Edgar Allan Poe? Poe? Anne D. Danielewski? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Edgar Allan Poe authored groundbreaking tales in three different genres: horror, mystery, and science fiction. Numerous websites attribute the following emotion-laden passage to the literary master:
Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants; the way it stops and starts.
I have been unable to locate these words in any story written by the famous nineteenth-century romanticist. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support for the ascription to Edgar Allan Poe.
Instead, the lines should be credited to the American singer/songwriter Poe. She released an album called “Haunted” in 2000, and the quotation was spoken by her during the fifth track which was about 52 seconds long. The audio can currently be heard on YouTube and Amazon:[ref] YouTube video, Title: Terrified Heart Poe, Uploaded on March 12, 2012, Uploaded by: Amanda Johnston, (There is a delay before the final word is spoken), Description by Uploader: Song by Poe, Album – Haunted, 2001, (Album actually released in October 2000 according to metacritic.com). (Accessed on youtube.com on March 21, 2015) link [/ref]
Sometimes, I’m terrified of my heart, of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants; the way it stops and starts.
Note that the audio and video available on YouTube changes over time. E. A. Poe is long dead, but the Poe who crafted the words above is very much alive and has a large cohort of fans and enthusiasts. Poe’s birth name was Anne Decatur Danielewski according Wikipedia, IMDB.com, and last.fm.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1843 Edgar Allan Poe published a landmark short story called “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The unhinged narrator was terrified by the sound of a beating heart that seemed to become louder and louder; however, the heart was not his own. Indeed, the beating sound was an audio hallucination that precipitated the narrator’s breakdown and criminal confession. Imperfect memories of this story may have caused some individuals to link the quotation to Edgar Allan Poe, but the sentences were not present in the text.[ref] 1843 January, The Pioneer, Edited by poet James Russell Lowell, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, Published by Leland & Whiting, Boston, Massachusetts. (Scans at poemuseum.org) link link [/ref][ref] 1844 July, The Literary Garland: A Canadian Magazine, Volume 2, Number 7, Confession of a Maniac by Edgar Allan Poe, Start Page 333, End Page 335, Printed and Published by Lovell & Gibson, Montreal, Canada. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]
In 2010 a member of the Goodreads community posted the quotation and ascribed the words to Edgar Allan Poe. The popular expression had gathered 1762 likes by March 2015:[ref] Website: Goodreads, Article title: Edgar Allan Poe > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Timestamp on first ‘Like’: November 20, 2010 08:41AM, Website description: Goodreads is a large community for readers that provides book recommendations; the site is owned by Amazon. (Accessed goodreads.com on March 21, 2015) link [/ref]
Edgar Allan Poe
“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.”
Skepticism about the linkage to the celebrated macabre short story writer was expressed in a post at a website called “The World of Edgar Allan Poe” in September 2012. The blog owner named Undine presented the passage together with its common spurious ascription and then stated the following:[ref] Website: The World of Edgar Allan Poe, Article title: The Power of (Misusing) Words, Blog Author: Undine, Date on website: September 18, 2012, Website description: Articles which directly or indirectly concern Edgar Allan Poe with topics selected by a self-described “blogger of the Grotesque and Arabesque”, (Accessed worldofpoe.blogspot.com on March 21, 2015) link [/ref]
Wrong Poe, kids. This line is from a song by the living singer-songwriter Poe, (“Terrified Heart”) rather than the not-so-living author.
In September 2014 the website of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia posted an article titled “Did Poe Really Say That?” The quotation was mentioned followed by this corrective commentary:[ref] Website: The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe, Article title: Museum News: Did Poe Really Say That?, Article Author: Kelly, Date on website: September 10, 2014, Website description: Web presence of the Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia. The Museum is located in The Old Stone House. (Accessed poemuseum.org on March 20, 2015) link [/ref]
This came from a song written by the singer Poe. Confusing, yes; however, they are two distinctly different people.
In conclusion, QI believes that the passage should be ascribed to the musical artist Poe and not Edgar Allan Poe.
(Great thanks to the gifted musical artist Poe who notified QI about the widespread misattribution. Her message led to the formulation of this question and the initiation of this exploration.)