"The Raven"

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-- Anonymous, May 01, 2001


Poe's detailed story of how he wrote the Raven is found in The Philosophy of Composition. however you might be warned that he may be pulling the reader's leg. See the text of this and The Poetic Principle at the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore website under Essays.

Look for the intended and artful impact of the poem, the metaphorical symbols or emblems of Raven, heart, Pallas, etc. If you don't feel it from the poetry itself, the actual meaning is unimportant. Obviously some relation to Poe and the dead that would not completely go away.

-- Anonymous, May 01, 2001


One thought that I might risk adding here, at least for clarity or additional consideration, is that the general rules or principles of versification mentioned throughout Poe's construction schematic, "The Philosophy of Composition", may be considered reasonably factual relative to his personal views on poetry and prose. Poe repeated these principles often and there is no cause to doubt their sincerity. The only element of this essay that some may appear to question or read as a "tongue in cheek" description is the systematic approach and pre-calculated, almost mathematical methodology by which Poe indicates he constructed and wrote the poem.

Upon the whole, however, I have always been rather suspicious of this essay, particularly as regards the underlying intent. Clearly, one cannot speak with certainty on what was on Poe's mind (that is to say, beyond the patently obvious) and I do not offer this as fact, but rather as fodder for thoughtful reflection. Given the circumstances surrounding the publication of this poem, the unprecedented sensation it caused and its incredibly broad public appeal, there is, I feel, just cause to believe that Poe saw the success of this work as a clear vindication of his poetic ideals. The somber, rhythmic tone, its haunting refrain and the remarkable power of the poem is undeniable and even many of Poe's literary enemies were compelled to concede the genius behind it.

This is not to say there were critics who found no fault with the work. There were also those that fell all over themselves to draw the requisite parallels and suggest plagiarism at every opportunity. However, as a practical matter, these observations were doomed from the beginning and were often viewed as blatant envy and pettiness. While Poe did make minor revisions to the poem, the changes were limited to verbal improvements and only affected three lines. Effectively, the poem still reads as originally written. History's recollection of Poe's payment for the poem varies from around $14.00 to about $40.00, depending on the source, but there is no evidence he was ever compensated for reprints and republications, of which there were many. Yet, it is the single piece of Poe's art that is most responsible for instantly propelling him into the public mind and, subsequently, into American literary history. Whether you view Edgar Allan Poe as famous or as infamous is of little substance. This single contribution to world literature remains a unique and invaluable work.

It is thought that the poem was begun while Poe and his family were living in Philadelphia but was completed well after April 1844 following their move to the Brennan Farm near New York. In spite of Poe's mention that the poem was specifically written for "a good run" and to appeal to a broad audience, one could easily say with measurable conviction that Poe was as stunned at its reception as were his enemies. In light of the "paltry compensations" and, not one to sit idly by, Poe began to take full advantage of the opportunities resulting from his newborn celebrity through lecturing. While this afforded him the public exposure and admiration he craved, unfortunately, his audiences were limited and, perhaps, not as profitable as he may have hoped. If I recall correctly, there were some scheduled lectures he either missed, skipped or declined altogether. It is for these reasons that I feel the basic intent of his essay, "The Philosophy of Composition", is more a public restatement of his poetic ideals intricately woven into the fabric of his poetic methods than any personal desire to lay open his methodical, step by step construction of "The Raven". Poe followed up on this with his rewrite of his 1843 "Notes on English Verse" into "The Rationale of Verse", parts I and II in October and November 1848 and his "The Poetic Principle" in December 1848.

As for the story told in the poem, I would not characterize it so much as scary, but as sad, melancholy, sorrowful or even depressing, if you must, but certainly not frightening. It is simply the story of a man trapped in the horrible agony of despair for the loss of his beloved Lenore and his desperate longing to rid himself of the agony of remembrance. For all his intellectual prowess and in spite of his ability to reason, he ultimately succumbs to his own desperation and fancies the bird as a means of reuniting with his lost love. By the final stanza, the bird has become a token of his "mournful and never- ending remembrance."


-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

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