Academic Book, Edgar Allen Poe, Essay, horror, Jammer Talks About, Joshua Jammer Smith, Kevin J. Hayes, Literature, Mourning, Neil Gaiman, Poe: Essays and Reviews, Poe: Poetry and Tales, Poetry, Richard Kopley, The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allen Poe, The Philosophy of Composition, The Raven, The View From the Cheap Seats, Two Verse Masterworks: "The Raven" and "Ulalume"
For the record, Poe was originally going to have the raven from “The Raven” be a parrot.
In this video I discuss Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, while also discussing much of the background of the poem that was never taught to me growing up. Like I say in the video I actively avoided Poe after an initial total devotion to the man’s work and this was largely because I got sick of hipsters and wannabes who read his work in graveyards writing bad poetry thinking they were deep, and the reason I hated these people was probably because I was one. I discovered Poe again recently thanks to a friend, and reading his work again I was struck by how much I adore the man’s writing. He’s witty, deep, soulful, profound, and striking in the way a writer of the macabre should be. And so because I love The Raven so much I thought it time to go back to this lovely poem and see if I couldn’t impart some of my own impressions of the poem.
As usual I like to go against the grain of what is shoveled to students in the United States, particularly in grade schools. Poe’s great poem is often taught as simply a reaction to the death of his wife Virginia. And yes for the record she was his cousin and she was 13, all I can offer the mutually repulsed reader/viewer is that it was a different time period and social paradigms governing relationships were different. In my reading of Poe, along with my reading of scholarship on the man’s work, this perception has changed dramatically. The Raven’s “Nevermore” is not just a creepy word that reminds the nameless narrator of the death of his wife, it’s a reminder of the real implication of her death. Poe in his life had lost not just his wife but also his mother, his aunt, his step-mother, and perhaps most damaging of all to his mind his psyche. Poe’s life was rather tragic and anti-climactic and these deaths, combined with his alcoholism and gambling problems, Poe’s life was one of near constant loss.
When we lose our loved ones we’re not just sad that they died, we’re sad that we’ll never be able to speak to them again. We’ll never hear them laugh, we’ll never hear another joke, we’ll never be able to ask them advice again, and this absence is what drives the mourning process. Poe’s poem is a brilliant work that explores the depths of mourning for at the beginning entrance of the bird the narrator tries to laugh off the word “Nevermore” with an anecdote, but by the end of the poem the narrator has sunk into the gloomy depths of despair.
This video is also an attempt to dig into the actual composition and arrangement of the poem, an idea which was also never taught to me growing up. I didn’t get a chance to include it in the video but in The Philosophy of Composition, the essay where Poe explains his process of writing the poem, Poe explains part of his creative vision was not to write one single poem, but in fact, because the poem is so large, to write a series of poems that create an overall effect on the reader. This is an interesting idea, especially when you remember that Poe steadily builds the “Nevermore” as a mocking tool against the narrator to eventually create the tremendously feeling of sadness which takes hold of him.
The Raven is a poem that I believe is largely misunderstood. It’s not just a story about a creepy bird to a man who’s lost his wife. In fact the poem is about the haunting quality of loss and how it can consume us and sometimes even drive us to madness.
The books used in this video are:
Poe: Poetry and Tales edited by Patrick F. Quinn (Library of America)
Poe: Essays and Reviews edited by G.R. Thompson (Library of America)
The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allen Poe edited by Kevin J. Hayes (Cambridge University Press)
The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (William Marrow)
If you have any questions, suggestions for books or works you would like to see me review, or if you would like any recommendations for books to read (lord knows I’ve got enough) please feel free to leave a comment below.
Thank you for watching.
Joshua Jammer Smith
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