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The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

1882, Poe's Poetical Works, Moxon's Popular Poets

The other day at lunch, Jo, Annie and I were talking about birds; lovebirds Annie had seen courting in a tree, the pretty song of the finch, and last, a crow I had seen in my yard. "Ah, The Raven!" exclaimed Jo, as she disappeared into her mysterious basement, returning with an ages old, falling apart copy of Poe's Poetical Works. Inspired, we started listening, transfixed, to an audio version of the poem found by Annie who, in spite of not speaking English, seemed to enjoy the ominous sounds coming from her phone... Nevermore... Lenore... Nevermore...

Is a raven a crow? Jo said yes. I said a raven seems more noble. After all, Bob Dylan extolled Joan Baez's raven- not crow- like beauty!

Either way, what a pleasure to share this moment with three friends. Unexpected but so rewarding, and the first time I'd really appreciated the famous poem. Hooked, I continued reading the dilapidated book.

Jo's "bird or fiend" broken book binding

In his fascinating essay The Philosophy of Composition, Poe explains step by step how he wrote The Raven, assuring the reader his approach was purely technical, and not inspired by a dream-like state as some literary critics were saying.

However, in Analysis of "The Raven", biographer William Gill theorizes that Poe was aiming to protect his privacy against readers presuming they knew the origins of his inspiration, and that this could also be why he originally published the poem under a pseudonym. Gill argues that when he wrote the poem, Poe was under great stress fearing for the life of his ill wife, therefore vulnerable to visions and nightmares, and that the poem was certainly born of more than just technique.

A Life of Poe (by F.M.H), also included in this volume, attempts to rescue Poe from his bad reputation as a vile drunkard and troublemaker put forth by his literary rival Rufus Griswold in a memoir published soon after Poe's death in 1849. Although Griswold's claims were refuted by Poe's family and friends, the damage was done and Poe's reputation never fully recovered; 25 years passed before biographer William Gill painted Poe in a much more positive light, disputing many of Griswold's claims as being based on false information. To this day, there is no common agreement on all the facts, but these words ring true: It would be well for all poets, perhaps, if nothing more were known of their lives than what they infuse into their poetry...for it is impossible for the true poet to veil himself from his readers. What he writes he is. (Memoir of Edgar Allan Poe, Widdleton, 1867)


Did you know?

A raven

is just

a large crow.


One day after post: this bird was in our yard this it an omen? Is it a raven?

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Apr 28, 2021

I had never heard the rumors about Poe's alcoholism. Personally, I think the hit to his reputation would come more from his marrying his first cousin at 13 when he had already been living with the family for several years.

Apr 29, 2021
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He did have a problem with alcohol, but some say he was extremely sensitive to it and went "insane" after just a glass. At any rate, he was widely associated with using "stimulants", which in the reading I just did seemed to refer only to alcohol but not sure. On the other hand, nothing was mentioned to imply that his marriage had affected his reputation (except Griswold implied that due to drinking he didn't take care of his family well enough but Gill said that wasn't true). I don't think marrying a first cousin would hurt someone's reputation at the time, however I don't know about the young age. Interesting. To keep in mind, the essays/memoirs I read were fro…

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