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The Raven and Other Poems
"The Raven" is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. First published in January 1845, the poem is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven's mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man's slow fall into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word "Nevermore". The poem makes use of a number of folk and classical references.
Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay "The Philosophy of Composition". The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship", and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.
"The Raven" was first attributed to Poe in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. Its publication made Poe widely popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. The poem was soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated. Critical opinion is divided as to the poem's literary status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written
The Raven and Other Poems, Wiley and Putnam, New York, 1845.
An illustration by Édouard Manet, from Mallarmé's translation, depicting the first two lines of the poem.
Poe first brought "The Raven" to his friend and former employer George Rex Graham of Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia. Graham declined the poem, which may not have been in its final version, though he gave Poe $15 as charity. Poe then sold the poem to The American Review, which paid him $9 for it, and printed "The Raven" in its February 1845 issue under the pseudonym "Quarles", a reference to the English poet Francis Quarles. The poem's first publication with Poe's name was in the Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845, as an "advance copy". Nathaniel Parker Willis, editor of the Mirror, introduced it as "unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift ... It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it." Following this publication the poem appeared in periodicals across the United States, including the New York Tribune (February 4, 1845), Broadway Journal (vol. 1, February 8, 1845), Southern Literary Messenger (vol. 11, March 1845), Literary Emporium (vol. 2, December 1845), Saturday Courier, 16 (July 25, 1846), and the Richmond Examiner (September 25, 1849). It has also appeared in numerous anthologies, starting with Poets and Poetry of America edited by Rufus Wilmot Griswold in 1847.
The immediate success of "The Raven" prompted Wiley and Putnam to publish a collection of Poe's prose called Tales in June 1845; it was his first book in five years. They also published a collection of his poetry called The Raven and Other Poems on November 19 by Wiley and Putnam which included a dedication to Barrett as "the Noblest of her Sex". The small volume, his first book of poetry in 14 years, was 100 pages and sold for 31 cents. In addition to the title poem, it included "The Valley of Unrest", "Bridal Ballad", "The City in the Sea", "Eulalie", "The Conqueror Worm", "The Haunted Palace" and eleven others. In the preface, Poe referred to them as "trifles" which had been altered without his permission as they made "the rounds of the press".
Later publications of "The Raven" included artwork by well-known illustrators. Notably, in 1858 "The Raven" appeared in a British Poe anthology with illustrations by John Tenniel, the Alice in Wonderland illustrator (The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe: With Original Memoir, London: Sampson Low). "The Raven" was published independently with lavish woodcuts by Gustave Doré in 1884 (New York: Harper & Brothers). Doré died before its publication. In 1875, a French edition with English and French text, Le Corbeau, was published with lithographs by Édouard Manet and translation by the Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé. Many 20th-century artists and contemporary illustrators created artworks and illustrations based on "The Raven", including Edmund Dulac, István Orosz, and Ryan Price.
Gustave Doré's illustration of the final lines of the poem.
In part due to its dual printing, "The Raven" made Edgar Allan Poe a household name almost immediately, and turned Poe into a national celebrity. Readers began to identify poem with poet, earning Poe the nickname "The Raven". The poem was soon widely reprinted, imitated, and parodied. Though it made Poe popular in his day, it did not bring him significant financial success. As he later lamented, "I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life – except in hope, which is by no means bankable".
The New World said, "Everyone reads the Poem and praises it ... justly, we think, for it seems to us full of originality and power." The Pennsylvania Inquirer reprinted it with the heading "A Beautiful Poem". Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Poe, "Your 'Raven' has produced a sensation, a fit o' horror, here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by 'Nevermore'." Poe's popularity resulted in invitations to recite "The Raven" and to lecture – in public and at private social gatherings. At one literary salon, a guest noted, "to hear [Poe] repeat the Raven ... is an event in one's life." It was recalled by someone who experienced it, "He would turn down the lamps till the room was almost dark, then standing in the center of the apartment he would recite ... in the most melodious of voices ... So marvelous was his power as a reader that the auditors would be afraid to draw breath lest the enchanted spell be broken." Parodies sprung up especially in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and included "The Craven" by "Poh!", "The Gazelle", "The Whippoorwill", and "The Turkey". One parody, "The Pole-Cat", caught the attention of Andrew Johnston, a lawyer who sent it on to Abraham Lincoln. Though Lincoln admitted he had "several hearty laughs", he had not, at that point read "The Raven". However, Lincoln eventually read and memorized the poem.
"The Raven" was praised by fellow writers William Gilmore Simms and Margaret Fuller, though it was denounced by William Butler Yeats, who called it "insincere and vulgar ... its execution a rhythmical trick". Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I see nothing in it." A critic for the Southern Quarterly Review wrote in July 1848 that the poem was ruined by "a wild and unbridled extravagance" and that minor things like a rapping at the door and a fluttering curtain would only affect "a child who had been frightened to the verge of idiocy by terrible ghost stories". An anonymous writer going by the pseudonym "Outis" suggested in the Evening Mirror that "The Raven" was plagiarized from a poem called "The Bird of the Dream" by an unnamed author. The writer showed 18 similarities between the poems and was made as a response to Poe's accusations of plagiarism against Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It has been suggested Outis was really Cornelius Conway Felton, if not Poe himself. After Poe's death, his friend Thomas Holley Chivers said "The Raven" was plagiarized from one of his poems. In particular, he claimed to have been the inspiration for the meter of the poem as well as the refrain "nevermore".
"The Raven" has influenced many modern works, including Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1955, Bernard Malamud's "The Jewbird" in 1963 and Ray Bradbury's "The Parrot Who Knew Papa" in 1976. The process by which Poe composed "The Raven" influenced a number of French authors and composers, such as Charles Baudelaire and Maurice Ravel, and it has been suggested that Ravel's Boléro may have been deeply influenced by "The Philosophy of Composition." The poem is additionally referenced throughout popular culture in films, television, music, and video games.
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