Once upon a midnight dreary, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Raven, a poem about a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover slowly descending into madness. Today is the poem’s 176th anniversary, and to celebrate its publication, here are 5 facts about one of the greatest poetic works in American literature.
5. poe’s wife was deathly ill as he was writing it
As Edgar Allan Poe was writing The Raven, his wife Virginia Clemm was suffering from tuberculosis. As I mention in my article on fun facts about the aforementioned poet to celebrate his birthday (found here), Virginia was his first cousin, who he married while she was only thirteen-years-old. Regardless whether or not anything insidious took place between the two, there’s no doubt that Poe loved her dearly, and having lost his biological mother, his foster mother and his brother to tuberculosis in the past, he was understandably quite worried. The Raven, is a poem about a man who had lost a loved one and is unable to move on in his life, and this historical context allows us to see the inspiration.
4. the raven was almost a parrot
Poe wanted the central symbol of the story to be a “non-reasoning” creature capable of speech, and because of this he almost decided on a parrot. He changed it to a raven, a creature he considered “equally capable of speech”, because it more matched the tone of the poem. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty, specifically the scene where Grip makes a noise and somebody asks “What was that – him tapping at the door?” Poe had written a review of Barnaby Rudge, in which he claims that Grip should have served more of a symbolic function. The similarities would be very difficult to go unnoticed.
3. poe capitalized on the success of ‘the raven’
After the success of The Raven, Poe published an essay titled The Philosophy of Composition, in which he detailed the poem’s creation. In it, he explains how every creative decision in the process of writing The Raven was based on logic: from the raven entering the narrator’s chamber to avoid the storm to it perching itself on a marble bust to create stark visual contrast. Even the term “nevermore”, he claimed, was a deliberate decision because of the emotional effect created by long vowel sounds. While the historical consensus is that much of the essay’s writing is exaggerated, it still provides us with a valuable insight into Poe’s creative process.
2. ‘The Raven’ immediately made poe a household name
While the poem, unfortunately, made Poe little money, it catapulted him into national renown, so much so that people started nicknaming him “The Raven”. Not only that, but parodies based on the poem began circulating throughout Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, including The Craven, The Gazelle, The Whippoorwill, The Turkey, even The Pole-Cat, which reached Abraham Lincoln, who, while finding the parody quite funny, hadn’t yet read the original.
1. ‘the Raven’ is the only poem with a sport’s team
The football team the Baltimore Ravens is actually named after the titular character in Poe’s poem, as Baltimore is the city where he died. The name was chosen in a fan contest, where 33,288 voters wished to honor the lost past poet, yet they also liked, according to The Baltimore Sun, “the tie-in with the other birds in town, the Orioles, and found it easy to visualize a tough, menacing black bird.”.