Born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, Edgar Allen Poe was indeed one of the establishers of fictional mystery writing. He is considered the adherent founder of detective story writing, a leading designer of the science fiction genre and also the master in macabre anecdotes.
In his halcyon days, he was critically acclaimed as one of the top brass poets to hail his generation and though an American by birth, his reputation was colossal away from home in England and France. It is only after the legislative body of the Lovecraft school and French-influenced writers like Robert W. Chambers publicized his work, that America took interest of this prose intellect.
Edgar Allan Poe together with two of his siblings, were born into a family headed by parents who were peripatetic actors. After their father’s desertion and their mother’s demise due to consumption- now known as tuberculosis in 1811, a Richmond businessman John Allan together with his wife Frances Allan took up the responsibility of caring for the then young Edgar.
Though they never formally adopted him, they gave him the name ‘Allen’ and had him baptized in 1812. In 1815, the family travelled to John Allen’s birthplace in, Irvine Scotland where Poe attended grammar school and while there, puzzled his teacher by reciting passages of English poetry and writing what was considered genuine poetry. He was later enrolled into the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, which later became the setting for his story ‘William Wilson’. (Benton 56).
The families moved back to Virginia in 1820 and in 1826, Poe become engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster while attending one-year language classes in the University of Virginia in 1826-1827. During his time there, Poe’s engagement to Royster was broken off by her family and he also became estranged from his foster father after he refused to cater for Poe’s gambling debts (Benton 18).
While there he composed some tales, however his novice works were not recognized and little is known of them. Poe dropped out of the university after a year and traveled to Boston in April 1827, supporting himself with unusual jobs such as a clerk and newspaper writer under the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet (Krainik 6).
Poe went to live at his aunt Clemm’s Baltimore home in 1831after 3 years in the military, and shortly afterwards published Poems by Edgar Allan Poe and also started placing short stories in magazines, one of which titled “MS. Found in a Bottle,” won him a $50 prize in1833. In 1836 Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm, daughter to his aunt Mrs. Maria Clemm (Weekes 124).
This became a turning point in his life for he begun a career as a writer in the Southern Literary Messenger (Krainik 12). In 1837, he lost his job due to excessive drinking and he moved to New York, where he published “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” in 1838. This led him to Philadelphia, where he worked as coeditor of the Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, giving some of his best fiction like “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
In 1840, he published “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”, which turned out to be quite popular due to its gothic essence and with him in the limelight. Poe left for the fictional editorship job offered by “Graham’s Magazine” in 1841 but left a year later.
1843 saw him publish “The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Man That Was Used Up and The Gold Bug”, for which he received a $100 prize for, from a Philadelphia newspaper (Ostrom 33). In 1844, Poe got a job in the “New York Mirror”, which he held onto until 1845 publishing the famous poem “The Raven”, until he switched to the editorship job offered by the Broadway Journal, where he published two volumes of “The Raven and Other Poems and Tales”.
Edgar Allen Poe was among the first writers who attempted to make a living out of writing albeit all the hardships he experienced. The Raven was published in 1845 while Poe was still writing for the New York Mirror.
The narrator is tired and weak but still awake in the wee hours of morning reading an ancient book of knowledge. Just when he is about to fall asleep, he is startled by the sound of what he assumes is a visitor knocking. He opens the door to find no one there and starts having disturbing thoughts only for the word Lenore to pass through his mind. He goes back to bed only to hear a louder noise, this time from his room’s window.
He opens the shatters only for a raven to fly in. the raven is rather scruffy in appearance but its presence brings some comical relief to the narrator. He feels privileged to have such a creature in his room and the fact that the raven answers his question of what its name is with the word “Nevermore”, adds to his excitement. He concludes that the raven must have been owned by a disaster prone master, who used the words “nevermore” so often that the raven had them etched into its soul.
Now occupied with the raven, he senses the air has became denser and can smell perfume aroma that makes him think the raven could be Lenore. He suspects the bird is a prophet but accuses it of being evil, but nevertheless a prophet. He begs God to bequeath him with Lenore, but the raven replies “nevermore”. He gets irked by this and chases the bird away but the raven is unshaken and now assumes a kind of demonic demeanor as the narrators hopes are crushed by the raven.
The Raven was non-didactic poem that has numerous occurrences of alliteration, internal rhyme, repetition, imagery, refrain and hints of onomatopoeia. Written in narrative speech, it begins on a rather depressing note; with the narrator “weak” and “weary”. Alliteration is used here to stress the disposition of Edgar Allen Poe as he wrote this poem.
This was at a time when his wife was unsound from a ruptured blood vessel and had contacted tuberculosis. He is yearning for companionship and more so love and going to open the door in the dead of night to show his desperation. His fixation on Lenore is metaphorical thus Lenore is seemingly the ideal woman he has in mind. The poem is reflective of Poe himself who appears to have sought solace in the Bible during hard times as depicted in referring to it as an ancient book of knowledge.
The alleged knock on the door might have been used to identify with his first love Sarah Elmira Royster, to whom he was engaged to while in the University of Virginia in 1826. He reasons that his engagement was rushed and it is symbolized in the poem by the narrator gathering courage and going to open the door at night expecting a visitor at the sound that is obviously not a knock.
The sound itself could be the urgency in which he felt in finding love and the darkness depicting his “blindness” to love at the time. Opening the door and finding no one might mean the desolation he felt when he lost touch with his first love Royster, whom he later realized was married after he dropped out from the University of Virginia in 1827 and hence the whispered word, “Lenore?” meaning where is my ideal woman? (Weekes 22).
In my opinion, the raven is used here to depict his dying wife Virginia Clemm due to a few reasons. First is the loudness of the tapping of the window lattice, which might have been used to describe his exigency to find his ideal woman, Lenore.
The raven flying in through the window could have been used to represent their unconventional form of marriage, taking into account that Virginia was in fact his cousin. Secondly, he smells perfume in the dense air when engaging the raven, the perfume depicting impressions of love he might have been feeling for her.
He later vehement denies the thought that the raven could be Lenore, meaning his affection for his wife was superficial and their union only of convenience. Thirdly, Virginia was a lot younger than him and was still in her teens when he married her. His metaphorical use of a raven that spoke could have been used to mean how limited he thought her intelligence was and how he further thought she had a negative attitude portrayed in the word “nevermore”.
This attitude might have been instilled by her mother who he refers to as the raven’s master, because she most likely had a lot of predicaments through out her life. One is also inclined to think that Virginia mostly wore dark clothes and had shaved her head leading to the comparison with the raven, (Krainik 14).
His expression when the raven first enters his chamber is one of comical delight. He is amused by raven’s facade and adjusts himself on his velvet seat in order to engage the bird. He then discloses that he won’t be surprised when the raven leaves in the morning as other friend have done that before and his hopes have previously flown away. This is quite a powerful choice of words because it shows the disenchantment Poe had regarding lovers and hopes.
Prior to writing this poem, Poe had on several accounts lost his jobs in among others, the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and the military. He had also written several books, none of which was recognized. To add on to this, he had lost his first love and had been disowned by his foster father who could have left him a sizable inheritance, depicting a man who was accustomed to loosing.
None better support this than the questions he asks the raven, well knowing the answer will be “nevermore”; is there balm in Gilead? …, shall I clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore? (Benton 56).
His attempt to chase away the raven to no avail seems to suggest that Poe had tried to part ways with his wife to no avail. The crow strategically perching above the chamber door seems to imply the wife was dominant or her family had influence over him.
The final stanza is of a particular interest because it seems to imply his wife’s condition had deteriorated and she was either semi-lucid or in a comatose state hence the connotation that the raven’s eyes looked like a demon that is dreaming. Poe ends this poem with the felling of exasperation and despondency trying to imply that there is a connection between him and the raven’s shadow.
The shadow could have meant the looming death of his wife. He could therefore have come to the conclusion that he will never have any real chance of finding love thus …” And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted — nevermore!”
Benton, Roberts. “Friends and Enemies: Women in the Life of Edgar Allan Poe”. Works of Poe. June 2 1999. Web, December 1 2009. http://www.eapoe.org/papers/psbbooks/pb19871c.htm
Krainik, Cumins. “The Sir Moses Ezekiel Statue of Edgar Allan Poe”. Baltimore. April 2 2007.Web, December 1 2009. http://www.eapoe.org/papers/psbbooks/pb19871f.htm
Ostrom, Johnson. “Poe’s Literary Labors and Rewards”. Poe’s Work. Feb 5 2001.Web, Dec 1 2009. http://www.eapoe.org/papers/psbbooks/pb19871e.htm
Weekes, Krutz. “Poe’s Feminine Ideal”. Literature review. Nov 16 2003.Web, Dec 1 2009. http://books.google.com/books?id=W755ymfap4sC&pg=PA148&dq#v=onepage&q=&f=false