No doubt his mother would have sighed at Edgar Allan Poe’s constant derision of his hometown, but all has been forgiven since the 19th century writer lambasted eminences such as Emerson and Longfellow.
Suffolk University professors are eager to memorialize a native son, joining in an effort to bring Poe Returning to Boston, a statue designed by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak, to Poe Square near the Boston Common.
“There’s never been a proper commemoration of Poe in Boston,” says English Professor Peter Jeffreys, who includes Poe in his American Gothic course and has students take the “Raven’s Trail” walking tour of Poe-related Boston sites.
The bronze statue depicts the poet in full stride, icons of his work – a raven, the telltale heart -- spilling out of a carrying case. The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston aims to install the statue near the corner of Boylston and Charles streets, steps away from the place where Poe was born to two itinerant actors, both of whom had died by the time he turned 3.
His mother left him her watercolor sketch of Boston Harbor, on the back of which she inscribed: "For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best, and most sympathetic friends."
Yet the poet, critic and inventor of the detective story “had a love-hate relationship with the city,” according to Jeffreys. “In a famous lecture he gave here at the Lyceum, he insulted the whole literary establishment by reading a poem he had written when an adolescent. He accused both Longfellow and Lowell of plagiarism.”
Poe resisted the attempt to foster an optimistic national literature as he lambasted the Boston “Frogpondians,” according to Professor Robert Allison, chair of the History Department, who discusses Poe in his course on the history of Boston.
“Poe had a skepticism about our human condition and life’s perfectability,” says Allison. “He comes up in American Studies as a voice against the currents of American thought at the time.”
This is part of what attracts today’s students – most of whom have read Poe in middle and high school – to an author who is more popular today than he was in his lifetime, according to Jeffreys.
And even though Poe led a troubled life, marked by alcoholism and a death shrouded in mystery, students are intrigued “by the messy life of an artist.”
“He’s not the American dream; he’s the American nightmare,” says Jeffreys. “We're dealing with the collapse of the American Dream today – with uncertainty, violence, joblessness -- and that’s a reality for our students.”
Allison notes that “the Poe statue will be located in a place our students walk by every day,” and it’s only right that the city reclaim “probably the most important writer born in Boston.”
“All he did in Baltimore was die, and yet the football team is named for his most famous poem, ‘The Raven’,” he says.
In support of the Poe monument initiative, Suffolk University will host a panel discussion on “The Poe Statue Project: Public Art, Creativity, Politics, and the Law” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the C. Walsh Theatre, 55 Temple St., Boston.