This week marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allen Poe and the 160th anniversary of his death. He died alone, insane and absolutely broke which considering he invented both the detective story and the horror genre, was a sad irony.
To memorialize his life and works, Baltimore is giving the author a “do-over” funeral.
I like Poe. It’s a tough thing to do because we’ve heard his stories so many time, both retold straight and satirized a thousand different ways. But I like the rich gothic language. I like the horror and the humor and the mystery. “The Mask of the Red Death” facinated me as a kid. I didn’t understand the symbolism, but I felt it, as he walked you through the colored rooms to the single black room with the single ticking clock, the party outside, the plague inside. And I am possibly the last person left who really likes “The Raven.”
If you follow the story in The Raven, there’s something quite sinister going on here. I don’t think it’s a random haunting. First, we have the narrator pouring over “quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore.” Just what is in those books? Forgotten lore can cover a lot of ground, not all of it savory. And he’s mourning his dead love. How did she die? We’re never told. Was it murder? Was it suicide? And that book, that forgotten lore, what if it’s not his? What if it’s HERS? What if that bird, that raven, that familiar belonged to the lost Lenore? Or knew her? It clearly knows him, it knows what happened. What if the narrator had a hand in Lenore’s death?
When we get to the end, when the narrator demands to know if he will meet Lenore in the afterlife, the raven utters its single word; Nevermore. The implication is clear. One of them, either the narrator or Lenore, is damned. Which is it? Is he damned because he killed her or caused her death? Is she damned because she killed herself or dabbled in the forbidden? Poe was not a modern horror writer, he was a moralist. Horrors were visited upon the characters in Poe narration for a reason. It is not an accident, not a mild or random occurence that the raven is there, and that it will not leave.
All of that, and so much more swirls in the air carried by the relentless rhythm, the lush language, the imagery and the emotional roller coaster from mourning to sad humor to fury to despair, and then you get the last verse:
“And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”