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Anniversary of “The Raven”: Why Poe’s Famous Poem Lives On Forevermore

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem, “The Raven,” was published in the New York Evening Mirror. Although the poem earned him a mere nine dollars upon its publication, it immediately captured readers’ imaginations and made Poe a household name. More than a century and a half later, our continued fascination with Poe and his mythical bird are evident throughout popular culture. What other poem can be said to have inspired an NFL football team (the Baltimore Ravens), a rock album (Lou Reed’s “The Raven”), a Hollywood film (“The Raven,” starring John Cusack as Poe) and an episode of “The Simpsons” (“Treehouse of Horror”)? Even those who’ve never read the poem are likely to recognize its most famous line: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Poe considered the death of a beautiful woman the “most poetical topic in the world,” and he believed that bereaved lovers made great narrators. Thus “The Raven” follows an unnamed narrator who is beset with grief over the death of his beloved Lenore. Late one dreary December night while reading a book in an effort to distract himself from his sorrow, the narrator is visited by a mysterious guest—the raven, who answers the narrator’s every inquiry with a single, maddening word: Nevermore. The poem’s supernatural atmosphere and gothic setting give “The Raven” its spooky appeal. But the narrator’s mental anguish gives the poem its emotional power. By the end of the poem, the bereaved narrator, so distraught at the prospect of never seeing his love again, has lost his sanity. If you’ve never gotten around to reading this most famous of American poems, give it a shot! Find out why “The Raven” continues to haunt and enthrall readers. After you’ve read it, visit the Literary Corner in SIRS Renaissance to learn more about the poem and its legendary author.

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