Read & Listen: “The Raven” read by James Earl Jones

“The Raven” was published on this date in 1845, which led to Poe’s overnight fame. It is arguably Poe’s most well known work, and one of the most famous poems ever written. Poe’s 1846 essay “The Philosophy of Composition” describes his careful crafting of the poem.

Consisting of 18 six-line stanzas; the first five lines of each are written in trochaic octameter, the sixth in trochaic tetrameter. The rhyme pattern, abcbbb, enhances the dark tone; the rhymes are, or rhyme with, “Lenore” and “Nevermore.”

Listen and read along as James Earl Jones performs “The Raven.”

The Raven

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”
    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.
    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”
    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.
    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.
    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”
    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”
    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”
    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!
    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
    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!

Read & Listen: “The Bells” set by Sergei Rachmaninoff

In this poem Poe imagines the sounds of four different kinds of bells, and the times and places where you might hear them. There’s no plot in this poem, exactly, but there is something like an emotional arc, as we move from light, bubbly happiness to sadness, fear, and misery.

While this poem begins light, it’s classic Poe – things really come to life as soon as ghouls show up.

Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote “The Bells” in 1913. The words are from the poem The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe, very freely translated into Russian by the symbolist poetKonstantin Balmont. It was one of Rachmaninoff’s two favorite compositions,  and is considered by many to be his secular choral masterpiece.

“The Bells”

I

Hear the sledges with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

II

Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

III

Hear the loud alarum bells-
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now- now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
Of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

IV

Hear the tolling of the bells-
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people- ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells-
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells-
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells-
Bells, bells, bells-
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Listen: Author Interview, Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe

Listen to WAMC’s interview with author J.W. Ocker about his Poe travel diary, which follows the odd life and legacy of Poe.

In the new Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan PoeJ. W. Ocker explores Poe’s strange physical legacy along the East Coast and across the ocean by touring Poe’s homes, examining artifacts from his life–locks of his hair, pieces of his coffin, original manuscripts, the bed where his wife died–and traveling to the many memorials dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe-Land is a unique travel diary that follows the afterlife of the poet, author, and critic who invented detective fiction, advanced the emerging genre of science fiction, and elevated the horror genre with an unrivaled mastery over the macabre that has made the genre what it is today.

Big Read Connects Tucson Officially Launches Today!

Hello Big Readers! Today is September 1st, which means today marks the official launch of Big Read Connects Tucson!

Over the next nine months, through May 2016, Literacy Connects and all of our community partners will be bringing you a host of events and activities to help you get connected to Edgar Allan Poe.

To kick things off, we thought we’d introduce something fun that will be going on throughout the program that anyone can get involved in. Big Read Connects Tucson wants everyone to read Poe. What better way to do that than to give away free books.

Introducing the “POEfound” project! Throughout the program we will be leaving Poe anthologies (and a few surprises) at various places around town for you to find. Coffee shops, park benches and theater chairs are all fair game, so keep your eyes open.

What’s the catch? All we ask is that you read your POEfound book and share with us where and when you found it, and anything else that you would like on our Big Read Connects Tucson Facebook page. On the inside front cover of each of these books you will find a sticker with some guidance on how to connect with us. Play along and have fun!

CTA Capture

We hope you are as excited about this as we are. Take a look at our Partner list and Event page for more ways to get involved. If you have any more fun, Poe-inspired ideas or plans by all means share that with us. Poe dinner party? Awesome! Poe costume contest? Perfect! Poe choral reading? Why not!

 
Don’t forget to follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages as well to get connected from #HeadToPoe.

Decode Poe

We’ve got a fun challenge for you today: Decode Poe.

Cryptograms were widely used during the Victorian era to protect information via secret messages. Letters and messages were encrypted to ensure secrecy in communications.  The military, diplomats, businessmen, and even secret lovers used these ciphers in the safety of anonymity.

Poe was a self-declared master cryptographer, solving nearly 100 ciphers submitted to Graham’s Magazine by his readers. He used cryptography as a primary plot point in “The Gold Bug” (1843), which revolves around a cipher that contains information about a buried treasure. What’s more — “The Gold Bug” is still used in universities as instruction material for cryptography classes.

“Decoding Poe,” presented by The University of Texas at Austin is a fun look at Poe’s cryptograms. Try your hand by using the steps Poe outlines in the “The Gold-Bug” to solve cryptographs developed from “The Black Cat,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Want more? Check out our “For Fun” page for more activities and to learn about the quirky Mr. Poe.

Big Reads: Setting the Scene with Mrs. Poe

Hello BRCT followers!

We’ve been warming up for our September kick-off by sharing the basics about Edgar Allan Poe. Bios, trivia and quizzes are all fun and informative, but they fail to paint the full picture of Poe’s mysterious world. To help set the scene and engage your imaginations, we recommend you pick up a copy of Mrs. Poe.

Mrs. Poe is a fascinating work of historical fiction. A fun and easy “Big Read,” it transports the reader into the world of the 1840’s New York literati with vivid detail and historical accuracy. The language of the book, as well as the painstaking research by author Lynn Cullen, fully immerses one in the era.

In Literacy Connects‘ own preparations for BRCT, several of the staff read Mrs. PoeThe feedback was unanimous — the historical social, political and literary context the book provides makes Poe more accessible. So, we encourage you to enjoy some fiction, engage your imagination, and step into the parlor with Poe at the height of Raven-mania.

Synopsis: “1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledgling career. Although not a great fan of Poe’s writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence— and the surprising revelation that he admires her work. 

What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair . . . and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . .”

Mini BIO: Edgar Allan Poe

Do you know Poe?

Over the coming months, Big Read Connects Tucson will be exploring and celebrating Poe — the man, the myth and his works in great depth. Before we delve in, we’d like to provide context for the life and work of this master of the macabre!

Check out this short video biography about Edgar Allan Poe’s life and work, including his early life, his short stories, his poem “The Raven,” and his mysterious death in Baltimore in 1849.