What would Corvid Month be without a mention of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”?
History of “The Raven”
“The Raven” was published in the 1845 January edition of the Evening Mirror. It brought a lot of attention to an already well-known Poe. It is considered to be a major turning point in his career.
Poe is known widely for his poetry, but he only has a handful of poems that were ever popular. “The Raven” being his most famous. The bulk of his work is actually comprised of short stories.
Poe died on October 7, 1849 at the age of 40, just four years after it was published. That’s 168 years ago, tomorrow.
“The Raven” is still his most popular work. It has influenced countless artists and musicians since its publication. “The Simpsons” featured it as the basis for an episode and an NFL football team was named after it. GO Ravens!
A Raven, A Parrot, An Owl
Rumors have swirled around the literary community that the Raven featured in the poem was initially not supposed to be a Raven, but an owl, or a parrot. Imagine that — a parrot. An owl seems more believable to me.
(Tangent: This reminds me of a work by William Wegman (the photographer famous for his work with Weimaraners) you can see what I mean here. Though the image is actually of a crow, you get the picture!)
Ravens were strongly associated with death, bad fortune, and had, at the time, a long history of persecution which is probably part of the reason why Poe chose a Raven over a Parrot.
In their essay, “Two verse masterworks: ‘The Raven’ and ‘Ulalume‘”, Richard Kopley and Kevin J. Hayes, write that Poe probably got the idea from “Charles Dickens’s [sic] novel ‘Barnaby Rudge’. Poe had reviewed the book in 1841 and 1842.”
Also, Dickens was known for keeping a Raven as a pet. His Raven was named, “Grip“. Dickens wasn’t Poe’s only influence.
Poe, admittedly, borrowed the meter of “The Raven” from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, along with a very specific description of a curtain.
Poe had a lot of experience with death, so it’s no wonder why his focus was heavily set on it, especially in “The Raven”, which was somewhat of a prelude to the death of his wife, Virginia. At the time she was dying of the same illness that killed his mother — tuberculosis.
I, along with countless others, have read and re-read this poem both throughout my youth and adulthood. This quote from Kevin J. Hayes’ essay, “One-man modernist” sums up my thoughts about its role in my reading:
“Most who encounter Poe do so in their adolescence, and some, to their loss, leave him there.”
Not me. What about you? Share below!
Featured Image: “The Raven.” Image Credit: Kevin Dooley. Licensed under CC 2.0.
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