Saturday, January 29, 2011

And the World Has Been Raven Mad Ever Since

The Raven Edgar Allan Poe DoreIn honor of the anniversary of the first appearance in print of Poe's most famous work, I offer several contemporary tributes, which, whatever their merits--or lack of same--as poetry, serve as eloquent testimony to the immediate and remarkable cultural effect of his grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore.

One of the earliest "Raven" parodies appeared in the April 19, 1845 issue of the "New World." Poe reprinted it in the "Broadway Journal" a week later under the headline, "A Gentle Puff." He added, "If we copied into our Journal all the complimentary notices that are bestowed upon us, it would contain hardly anything besides; the following done into poetry is probably the only one of the kind that we shall receive, and we extract it from our neighbour, the 'New World,' for the sake of its uniqueness."

Small wonder Poe was pleased; the anonymous lines not only defend, but celebrate his contemporary reputation as the critical "Tomahawk Man"--a novelty indeed in those days.
Then with step sedate and stately, as if thrones had borne him lately,
Came a bold and daring warrior up the distant echoing floor;
As he passed the Courier's Colonel, then I saw The Broadway Journal,
In a character supernal, on his gallant front he bore,
And with stately step and solemn marched he proudly through the door,
As if he pondered, evermore.

With his keen sardonic smiling, every other care beguiling,
Right and left he bravely wielded a double-edged and broad claymore,
And with gallant presence dashing, 'mid his confreres stoutly clashing,
He unpityingly went slashing, as he keenly scanned them o'er,
And with eye and mien undaunted, such a gallant presence bore,
As might awe them, evermore.

Neither rank nor station heeding, with his foes around him bleeding,
Sternly, singly and alone, his course he kept upon that floor
While the countless foes attacking, neither strength nor valor lacking,
On his goodly armor hacking, wrought no change his visage o'er,
As with high and honest aim, he still his falchion proudly bore,
Resisting error, evermore.

It is fascinating how, even in Poe's own lifetime, his contemporaries were eager to identify him with his renowned poem. He became, in their eyes, a creature straight out of his own fancy--an impression, unfortunately, that still lingers today. He was not merely "the writer of 'The Raven'"--to many, even people who knew him personally, he was the Raven. One of the better-known poems to embody this view was published in April 1847 in "Godey's Lady's Book." It was, "To Edgar A. Poe," the most famous work by an otherwise utterly forgotten poet named Alonzo Lewis, who styled himself "the Lynn Bard." According to Annie Richmond's testimony, she considered the poem notable enough to ask Poe to send her a copy a couple of years later.
I read thy "Song of the Raven," Poe:
The thrilling notes of its magic flow
Sunk into my heart, like the summer rain
In the thirsty earth, till it glowed again.

When I read the first lines of that wondrous song,
That doth to a brighter world belong,
I said--no poet of Freedom's land
On the summit of such a height can stand.

'Tis a clime of supernal ether rare,
No mortal poet can breathe and bear;
And he must make, in his sad confusion,
A ''most lame and impotent conclusion."

Another verse, and I seemed to stand
On the verge of limitless Fairy Land,
While spirits were passing to and fro,
And the earth lay far and dark below.

Then I went higher, and higher still,
O'er the summit of many a star-crowned hill,
Through the trackless realms of immortal mind,
Which the sons of song alone can find

Could I have my choice of the treasured lore
Of classic land, I would give more
The author of that strange song to be,
Than of volumes of unread casuistry.

There are hearts so cold they may never feel
The thrills which the harp's fine strings reveal;
But while my life's warm pulses flow,
I bless thy name and thy memory, Poe.

A thousand brilliant years may flit,
And still that classic bird will sit,
As he sat in the golden days of yore,
On the bust of Pallas above the door.

A thousand strains may rise and sink
In the bubbles of old Castalia's brink--
But thy lay shall float by Song's bright shore,
On the countless tides of "Evermore."

And many a heart in this dark, cold world,
From its throne of sweet affection hurled,
As it cons that strange, wild ballad o'er,
Will sigh for its own loved, lost Lenore.
The Raven Poe DulacAn even more sentimental Raven-inspired effusion, "One of Our Poets," was published in 1848 by Frances A. Fuller. It captures perfectly the intensely emotional response Poe's image inspired, particularly among women--even women, like Fuller, who never even met the man.
Oft my fancy draws the picture, and for evermore he seems
Sitting silent in his chamber, brooding o'er his wondrous dreams;
Sitting motionless and weaving visions in his mighty brain--
Visions soft, and pure, and glowing, and with scarce an earthly stain--
Weaving into them his being, all its pleasures and its pain.

Coyly through the open casement steals the fragrant air of June,
Humming to itself the murmur of the woodland's pleasant tune;
Lifting up the silken curtain, through which comes the ruby tinge
Glowing in the chamber's twilight, toying with the golden fringe,
Prisoning the window-roses in its tassel-tangled swinge.

Fitful gleams of yellow sunlight flash across the velvet floor,
As the breeze in rising gladness lifts the curtain more and more,
And a smile seems stealing over the dim faces in the room,
'Till the pictured wall looks breathing through the soft and dreamy
Antique jewels seem to sparkle, and to wave the bending plume.

Nothing cares the silent dreamer that those pictures, old and dim,
Give more sense of life and motion to the gazer's eye than him;
Little heeds he sun or shadow, pleasant sounds or fragrant air;
He is in a world whose visions are a thousand times more fair,
Musing, speechless with enchantment, on the glorious beauties

More and more the curtain flutters, and upon the dreamer's hair
Falls the crimson glow of sunset, resting in a halo there;
On a brow so proud and pensive fitly placed the glory seems--
Looking like the lingering radiance borrowed in his land of dreams,
Broken, as the curtain flutters, into bright and changing gleams.

But anon the sun is setting, and the breeze has died away,
And the curtain and the sunbeam cease to quiver and to play,
And the spell so deeply woven round the dreamer seems to part,
Till the tide of life comes rushing faster from his fettered heart,
And his own unconscious murmurs wake him with a sudden start.

Hard upon his fevered eyelids presses he his trembling hand,
While a troop of white-winged visions vanish at his sad command;
Still he murmurs lightly to them, whispers to them o'er and o'er,
As he paces, in the twilight, noiselessly the chamber floor,
Murmuring ever, like a river, one same sound, and that Lenore!

Talking to his love in heaven, she who never leaves his side,
Hovering near, a winged spirit, still his angel and his bride;
Counting ceaselessly the hoarded treasures of his memory's store;
Burning out his heart in incense at the shrine he loved of yore,
Haunted by the "rare and radiant" maiden of his heart, Lenore.

And whatever you do, don't forget to read the real thing.The Raven parody