The weather was perhaps as fitting as it could have been for a mid-October walking tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s Boston; bitterly cold and windy, it produced an altogether chilling effect not unlike that commonly elicited by Poe’s prose and poetry.
Students in English Professor Peter Jeffreys’s honors seminar on Decadent Literature and his freshman seminar on American Gothic Literature gathered at Poe Square by the Boston Common, the site of a recently erected sculpture commemorating Poe’s life and work, before heading out on the Raven’s Trail walk.
The tour began at the suspected birthplace of the well-known American gothic writer – 62 Charles Street South – now a vacant lot. It continued by the grave of Charles Sprague, one of Poe’s literary contemporaries, the Frog Pond on Boston Common, and ended at the King’s Chapel Burying Ground on Tremont Street, where the group recited Poe’s oft-quoted work, “The Raven.”
“I'm spoiled to live in Boston as an English major and a writer, and the Raven's Trail is a testament to that luxury. Poe was one of those authors whose work is so palpable that it doesn't need anything else, so to be able to hold his work in a place where he wrote it and look at his surroundings as my own was a really remarkable experience,” said Colleen Day, a senior in Jeffreys’s honors seminar and the editor-in-chief of the Suffolk Journal.
Poe’s relationship with Boston was a thorny one; he denounced the preachy moralism of Boston-based writers like Charles Sprague and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and openly mocked Bostonians, referring to them as Frogpondians. Tour guide Paul Lewis, professor of English at Boston College and a noted Poe scholar, explained this tension as influential not only on Poe’s legacy as a writer but also on the state of American literature as a whole during this era.
While Poe’s disdain for the city is no secret, it is important to remember that he produced many of his last works in Boston and had sought to return to here shortly before his unexpected death in 1849.
Walking tours like the Raven’s Trail and Stefanie Rocknak’s life-size sculpture immortalizing Poe’s return to Boston serve as reminders to Bostonians of the literary significance of the city. The debate over which city truly owns claim to his legacy still may be unsettled, but it is clear that Boston holds a fondness for Poe, whether he reciprocated the feeling or not.
Article by Suffolk University student Jason Kleckner