Little Bits of History

Nevermore

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 29, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe's raven perched above the door

January 29, 1845: The New York Evening Mirror prints “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. It has become Poe’s most famous poem. It was widely reprinted and Poe became famous as a result. He did not gain great wealth, however. He was paid around $15 overall for the poem. That would be a little less than $350 today. The sensational poem inspired the author’s work, “The Philosophy of Composition.” In this essay, Poe wrote about writing in general and this poem in particular. Poe was 36 when the poem first saw print.

Poe’s life is shrouded in mystery – from birth to death. He was born in Boston in 1809 but his birth is sometimes given as occurring in Baltimore in 1811. Once, Poe claimed to have been born in 1813, two years after his mother’s death. Poe was known as a practical jokester and spread tales about himself and his “grandfather,” Benedict Arnold, especially inflammatory since Poe was attending West Point at the time. There are some who read Poe’s body of work as an autobiography hoping to gain insight into the author’s life.

While details of his birth remain hidden, details of his death are even more mysterious. In June 1849 Poe began an early book tour of sorts, trying to gain support for a magazine he hoped to publish. Poe arrived in Baltimore on September 28. Details are sketchy at best and his movements are unknown. The next fact available to history is a letter from Joseph W. Walker sent to Dr. J.E. Snodgrass on October 3 asking for the doctor’s help. Snodgrass, a friend of Poe’s, arrived and Poe was sent to Washington College Hospital. He was in and out of consciousness and died on the morning of October 7 at either 3 or 5 AM. There is no indication he was found drunk in a gutter. There are several theories regarding cause of death. The local paper unhelpfully listed the cause as “congestion of the brain.”

“The Raven is a narrative poem probably written in late 1844 while Poe was staying at Patrick Brennan’s farm in New York. The poem is noted for its musical qualities, stylized language, and hints of the supernatural. The poem tells the story of a young man’s descent into madness after losing his love, Lenore. He is further tormented by a talking raven perched on a bust of Pallas and chanting “Nevermore.” The young man, bereft, yearns both to forget and to remember his adored lost love.

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.

The true genius shudders at incompleteness – and usually prefers silence to saying something which is not everything it should be.

Stupidity is a talent for misconception.

Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence. – all from Edgar Allan Poe

Also on this day:

Oh, No – O-Three – In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to ban certain aerosols to protect the ozone layer.
Honorable – In 1856, the Victoria Cross medal was established.
“Nevermore!” – In 1845, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe was printed for the first time. (I appear to have lost my mind and wrote about the same thing twice, but they are different looks at the same event.)

“Nevermore!”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 29, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe

January 29, 1845: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe reaches print for the first time in the New York Evening Mirror. Poe was a poet, a short story writer who dabbled in science fiction and virtually created the detective and crime fiction genres, an editor, and a critic of other’s work. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in 1809, his father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died of tuberculosis in 1811. John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Virginia, took Poe in.

The Raven is a beautifully worded, musically cadenced, narrative poem told in an eerie and dark manor. The narrator, a man who has lost his love, Lenore, is visited by the black bird that sits above the door speaking only one word – nevermore. The bird watches and exacerbates the man’s slow and irrevocable descent into madness.

Many of Poe’s poems are a study in guilt or “perverseness.” This is not the guilt associated with law or morals. It isn’t based on right or wrong. It is the guilt that, in Poe’s words, speaks to “the human thirst for self-torture.” The narrator continually asks the bird questions that would best be served by a positive answer while knowing full well that the only response is the negative, “Nevermore!” The poem illustrates the man’s physical terror and describes the psychological torture of the doomed.

In his essay “Philosophy of Composition” Poe explains that self-destruction and self-induced anguish already exist in the heart of his protagonists. The death of beautiful women, left unexplained as to cause, is the most poetic of all topics, according to Poe. In this poem, as in many others, we are not told the cause of Lenore’s death because to Poe it made no difference. Beauty has died. The torture remains. The man must choose between the pain of remembrance and the pain of forgetting. When will the anguish end? Nevermore.

“Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door! / Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! / Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’” – from the poem, The Raven

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”

“Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence.” – all from Edgar Allan Poe

Also on this day:
Oh, No – O-Three – In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to ban certain aerosols to protect the ozone layer.
Victoria Cross – In 1856, Queen Victoria established the Victoria Cross.