January 29, 2015

170 years ago, this evening (dreary)... "while I pondered, weak and weary/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore..."

Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" is first published — January 29, 1845 — in the New York Evening Mirror.
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.".... Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a "non-reasoning" creature capable of speech....
The poem inspired illustrators. I chose the one by John Tenniel (whose "Alice in Wonderland" illustrations are so familiar) to begin the post, but the Gustave Doré approach seems to fit the tone better.

That goes with the last lines about the Raven forever sitting above the door, as "the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor/And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/Shall be lifted—nevermore!"  which — as I read it tonight, 170 years later — feels like the inspiration for Neil Young's "Big birds flying across the sky/Throwing shadows on our eyes... The chains are locked and tied across the door... Helpless, helpless, helpless."


YoungHegelian said...

Poe had much more influence across the pond than he is ordinarily credited with. You know who translated Poe into French? Baudelaire!

Poe, while beloved in American letters, seems a man not altogether of the America of his day. Just too somber & gothic for a land of Transcendentalists & Pioneers. Even less so a resident of "Charm City", Bal'mer: "Do you want onions on that burger, hon?" "Nevermore!"

YoungHegelian said...

And, I'm sorry, that's a freakin' seagull not a raven in the Tenniel illustration!

madAsHell said...

Why is Joni Mitchell singing while hiding back stage??

Edmund said...

While it might have inspired Neil Young, id did inspire a song by The Alan Parsons Project on their album inspired by Poe.

Michael said...

Mad as hell

The last Band concert, I believe, at The Fillmore. She is featured elsewhere in the programm. Worth watching the whole concert.

There was Levon young and drumming. Now gone.

Biff said...

We had to memorize it in 8th grade.

Michael said...

My problem with this is that the lamps in a room at night are either at most head-high or else hanging in the middle of the room. If the Raven is perched "above the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door," the lamplight o'er it streaming would cast its shadow on the ceiling - not on the floor! But ceiling does not rhyme with nevermore, and the mood is so intense that I went 50 years without noticing. But now I can't experience it quite the same way.

rhhardin said...

The introduction to Poe in The Stuffed Owl, an Anthology of Bad Verse is not to be missed.

Rfhirsch said...

Also do read Near a Raven: http://www.cadaeic.net/naraven.htm

as well as the slightly different version that is the first section of the utterly astonishing Cadeic Cadenza: http://www.cadaeic.net/cadenza.htm

Phil 314 said...

Who could have imagined it would inspire a football team.

Phil 314 said...


Paddy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddy O said...

Ravens are reasoning.

LuAnn Zieman said...

I wrote this years ago as an exercise in parody:

Elegy to Edgar Allen Poe
(In his Gothic style)

Poe of melancholy
downcast, downhearted,
and dismal--
shadowy, sad, uncertain
prose nest
in your dark brain,
so abysmal.

Beauty to you is fragile
and pale,
shimmer of slowly
shriveling life.
The dim and dreadful death
you regale
ends not the pain, nor
yet the strife.

Michael McNeil said...

I'll second Paddy O's comment — and raise him a bit more. It's not clear how much ‘reasoning’ (some) birds — particularly ravens and crows it would seem — do, but it's apparently significant. The sort of mimicry that allows certain birds to learn how to ‘speak’ words of human speech is itself a kind of intelligence that very few mammals exhibit, but humans notably do.

Beyond that, as Paddy's link points out, ravens can [see how to and] make use of tools (also a talent that darn few mammals ever do). But beyond [seeing how to] use a (potential) tool lying right in front of you, certain birds can also [see how to and] make tools de novo — another meta-level of capability higher than merely using tools — and something basically only humans (and to a certain degree chimpanzees) are known to do amongst mammals.

See this YouTube video of a New Caledonian crow faced with the problem of a little cup of food inaccessibly down a tube along with a straight piece of wire on the side. Note that this particular crow reportedly had almost no previous experience with bendable materials such as wire, but promptly figures out how to bend the wire into a hook to use to lift the cup out of the tube. See also the original report from the journal Science (requires registration).

jdallen said...

Young Hegelian beat me to it.


Roger Sweeny said...

The great naturalist Bernd Heinrich did a lot of research on ravens. Two of his books are especially interesting: The Mind of the Raven, and Ravens in Winter.

mikee said...

I unfortunately lived in Bawlmer for a long, misguided decade before escaping, and can attest that Poe's mid-1800s themes of mania, despair, insanity and criminality prosper there to this day.

My advice re Baltimore: Nevermore!

Anthony said...

Perhaps my favorite poem. I shall have to read it again tonight. Poe was such a wide ranging author, from morose poetry to comedy to horror to detective stories. I went to see his grave in Baltimore and was quite moved.

The other poem I adore is Tennyson's Ulysses. Almost a toss-up between the two, but Poe's is better with the language.

Nate Whilk said...

There have been many parodies and humorous versions of the poem. Here's Lord Buckley's hip version, called "The Bugbird". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhdeP6Nipes