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The Raven | Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

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The Raven | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is one of the most famous—and haunting—works of American poetry. Published in 1845, the poem describes the mysterious visit of a talking raven to a forlorn lover on a dark, ominous evening. While Poe made little money from the poem over the course of his short life, "The Raven," with its carefully crafted meter and rhythm, helped cement him as one of America's great literary voices. Even those who have never read the poem are likely familiar with "The Raven's" eerie, legendary line: "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'"

1. Poe was inspired to write "The Raven" after meeting Charles Dickens—and his pet bird.

Another famous 19th-century writer helped inspire "The Raven"—or at least his pet did. In 1842 British novelist Charles Dickens traveled to the United States along with his pet raven, Grip, and met Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was fascinated by Grip, and the two authors corresponded by letters for years after their meeting. After Poe's death, Dickens returned to America and gave Poe's grieving mother "a substantial amount of money"—although Grip had also passed away by this point. Most scholars agree that Poe's meeting with Dickens's quirky and intelligent pet bird inspired him to model "The Raven" on the species.

2. The raven that inspired the poem is stuffed and on display.

Charles Dickens's pet raven, Grip, has been immortalized as a literary icon. The raven, which inspired Poe's poem, allegedly had some strange habits, such as drinking white paint from a dish and scraping dry paint off surfaces. Unsurprisingly, this led to Grip's death shortly after Dickens's trip to the United States.

Several of the famous resident ravens at the Tower of London—the historic castle on the Thames River—have since been named "Grip" in homage to Dickens's pet. The real Grip was stuffed and preserved. The taxidermy bird is on display, not in London, but in Philadelphia, where Poe lived for years and first met with Dickens. Grip now resides at the Philadelphia Free Library, where a librarian explained:

Grip was not a nice bird. It was very unpleasant toward the children. It was originally in the house, but it was biting the kids, so they had to put him out in the carriage house.

3. Poe's first submission of "The Raven" ended in rejection and a $15 gift.

Despite the poem's modern-day popularity, "The Raven" did not have a quick and easy route to publication. Poe initially submitted the poem to George Rex Graham, who owned Graham's Magazine. Graham was an old friend of Poe's but couldn't see "The Raven" garnering a wide readership. Instead, he viewed the poem as a "cry for help" from Poe, and he gave Poe $15 as charity. Rejected, Poe then turned to The American Review, which accepted the poem and paid the author $9.

4. One of Poe's friends claimed Poe plagiarized "The Raven."

Poe's good friend and fellow poet Thomas Holley Chivers claimed "The Raven" had been plagiarized from his own work, "To Allegra Florence in Heaven" (1842). Chivers's claims of plagiarism were mostly ignored, however, as Chivers had openly copied Poe's poetic style in some of his poems.

Chivers and Poe shared a strange friendship. Poe would often ask for money from Chivers, who was much wealthier, but Chivers would never satisfy his requests because Poe refused to engage him in philosophical dialogue. In addition, Chivers only made claims of plagiarism against Poe after Poe's death in 1849. However, he may have started nagging Poe earlier, as Poe's last statement regarding his friend describes receiving "another sneaking letter from Chivers."

5. Several prominent literary figures thought "The Raven" was complete garbage.

Although "The Raven" has had a notable influence on 20th-century authors such as Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, Poe's contemporaries didn't all see the poem's value upon publication. "The Raven" received some scathing reviews from prominent literary figures. One such review came from philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was part of the transcendentalist movement, which focused on the inherent goodness of nature. Emerson simply said, "I see nothing in it." Later poets and authors weren't entirely thrilled by "The Raven," either. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats, born after Poe's death and famous for "Sailing to Byzantium" (1928) criticized "The Raven," saying it was "insincere and vulgar... its execution a rhythmical trick."

6. Poe would amaze fans with public readings of "The Raven"—complete with mood lighting.

Poe understood that "The Raven" was best enjoyed in an appropriately dark, macabre setting. In the late 1840s, shortly before his untimely death, Poe frequently staged readings of the poem. The poet would turn down the lights and deliver his poem in a slowly spoken, grim voice. One guest described the experience, noting, "to hear Poe repeat 'The Raven' ... is an event in one's life." Sadly, Poe's deteriorating health prevented him from giving more readings, despite his fans' insistence that he do so.

7. The popularity of "The Raven" led to a great number of bird-themed parodies of Poe's poem.

As "The Raven" soared in popularity, many parodies sprang up, featuring other birds in place of Poe's symbolic raven. The first of these, credited to a poet named Sarles, was entitled "The Owl," published shortly after the original in 1845, with "The Turkey" appearing several months later. Other bird-themed parodies of "The Raven" published during Poe's time included "The Dove," "The Parrot," and "The Goblin Goose." One parody entitled "The Gazelle" clearly did not follow the "bird theme" at all but drew Poe's attention and admiration when he discovered that a 15-year-old had written it.

8. "The Raven" is responsible for Baltimore's NFL team name.

Poe lived in Baltimore, Maryland, for several years, and he died in the city in 1849. When Baltimore's National Football League team needed to choose a mascot and name in 1996, they conducted a poll among fans to determine the best option. After narrowing the list down from more than 100 possibilities to 3—the Ravens, the Marauders, and the Americans—the team managers conducted a telephone poll of 1,000 participants. Due to the literary significance of Poe's "The Raven" and the poet's ties to Baltimore, the name "The Ravens" won by a landslide.

9. A professional wrestler modeled himself on "The Raven"—and quoted lines from the poem during matches.

Poe's "The Raven" has had a profound influence in an unlikely place: the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment. The professional wrestler Scott Levy adopted the name "Raven," paying homage to the poem. In addition, Levy even quoted a famous line from the poem after winning a match, signing off somberly, "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'"

10. An episode of The Simpsons parodied "The Raven"—and listed Poe in the credits.

The animated television show The Simpsons famously parodied "The Raven" in its 1990 episode "Treehouse of Horror." The Halloween episode satirized the poem, with Lisa Simpson describing Poe's story to scare her family. The show's creator, Matt Groening, was reportedly nervous about the episode before it aired, fearing it would be "the worst, most pretentious thing [they had] ever done." The episode lists Poe in the opening credits as the author of the poem that inspired the skit.

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