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Understanding Edgar Allan Poe through “The Raven”
The Raven is the publication that made Edgar Allan Poe’s name, even though he had published several poems and prose before it. It was The Raven that made him a household name that some revered and others despised. Even writers of his time were split between the idea of him being a brilliant author and being a vulgar, uncouth fellow. In understanding the themes in Edgar Allan Poe’s works, one must understand the man himself first.
Earning a Living through Writing
Edgar Allan Poe is the first author to have tried to earn a living through writing alone. This was the route he had decided for himself early in his life, although the realization did not come until later on, and even when it did, he did not earn financial stability through it. This is a struggle that even authors of today battle with: there are simply too many writers in the crowd and not enough people wanting to invest in them. Self-publication is an expensive endeavor. It can take years for a man’s writing career to flourish, and before that time happens, if it does, one needs to look for other sources of income.
While publishing his works under assumed names, Poe was working different jobs. He had enlisted in the military under false identifications to support himself financially while his first and second published works under different names did not receive any attention at all. He also worked for several publications and had hopes of starting his own journal, but sadly his plans did not pan out due to his strange death at the age of 40.
A Terrible Time to be a Writer
Poe lived in a time where many were amused by poetry and prose, but this did not give him instant acclaim. What the public enjoyed were satirical works and comedic poetry, which he tried to provide in publication under assumed names, but what Poe was more known for was the macabre and strange themes that existed in his works later on. One factor that contributed to his lack of financial stability was the fact that writers during that time were not paid enough, and publishers often paid them less than what was originally promised. Poe had to beg for compensation for the works that he had done.
The American author also lived in a time without international copyright laws and the absence of such protection for authors made it easy for publishers to simply pirate British works rather than pay for American authors to provide new and unique content. Insufficient compensation would be enough to make any author find work elsewhere, but Poe remained persistent, financing his own writing and publishing with the help of donations from other people such as his friends in the military.
From Poetry to Prose
The lack of sufficient income from poetry alone led to Poe trying out prose and publishing his compositions, which gained more attention. He had a drama and a short story, which led to him meeting John P. Kennedy. Kennedy helped Poe publish more of his stories and introduced him to an editor under whom he served as an assistant editor in 1835. It was a successful time for Poe, although the success did not last because of his own misbehavior in the office. Accounts say he had been caught drunk on the job. That was not the only instance that Poe had had failures because of his drinking habits. On several occasions he missed important meetings with prominent people under the pretense that he was sick when they knew that he was drunk.
The change of his focus in writing came alongside many changes in his life, including the death of his wife Virginia from consumption or tuberculosis. Many saw an increase in his drinking habits and his relationships with other authors did not improve either. He would publicly humiliate other authors, an act that was not uncommon back in the day, as Poe himself had been ridiculed time and time again.
Eliza Poe and Virginia
Like any author, Poe took from his own pain and expressed it in his own words, this time through the voice of a melodic poem of eighteen lines. The lilt, the rise and fall of tone in The Raven was applauded by many and yet criticized by an equal number for its vulgarity.
It was 1842 when Virginia, Poe’s wife, showed the first signs of consumption, and three years later Poe published the poem The Raven. Many say that The Raven was a window to his confusion in coping with his wife’s death, while many who say that Poe had worked on the poem for years say that it could still be an allusion to the death of his mother, Eliza Poe. Whether or not the poem was a tribute to either of the two important women in his life, Poe’s loss of women throughout his lifetime definitely affected his work’s themes. An unforgettable, oftentimes described as bright and radiant, woman, was a recurring theme in his works. The Raven was written through the voice of the grieving lover left behind by the woman he desired, which Poe would have understood perfectly due to his own losses.
An Author of Control and Measure
Poe was a logical writer. When his poems did not sell, he moved on to prose to try to get some financial reimbursement. When he saw demand for satirical publications, he wrote his own. He was a man known to adapt, even if it still did not lead to his success. In the accompaniment to The Raven that he published after the poem received recognition, he claimed that nothing in the poem was coincidental. Every rhyme, every syllable was measured so accurately that the reading of the poem was like music, the beat already laid there for anyone to enjoy.
His mastery of control and measure was not only evident in his writing but also in his performances. Poe performed private readings of The Raven, and those who have had the opportunity to attend one testified to his mastery of his surroundings; a room dimmed into almost darkness and his voice rising and falling to incite emotions were only some examples.
Clever use of language is a gift Poe had. In his works he uses various phrases, the most popular of which is Nevermore, the only word that is repeated by the raven featured in his work. Nevermore promised no positivity, which made the raven bleaker and grow in sadness as the man came to terms with the fact that he would not be reunited with his woman. The man is shown to be torn between forgetting and remembering, and the raven did not help in the process. The man in The Raven could possibly depict Poe himself as he tried to remember his mother or his wife, the important women he had lost whom he wanted to reconcile with and remember, even though the process of forgetting was already happening as time passed by.
Through his works, Edgar Allan Poe incites not only horror, but hopelessness, real emotions that readers can relate to. These were coupled with notes of love and longing, of loss and disappointment, more emotions that made each of his composition not only beautiful to read, but also wonderful to imagine. And while he battled with his own struggles, the repeated loss of love, lack of financial compensation for his works, and drinking problems, the man was a clever writer who tried his best not only to earn money but also to present the world with works that would be remembered forever. And while he did not achieve enough compensation for his literary magnificence, he was truly remembered and the name would forever be remembered.