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Grim the Barnaby Rudge
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.
Books and DVD about Corvids
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.
GRIM the BARNABY RUDGE
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
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
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.