “human path” is military Ambition — the cultural fervor for military glory that prevents Tamerlane from achieving earthly peace. Just as the speaker's hope finds military glory vacuous, so also the “eagle” of American hope relaxes, softens its eye, and turns toward the “pleasant bowers” of home. By the poem's end, the speaker finds his “home” in hope and love: “My home — my hope — my early love.”(61)

Since the speaker's young lover has died, all three of these conflated homes must dwell within Tamerlane's idealistic imagination, in the “holy grove” of the “idol, Love.” The speaker describes home, hope, and love in terms of aesthetic beauty: “pleasant bowers” that are “riven / Above with trelliced rays from Heaven,” Furthermore, the speaker asserts that only “undefiled things” are capable or worthy of sacrifice to the “idol, Love.” Since Tamerlane spends the majority of the poem exposing his soul's pollution by worldly martial ambition, the only way he can finally dwell in the “holy grove” of the “idol, Love” is through death; thus, death “Hath left his iron gate ajar” so that Tamerlane can finally enter its “regions of the blest afar.” Heaven also is figured as an eagle, as the speaker asserts that Heaven's beauty is so pervasive that “No mote may shun ... / the lightning of his eagle eye.” This suggests [page lx:] not only that the poet/speaker's true home is the beauty of “hope” and “love,” but also that American culture's “home” is found in the “holy grove” of “Love” rather than in the promised glory of martial success. Thus, Poe intimates that a continued cultural focus and glorification of the likes of Lafayette results in the national “peace” creeping “thro’ my fingers to the deep!” Not only does the speaker find this otherworldly peace and beauty as his martial ambitions are blown apart, but he also suggests that America's emphasis on military exploits is misplaced and that the nation should turn to beauty and verse to discover its ultimate destiny.

If “Tamerlane” is often recognized as an inferior poem, “To Helen,” appearing for the first time in the 1831 Poems, is regarded as a masterpiece. Quinn, speaking in the context of Poems (1831), calls it “one of the lyrics which approach perfection,” and uses it as a foundation for discussing Poe's versification. Davidson answers the biographical question about the identity of Helen with the assertion that she is not Richmond matron Jane Stanard, but instead “Helen of Troy — and a little more too.” Kenneth Silverman also recognizes the 1831 version of “To Helen” as an “important work.” In its lines, he finds Davidson's “little more too” in biographical resonance: Poe's fantastic lies about foreign adventure, his orphaned upbringing, and his exile from the Allan home in Richmond. These observations rest largely on Silverman's argument about the crucial importance of the word home's placement in the lyric: “The entire poem turns on the word home. Placed for maximum [page lxi:] emphasis suggesting its importance to himself, it stands in the exact middle of the poem.” Silverman's comments about the “clash between independence and dependence” and “home” resonate startlingly when read in the context of Poe's army career.(62) Considering that “To Helen” appears for the first time in the 1831 Poems, the lyric was at least compiled and revised, if not written, while Poe was serving under military discipline. We can thus imagine the speaker in an American military barracks — a move that is just as legitimate as Silverman's projection of the young orphaned Edgar or the teenaged rebel Poe into the poem. The resultant perspective reveals military connections similar to those found in “Tamerlane.”

If the speaker of “Tamerlane” bears the weariness of his military adventures, the speaker of “To Helen” clearly identifies himself as a “weary way-worn wanderer,” a fair description of the young poet whose military travels had covered much of the American eastern seaboard after he left John Allan's guardianship. Further, the martial associations between Helen and the Homeric epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey recall military analogues to the poem. Just as Tamerlane looks beyond his physical situation to find a home in the afterlife filled with beauty, hope, and love, the speaker of “To Helen” finds his home by looking to a “beauty”:

Helen, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicean barks of yore,

That Gently, o’er a perfum’d sea, [page lxii:]

The weary way-worn wanderer bore

To his own native shore.

On the desperate seas long wont to roam,

Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home

To the beauty of fair Greece,

And the grandeur of old Rome.

Lo! in that little window-niche

How statue-like I see thee stand!

The folded scroll within thy hand —

A Psyche from the regions which

Are Holy land!(63)

The beauty the speaker finds in Helen, of course, transports him to “his own native shore,” which he identifies as “home.” The speaker identifies home with “the beauty of fair Greece” and “the grandeur of old Rome,” locations of antiquity that, like Helen herself, ceased to exist millennia before Poe's birth. The fact that the speaker places Helen “in that little window-niche” and calls her “statue-like” implies that he addresses his apostrophe to a small statuette of Helen — a figurine that doubtless would lack the aesthetic value to inspire Poe's lyric. This, along with his imaginative attribution of “beauty” and “grandeur” to ancient Greece and Rome, places he never could have visited, suggests that the idea of Helen, not Helen herself, symbolizes his aesthetic notion of beauty. Thus, through [page lxiii:] an imperfect physical representation of the most beautiful woman of classical literature, the speaker breaks the bonds of his physical circumstance and finds himself amid the sublimity of classical beauty.

Furthermore, if this speaker, like the poet himself, is indeed a cadet at West Point, then the notional statuette couldn’t be in the room at all — the Military Academy's strict regulations forbid recreational reading material in the rooms, let alone decoration.(64) Thus, the beauty in the poem, symbolized by the name of Helen, could be read as the window-niche itself, which served as a conduit of escape from the military ambitions in which Poe had trapped himself.(65) Regardless of whether the figure of Helen is physical or notional in the poem, the poem's message remains: instead of continuing to strive for the public glory of a military career, a more fulfilling glory was to be found in the pursuit of beauty, which led to realms of ancient Greece and Rome — “the regions which / Are the Holy land.” Despite his transcendence over his physical circumstances, the speaker still remains in his American physical location, be it military barracks or not. This allows the poem to function as a call for Americans to privilege beauty over more common glory, just as Tamerlane's warlike eagle turns back to its home's beautiful bowers.

In these readings of “Tamerlane” and “To Helen,” the same elements found in Poe's military career are found in his verse: the romantic pattern of self-destruction to achieve glory, and the attention to craftsmanship to achieve that self-destruction. Poe takes his American belief in the [page lxiv:] sublime glory of military revolutionaries like Lafayette, finds it wanting, and then offers an aesthetic alternative that resurrects the same cultural pattern. Tamerlane's glorious exploits let him recognize that his dreams of beauty have slipped through his fingers like sand. The speaker of “To Helen” gives up his adventurous wanderings for a life dedicated to aesthetics. Likewise, Poe, trying to fill a need for meaning that his military culture could never meet, turned to poetry. In each case, a dedication to the detailed construction of a worldly career is destroyed through an encounter with beauty. Tamerlane waits for death to end his reign; the speaker in “To Helen” transports himself out of his physical reality to regions inhabited by a long-dead culture. Poe methodically creates his chance to become an army leader and then, just as deliberately, destroys that chance as he recognizes that real and lasting glory springs from the ecstasies of beauty. Truly, Poe's time as a military artificer turned him into our great artillerist-poet, carefully constructing poetic bombs and launching them at his audience in hopes that they would detonate, thereby transporting his readers into a “Holy land” of beauty, hope, and love.

This examination of Poe's experience with America's military in many ways figures his poetic aesthetic, just as do his military skills as an artificer. Poe's own military career in many ways paralleled his grandfather's parabolic career. Just as David Poe strove to support revolutionary patriotic ideals, Edgar Allan Poe strove to epitomize the successful soldier. The advancement from recruit to the [page lxv:] army's highest enlisted rank typically took decades; Poe did it in less than two years. Also, in this twenty-month period, Poe absorbed and mastered the employment and manufacture of much of the most technologically complex military machinery of his day. After these stunning achievements, he became one of his era's very few soldiers to leave the enlisted ranks and attend the United States Military Academy. And, just as David Poe found little material success in his patriotism, Edgar Allan Poe found that the human beings who became military leaders often fell short of his lofty and romantic expectations. Rather than continuing to strive for a military ideal, he deliberately detonated his cadet career.

Poe's own romanticized interpretation of his military service further supports the connection between his aesthetic and his military service. He fills the autobiographical sketch he sent to R. W. Griswold on May 29, 1841, with fantastic claims that provide patently false information about the years he spent with the United States Army. In this letter Poe asserts that he “ran away from home without a dollar on a quixotic expedition to join with the Greeks, then struggling for liberty.” Not satisfied with casting himself as a Byronic poet, he then transforms himself into an American Childe Harolde by embellishing the tale with “many difficulties” that eventually lead him to “St. Petersburg, in Russia.” Here, only the “kindness of Mr. H. Middleton” extricates him from his mysterious predicament, and he returns to the United States and the reward of an immediate appointment to the United States Military [page lxvi:] Academy at West Point. Poe then blames his dismissal from the Military Academy on his foster-father, John Allan, and transforms his transition from soldier to civilian poet into a paradoxical mixture of romance and pragmatics: “The army does not suit a poor man — so I left West Point abruptly, and threw myself upon literature as a resource.”(66) Poe's claim to have aspired to fight alongside the Greek freedom fighters recalls his grandfather's sacrifices during the American Revolution. His failure to reach Greece and his fictitious troubles in St. Petersburg suggest the need to destroy the reality of his military service and more perfectly construct the pattern of the fallen military hero who falls short of his ideals. Through this audacious blend of truth and fiction, Poe not only mythologizes himself for posterity as a romantic adventurer who ultimately finds meaning in the beauty of poetry and fiction, but he again unwittingly betrays the indebtedness of his aesthetic to his American military experience.

While his short fiction followed the pattern of striving for beauty only to fail explosively, Poe's life also continued to imitate this dangerous aesthetic. He launched himself energetically into his literary career after he left West Point, yet spent most of those early years in poverty. To ward off depression and melancholia, Poe took to drinking, yet this antidote began to ruin his once-robust health. Poe's magazine work and personal compromises to raise enough money for food and shelter could not prevent the death of his beloved young wife, Virginia. He alternately envisioned military, literary, mental, and domestic ideals to strive for [page lxvii:] only to have his desires shattered by imperfect human conditions. Since his first piece of published literary criticism that begins to capture his aesthetic, “Letter to Mr. ——” is sent from West Point, perhaps the address does, after all, betray the origins of his poetic vision as the American army. Since his poetic vision is, at the very least, partially grounded in his military experience, perhaps we, as literary critics, should investigate the connections between Poe's literary work and the American army more thoughtfully.

Carlisle Visscher Allan hoped his thesis, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” would stimulate other critics to follow Poe's elusive trail into our post-revolutionary army.(67) Only a handful of critics have heeded his call. Those who answered treated Poe's military career superficially, as biographical exotica. The army of the United States is an organization that has directly impacted many of our writers; Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Robert Fitzgerald, Richard Wilbur, John Ciardi, Louis Simpson, and countless others spent time with or as American soldiers. The army's bureaucratic paper mill has not provided faint trails for literary critics engaged in genetic research to follow — it has cut a swath as wide as General Sherman's notorious “March to the Sea.” Allan hoped merely to inspire more research on Poe; I hold more audacious hopes. I would hope that critics would begin to explore and publicly discourse about the critical and symbiotic relationship between the American nation, its literature, and its military. [page lxviii:]


1.  This largely forgotten doorway resides in the West Point Room on the fourth floor of the Cadet Library at West Point. The inscription over it reads in part:

How dark a woe! Yet how sublime a hope!

How silently serene a sea of pride!

How daring an ambition! Yet how deep —

How fathomless a capacity for love!

At the time of this writing, the doorway frames a blank piece of plywood and, ironically, leads nowhere.

2.  Association of Graduates, U.S.M.A., Register of Graduates and Former Cadets (New York: ASOG, 2000), 4-18. This entry is longer than even those of Poe's cadet peers who went on to become key Civil War leaders.

3.  James A. Beckman, “With Room Enough Beside Our Graves: The Story of Benny Havens,” Assembly (Jan.-Feb. 2002): 58.

4.  Obviously other, earlier biographies on Poe exist; however, they typically offer either nothing on Poe's military service or else dish up the military apocrypha touched on at the beginning of this essay. The most entertaining and least scholarly of these efforts is Mary E. Phillips's Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1926). Phillips's collection of anecdotes, while not rigorously evaluated, still provides a fairly valuable glimpse into what Poe's military (and especially his cadet) experience may have been. One notable exception to the apocryphal approach to Poe's military experience is David Sinclair's [page lxix:] Edgar Allan Poe (London: J. M. Dent, 1977). Sinclair offers chapters titled “The Good Soldier Perry” and “Officer's Mess” that rehash the known details of Poe's military service. Since Quinn, Meyers, and Silverman all offer the same insights and are more accepted in contemporary Poe scholarship, I choose to focus my analysis on their well-known and easily accessible biographies.

5.  Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998), 119, 129, 132; Jeffery Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy (New York: Scribner's, 1992), 36, 33; Kenneth Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 42; Richard Wilbur, “Edgar Allan Poe,” in Responses: Prose Pieces, 1953-1976 (New York: Story Line Press, 2000), 67. Wilbur writes of Poe's poetic vision: “Poe's poet is thus at war with the external world. But he is also, unfortunately, at war within himself”(67).

6.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 88; Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy, 17; Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 24.

7.  Edgar Ewing Brandon, ed., Lafayette, Guest of the Nation: A Contemporary Account of the Triumphal Tour of General Lafayette (Oxford: Oxford Historical Press, 1950), 28. President Monroe followed up his efforts at gaining this congressional resolution with a personal letter that asserted that “the whole nation ... ardently desire to see you again among them”(28).

8.  Ibid., 30, 31.

9.  Ibid., 79, 26.

10.  Ibid., 107. The poem's final couplet reads, “We bow not the neck, we bend not the knee, / But our Hearts, LA FAYETTE, we surrender to thee.”

11.  Ibid., 113, 169.

12.  Agnes M. Bondurant, Poe's Richmond (Richmond: Edgar Allan Poe Museum, 1999). Bondurant details Richmond's “wave of patriotism” and young Poe's place in it in her chapter “Law, Politics and Patriotism” (50-69). [page lxx:]

13.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 15-18. During a Baltimore event on the 1824 triumphal tour, Lafayette stated, “I have not seen among these [the surviving officers of the Revolution who were present] my friendly and patriotic commissary, Mr. David Poe, who resided in Baltimore while I was here, and out of his own very limited means supplied me with five hundred dollars to aid in clothing my troops, and whose wife, with her own hands, cut five hundred pairs of pantaloons, and superintended the making of them for the issue of my men” (17-18).

14.  Ibid., 18; Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 25; Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, December 22,1828, in The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom (New York: Gordian Press, 1966), 12; Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy, 2.

15.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 119.

16.  Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, December 1, 1828, in Letters, 9-11.

17.  Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy, 32-33; Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), 137. Coffman quotes a British traveler from the 1830s.

18.  Coffman, The Old Army, 137-38. Here, Coffman quotes a soldier writing about the army of the late 1830s.

19.  Ibid., 138.

20.  Ibid., 202. Coffman finds that only 98 of the 1,759 appointments to the Military Academy were offered to enlisted soldiers. Even more telling is the fact that 69 of those 98 appointments were offered to combat veterans of the Mexican-American War (1846-48). An informal scrub of the U.S. Military Academy's Register of Graduates and Former Cadets suggests that Poe was the only former enlisted soldier appointed to West Point for at least five years on either side of his class. Poe brags about this singular status in a February 4, 1829, letter to John Allan, in which he claims that his appointment to the Military Academy “would be an unprecedented case in the American army” (Letters, 14).

21.  Coffman, The Old Army, 167-72.

22.  Louis De Tousard, American Artillerist's Companion, or Elements of Artillery, 2 vols. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1969), 310-13; Coffman, [page lxxi:] The Old Army, 166. Coffman cites an incident in May 1827 in which two cannon from the Third U.S. Artillery blew up within five days of each other.

23.  Coffman, The Old Army, 165.

24.  Ibid., 172-78. Coffman presents evidence that the German immigrants brought their intellectual heritage into the enlisted corps of the American army. Evening classes, libraries, talent shows, and debating organizations are among the amusements that Coffman documents as available to the post-Revolutionary War enlisted soldier.

25.  Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 42. Silverman writes that Poe assumed these duties late in 1828; however, both Carlisle Visscher Allan and Melvin Helfers state that Poe actually assumed these duties much earlier in his enlistment. Allan asserts, after examining military records in the “Old Records Division of the Adjutant-General's Office,” that Poe served as clerk from July 1827 through April 1828 (“The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” master's thesis, Columbia University, 1925, p. 10). Helfers discusses the similarity of the handwriting on these archived documents to Poe's established handwriting (“The Military Career of Edgar Allan Poe,” master's thesis, Duke University, 1949). The research of these two scholars leads me to believe that Poe became his battery's clerk in July 1827, very early in his enlistment.

26.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe, 10.

27.  Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 28.

28.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 11; Edgar Allan Poe to John Allan, February 4, 1829, in Letters, 14.

29.  “Artificer,” Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2000 ed.

30.  No significant developments were made in the realm of technical cannonry or tactical employment of coastal artillery until the Mexican-American War era. Further, no major publications on artillery theory came out between the 1809 publication of the Companion and Poe's period of service; it is thus safe to assume that this text formed the technical foundation of artillery training throughout Poe's time in the artillery. [page lxxii:]

31.  De Tousard, American Artillerist's Companion, 627, 255.

32.  Ibid., 255, 266.

33.  Patrick F. Quinn, The French Face of Edgar Poe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1957), 41 (Quinn quotes Morice's La Litterature de tout a l’heure [1899]);

Wilbur, “Edgar Allan Poe,” 89; Edgar Allan Poe, “The Poetic Principle,” in Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1435, 1436.

34.  Poe, “The Poetic Principle,” 1435, 1437, 1438.

35.  “Aestheticism,” Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics, 1974 ed.; Poe, “The Poetic Principle,” 1437.

36.  De Tousard, American Artillerist's Companion, 263; Coffman, The Old Army, 165-66.

37.  Poe, “The Poetic Principle,” 1437-38.

38.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 133; Helfers, “The Military Career of Edgar Allan Poe,” 4; Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 13; Carlisle Visscher Allan, “Cadet Edgar Allan Poe, USA,” American Mercury 39 (August 1933): 448.

39.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 129; Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 16. Quinn writes of Poe's relationship with Drayton: “As a private or non-commissioned officer, Poe's social life in Charleston would have been limited. According to family tradition, however, he made warm friends with Colonel William Drayton, to whom he later dedicated Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque and with whom he continued a friendship when Colonel Drayton moved to Philadelphia”(129).

40.  Helfers, “The Military Career of Edgar Allan Poe,” 25-33. Helfers also notes that of the thirteen junior officers Poe worked for as an enlisted soldier and artificer, all were West Point graduates. While Howard's status as a non-graduate throws Helfer's assertion into question, the fact remains that Poe had much exposure to West Point officers.

41.  Ibid., 33. Worth's bearing was so notable that even today plebes (freshmen) at the Military Academy are required to memorize an excerpt of his leadership philosophy called “Worth's Battalion Orders.” [page lxxiii:]

42.  “Reports of the Board of Visitors of the Military Academy at West Point, in June, 1830 and June, 1831,” North American Review 24 (Jan. 1832): 246, quoted in Helfers, “The Military Career of Edgar Allan Poe,” 52; “Sylvanus Thayer,” Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, ed. George W. Cullum, 2 vols. (New York: James P. Miller, 1891), 1:83.

43.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 25, 26-27. Mr. Jones's testimony is suspect. Not only did the interview cited occur in the New York Sun in 1908, it also contained factual inaccuracies. A scrub of the cadet section rolls from fall 1830 to spring 1831 shows Poe ranked 3 out of 85 in French and 17 out of 85 in mathematics. Certainly he was not struggling academically as Jones seems to recall.

44.  Ibid., 27. Allan ascribes his information about Gibson to an interview in the November 1867 Harper's New Monthly.

45.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 170.

46.  “Joseph L. Locke,” Notices of the Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, ed. George W. Cullum, 2 vols. (New York: James P. Miller, 1879), 1:328. An early edition of the register contained short biographies of all graduates. It places Locke, an artilleryman, at Fort Monroe in 1828-1829, the same time as Sergeant Major Poe.

47.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 27-28.

48.  Ibid., 35. Allan logically argues that if Poe could not subsist at the University of Virginia or West Point without going into debt, than he would not look forward to budgeting himself to the monthly twenty-five-dollar salary afforded to new Military Academy graduates.

49.  Edgar Allan Poe to R. W. Griswold, May 29, 1841, in Letters, 345.

50. This transcript of Poe's court-martial is copied from sources in the West Point Cadet Library's Special Collections department.

51.  In fact, a record number of cadets were removed from the Military Academy for drinking violations during the fall of 1830.

52.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 39. Allan quotes Jones from a May 29, 1904, Richmond Times-Dispatch interview: “We were in our rooms together and he told me that I was one of the few [page lxxiv:] true friends he had ever known, and as we talked the tears ran down his cheeks.”

53.  P. B. Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry,” in Romanticism: An Anthology, ed. Duncan Wu (2nd ed.; Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1998), 947; Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 124-25. Quinn discusses similarities between “Tamerlane” and Byron's Childe Harold.

54.  Wilbur, “Edgar Allan Poe,” 66. Wilbur understands Poe as a “continuator of English and European romanticism.”

55.  Edward H. Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964).

56.  The implications of this essay's analysis obviously extend beyond the early poems. Connections to the post-Revolutionary military culture exist throughout the short stories, especially in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Man Who Was Used Up.” Since this essay introduces Poems (1831), I choose to limit my close readings to this volume's facsimile and save my readings of the short stories for future essays and other critics.

57.  Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 68, 70, 72, 74, 77, 78.

58.  While Poe's poetic vision lives throughout Poems (1831), I focus my efforts on the two poems that deal most directly with martial material: “Tamerlane” and “To Helen.” It is true that Poe locates “The Valley Nis” where “the people do not dwell, / Having gone unto the wars” (Poems [1831], 74); however, the military heritage of the poem is not as pronounced as in the other two lyrics. Rather than repeat Professor Mc-Gowan's ideas, which appear in this volume's Afterword, I simply direct readers to his essay.

59.  Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study, 4. Davidson writes, “Quite logically, the poem has been taken to be a hypertensive portrait of Poe himself,” thus dismissing the idea that the poem is worthy of critical attention for any other reason.

60.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 122-27; Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 39-40; Edgar Allan Poe, Poems (New York: Elam Bliss, 1831), 113-14, reprinted herein; [page lxxv:] Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 39.

61.  Pp. 121, 122-23, 114, 122 herein.

62.  Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, 177; Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study, 32; Silverman, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, 69, 70.

63.  P. 39 herein.

64.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 29-30.

65.  Davidson arrives at the same conclusion without the military connection. He reads “To Helen” as an “investigation of the poetic process whereby the imagination destroys or goes through ostensible reality and reaches some comprehension of the world of Idea that lies beyond”(34).

66.  Edgar Allan Poe, memorandum to R. W Griswold, May 29, 1841, in Edgar Allan Poe's Works, ed. James A. Harrison, 10 [[17]] vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1965), 1:345, 1:346.

67.  Allan, “The Military Service of Edgar Allan Poe,” 2.



Major William Freder Hecker III was born November 7, 1968, in St. Louis, MO. The son of military family, he accepted an appointment to West Point in 1987, graduating in 1991. (Like Poe, his specialty was Field Artillery, although Major Hecker's military career would be far more distinguished.) He earned a Master's Degree from the University of Oregon in 2000, and would return to West Point as an assistant professor of English. His paper on Poe's military career was presented at the 2nd International Poe Conference of the Poe Studies Association in Baltimore in 2002. At that time, he was actively trying to have a facsimile of the West Point copy of Poe's 1831 Poems, for which his paper would serve as an introduction. The Poe Society of Baltimore encouraged this effort, and helped to fund the project. He was deployed to Iraq as the Operations Officer of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery. On January 5, 2006, Major Hecker was one of five American soldiers killed by an IED in Najaf, Iraq.


[S:0 - PPMP, 2005] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Private Perry and Mister Poe (W. F. Hecker III)