World’s Strangest

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The Quick 10: Quoth mental_floss “Nevermore.”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is 165 years old this week. That’s not bad for a bird with a life expectancy of 40 years (that’s in captivity, if you’re interested – 15 years is the longest a tagged raven has ever lived in the wild). We’ll say Happy Birthday to the morbid black bird by dedicating today’s Q10 to it.

tenniel_raven1. The first time “The Raven” was published was in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. They were quite impressed with it, to say the least – in his intro to Poe’s piece, founder Nathaniel Parker Willis said it was “unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift… It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.” Unfortunately for old E.A.P., Willis gave up editing the following year and the man who took his place was definitely not a Poe fan. Poe actually sued the Evening Mirror for defamation just a year after his hit poem was published and received $225.06 plus his court costs.

2. The amount that he won from the Evening Mirror is about 2500% more than what he earned for “The Raven” in the first place – upon its original publication, Poe received just $9.

3. Not everyone was as kind as Nathaniel Parker Willis. In fact, some of Poe’s contemporaries kind of hated it. William Butler Yeats thought it was “insincere and vulgar” and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” Aldous Huxley thought it was too poetic, saying that it “falls into vulgarity” by being overly so.

4. Poe took his inspiration from a couple of sources: the talking raven idea was likely borrowed from Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty and the rhythm and meter definitely comes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship.”

5. In 1858, John Tenniel illustrated “The Raven” – that’s one of his pieces above. Tenniel is the same guy who did the original drawings for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Tenniel had a knack for the quietly creepy, I’d say.

6. This poem isn’t the first time Poe mentioned a lady named Lenore. She first showed up in “Lenore” (go figure) which was published two years before “The Raven.” Actually, “Lenore” was a revision of an earlier Poe poem called “A Paean”; the name was added and the title was changed for the 1843 version.

ravens7. The Baltimore Ravens are, of course, named after the famous poem by the famous Baltimorean. The team used to have three mascots named Edgar, Allan, and Poe. Edgar and Allan have since been retired to be replaced with real ravens, but Poe is still fluttering around the stadium to cheer on his team.

8. “The Raven” was an immediate hit, which meant immediate parodies. Pretty soon, not-so-spooky versions called “The Whipporwill,” “The Polecat” and “The Gazelle” began making their way through pop culture. “The Polecat” found its way to Abraham Lincoln, in fact, and he found it so funny that he decided to check out the original, which he hadn’t read until that point, and memorized it.

manet raven9. Famous impressionist Édouard Manet illustrated the “The Raven” nearly 20 years after Tenniel. You can see his signature upside down at the top in the closing illustration.
10. The success of “The Raven” didn’t make Poe financially set. “I am as poor now as ever I was in my life, except in hope, which is by no means bankable,” he wrote. Even when his The Raven and Other Tales was published and was a big hit in Europe, he apparently made only $120 from it. And when The Raven and Other Poems was published in the U.S., his take was even less.

Do you agree with Huxley, Yeats and Emerson? Or do you appreciate the macabre ravings of a mad going mad? Me… I’m a fan. But you probably could have guessed that.

If I’ve put you in the mood to read it, you can find the poem in its entirety here.

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