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Grim the Barnaby Rudge

Updated on December 10, 2012

The raven conjures up ebony and midnight black, curses and hexes, but besides the dark omen associated with these graceful birds, they are widely popular in literature and perhaps the most famous poem penned by Edgar Allen Poe. Have you ever wondered where Poe’s the Raven originated from or what inspired him to write such melancholy work? In 1840, there was a man named Charles Dickens who wrote a novel titled Barnaby Rudge. In this story there was a raven called Grip based off a real pet raven Dickens kept in his home (who was also called Grip) in England. Then the novel was critiqued in the periodical Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine by a man in Philadelphia named—you guessed it—Edgar Allen Poe.

What did Pablo Picasso once say? Good artists copy but great artists steal? In chapter five of Barnaby Rudge, Poe read the following passage: “What was that”—an acquaintance of Barnaby’s mother ask, hearing a corvid sound outside—“him tapping at the door?” “No,” replies widow Rudge, “... Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe changed the wordings to create a more intensified effect of the active verbs. Knocking became rapping.

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “Tis some visit,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—only this, and nothing more.”

Misunderstood as harbingers of bad luck, perhaps Poe is the reason why these lithe creatures are portrayed as dark forces, when there merely birds with a brain. I do mean, brain. Charles Dickens’ pet raven could actually talk. Crows, magpies, and ravens can all talk just as a parrot does. It takes a fair amount of training, but with time, they can answer appropriate questions, distinguish pronouns which mean they are capable of thinking and planning before they speak. Grip the Raven’s favorite expression was “Halloa old girl!—and it was even said before Grip died of a lethal ingestion of paint chips. So saddened was Charles Dickens that he stuffed his pet raven and mounted it on a display case in his office room. Years later, a collector managed to acquire it and donate it the raven to the Free Library of Philadelphia where you can see it to this day.

Even though Poe was labeled a “Jingle-man” by poets such as T.S. Eliot, Yeats, and Emerson and ridiculed by contemporary critics of his day: “Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge, / Three fifths of him genius, two fifths sheer fudge,” he is the progenitor of the short stories format, and the godfather of horror and mystery classics. Without Poe, Sherlock Holmes would not exist. The deftness and the condensed writing style to create the maximum effect in the minimum amount of words was first introduced by the man who died broke in a gutter and nobody gave two cents.

The following poem is not just homage to Poe, but the man who came before him, Dickens, who created tales such as The Christmas Carol and other ghoulish prose. Most of all to Grip, the Raven.


I see black pepper the sky

know they are here

in hundreds, in the thousands

settling on the electric line in a single

file row, their wings folded, eyeing

the husks of pistachios on a million

acre dreamland.

I hear you call, peck words for pleasure

for digital nimble digestion of

alphabets that spell insouciant walk and

caw the letter A and H, singing from two mouth

pieces as they wind down Romanization

like slider through their labia

air sacs of the corvid death watch.

Do you see? Do you hear?

Yes, I see, my love--I can see winged reapers whoop in

the air, few circling the darkened sky

stenciling tattooed shadows of wispy

branches, roosting atop a crown foliage,

swaying in a strong breeze,

as their eyes watch me with revolving star-beams

of lighthouses.

They are my brothers, my sister.

They shed light on the ferry docks of image-

nation pristine water pumping

out of artesian wells

as they take flight, scattering,

while I gather up the dust

of a fallen creeper, preened

jet-black vigil of stuffed feathers and

ebony bed linings along the syringeal muscles

those talons, that beak, this halo behind the show

case, pen overflowing.

I imagine you are my precious muse,

perched beside me as I write bye the window

overlooking the gypsy light descending on the horizon

to allow what God has endowed me

grim the Barnaby Rudge.


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    • katoly profile image


      5 years ago

      deep ...


      like it

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Interesting and well researched. A fascinating read and insight into the work of the two masters.

    • epigramman profile image


      5 years ago write my friend, I just rite.

      And what a wonderful writer you are - obviously residing on your very planet - and it's got to be one of the brightest stars in the literary galaxy right up there beside Miss Amy B.

      Two little stories for you : Sylvester Stallone who was a big Poe fan - I kid you not - bought the rights to a script based on the life of Poe - at the time he wanted to play Poe himself - could you imagine Rocky reading The Raven

      And yes from my highschool daze in the 70's - we used to listen to a vinyl album called Tales of Mystery and Imagination by the Alan Parsons Project (check it out on You Tube; it had lovely liner notes in the album jacket in which I still own)

      Hubbravo to you Sir Writer -and sending you warm wishes from lake erie time canada where two cellos are fighting it out over a cover of

      'Smells like teen spirit'

      lake erie time 11:29pm

    • MooMyuu profile image

      Krista Felts 

      5 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee USA

      Not every culture believes it is a bad omen. There are many cultures that view the Raven as a positive symbol, something of high intelligence and believing that it is a sign that danger has passed. It's interesting to look up. Lots of conflicting beliefs of what this bird means.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They would recognize each other, as their memories are long, but their tempers are short. I enjoyed this piece. it was well thought out and gives wonderful credence and praise to the masters.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Deliciously interesting investigation, dissection and comparisons of writing styles of creative masters, Poe and Dickens. Grim, the Barnaby Rudge sent a thrill up my spine as I envisioned a lineup of the gossiping harpies "singing from two mouthpieces" and wondered if they'd recognize themselves as they caw to one another. A brilliant, absorbing piece, onetouchnewlife, laden with food for thought.


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