Edgar Allen Poe and the Mystery of the Universe: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Oct 7, 2019

Edgar Allen Poe died October 7, 1849, one year after publishing what he considered his most important work, "Eureka" in which he described the idea of a primordial particle whose rapid expansion created the universe as we know it, a description which bears an uncanny resemblance to theories of the Big Bang that would only come in the century following his death.

The skies they were ashen and sober; 

the leaves they were crispéd and sere~

the leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Of my most immemorial year…

So wrote Edgar Allen Poe, poet and story writer, two years before he died in October, one hundred and seventy years ago this week.

Edgar Allen Poe was known to be irregular and eccentric and his writing tended to the wild and fantastic, and probably none so fantastic as the last major work of his life, which he considered his most important, called “Eureka.”

“Eureka” was subtitled “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe” and it was a prose poem in which he made assertions about the origin, expansion, and collapse of the material universe, not through the lens of scientific thinking, but through the intuitions of the poet. Poe stated that science is not the only road to truth, particularly because it dares, he wrote, “to confine the Soul~the Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition…”

When he died on October 7 in 1849, the Moon was a waning gibbous, and as a storyteller of the night sky, I like to imagine that the evening star was there to greet Edgar Allen Poe, in response to one of his earliest poems, in which he wrote:

I gazed awhile on (the Moon’s) cold smile;

too cold~too cold for me~

There pass’d, as a shroud, a fleecy cloud,

and I turned away to thee, Proud Evening Star,

in thy glory afar, and dearer thy beam shall be…

Read "The Evening Star" at this link, and Ulalume "It was night in the lonesome October" at this link.