The Raven debuted in 1845 to instant success, thanks to some smart circulating moves by Poe, himself. It put Poe in the center of the public eye after years of floundering, and into what we would describe today as "pop culture" celebrity.
It is a narrative in verse, telling the story of a black bird that sought shelter from tumultuous weather. It flew into a student's bedroom, frightening him from his sorrowful memories of his deceased mistress. The inconsolable lover curiously asked the bird's name to which it replied, "Nevermore." The lover soon realized that "what it utters is its only stock and store", but in his misguided desire for self torture, and driven by a superstitious sense, he continued to bombard the bird with questions that would only bring more suffering. The Raven is said to have its origins in myth- a messenger of bad news, referring to biblical text of a white bird turning to black when it failed to bring back its messages, or for that matter, good messages.
Every genuine author in a greater or lesser degree leaves in his works, whatever their design, traces of his personal character.
Poe confessed that the bird's master is a reflection of himself:
"Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never- nevermore'."
Poe was a huge admirer of Elizabeth Barrett (not yet Browning), so enthusiastic as to echo the complex rhyme and rhythm of her work. He praised Barrett's The Drama of Exile and Other Poems in his review published in The Broadway Journal in January 1845. On receiving a dedicated copy of The Raven from him, Barrett stated:
"Receiving a book from you seems to authorize or at least encourage me to try to express what I have long felt before- my sense of high honour you done to me in your country and mine, of the dedication of your poems..
Your "Raven" has produced a sensation, a "fit horror," here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by the " Nevermore." ..I think you would like to be told our great poet , Mr. Browning...was struck much by the rhythm of that poem."
The Raven was viewed with mixed reception by many of Poe's contemporaries. William Butler Yeats harshly described it as "insincere and vulgar."
The Southern Quarterly Review wrote in July 1848 that insignificant "rapping" on a door or a "fluttering" curtain would only affect "a child who had been frightened to the verge of idiocy by terrible ghost stories". Even in death, Poe was accused of plagiarism by his own friend Thomas Holley Chivers, who went so far as to say that the repeated mantra "nevermore" was of his own making.
For all its controversial beginnings, The Raven has been parodied in the silly and equally serious adaptations in all of media industry; it has been an enduring, iconoclastic work that has influenced the imaginations of the biggest writers of horror genre. It is one of the most memorable achievements of Edgar Allan Poe and probably the most contributory to his legacy.
The Raven ~