Text: Thomas Kibble Hervey, “[Review of The Raven and Other Poems],” Athenæum (London, UK), whole no. 957, February 28, 1846, pp. 215-216


[page 215, column 2, continued:]

The Raven and other Poems. By Edgar A. Poe. Wiley & Putnam.

MUCH that calls itself poetry — and some that is so — comes to us from America; yet we have waited in vain for American poetry. Even what has reached us of the true ore has not the mark of the American mint — no peculiar stamp of the great continent — nothing to characterize it as American currency. The transatlantic poets give us back our own coin, thinned and deteriorated by the transit. As if America had not the ore of song in all her rivers, and a mint of her own on every mountain, she does little more for the service of the Muse than melt down our English gold and recast it in British forms.

It is Mr. Poe's fancy to be original, — and it might, therefore, have been hoped that he would choose to be so after a native fashion. The instinct of borrowing must be unconquerable amongst a people who borrow even their originality. In the poetical department of mind it seems that England must grow even the singularities and absurdities of her distant brethren. In nearly all the other walks of intellect, America has shown itself quite equal to her own production alike of great things and of follies. Electing to be mystical, we should have been grateful to Mr. Poe for a mysticism caught up on his own mountains, — fed on the far prairie, — watered by the mighty rivers of the land, — toned by the voice of the giant cataracts, — coloured by the hues of the transatlantic heaven, — and ministered to by those new and peculiar moral influences which should have an exponent in every utterance of the American mind. But Mr. Poe has taken his mystical degree in one of the worst of our London schools; where the art, as taught, consists in saying plain things enough after a fashion which makes them hard to be understood, and commonplace in a sort of mysterious form which causes them to sound oracular. This is to be regretted, because Mr. Poe has a sense of picture and of music; and now and then, from out of the cloud, of a familiar pattern, in which it is his pleasure to involve himself, come an echo and a sign which there is no difficulty in recognizing as a breathing of the Muse. It is a pity still further, because Mr. Poe is not a very successful cultivator of the formulæ of [column 3:] his school; and there are too many times when he has probably desired to go no further in its ways than into the obscure — where the utmost extent of his ambition has been to be unintelligible — that he approaches dangerously near to the verge of the childish, and wanders on the very confines of the absurd. It might not, perhaps, be quite fair to allude to the scenes from ‘Politian’, an unpublished drama; because the excess of the puerile, there, amounts to dramatic imbecility, — and there are faults of different kinds, the absence of which in the other poems of the writer suggests that these are an early production, which the commonest exercise of discretion would have excluded from the volume. But Mr. Poe is the author of a volume of Tales; to which allusion may be made here, as collateral illustrations at once of the merits and defects of his poetry. With very considerable powers of description, there is yet a fondness for the mystical in subject and manner — a constant straining after effect in intention, to which he has not the art of communicating an air of spontaneity by the covering of a warm and glowing style, — which make his prose the twin-brother of his poetry, though the older and more instructed brother of the two. Yet, as we have said, the poet, too, has occasional whispers from dreamland; and there are times when, from the maze of his eccentricities, a quaint spirit looks out, to whom these seem even to add something of character — when the very curiosities and crookednesses in the form of the instrument appear to lend something towards the fashioning of the wild and peculiar tone that issues through it. We are tempted to quote ‘The Raven,’ as a strange specimen of the author's mannerisms, — yet involving a poetical feeling, of which the mannerisms themselves seem almost to make a part.

The Raven.

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 visiter,” 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 visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door —

Some late visiter 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 darkness 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 I heard again 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 an instant 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 sad soul 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 lamplight [[lamp-light]] gloated o'er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight [[lamp-light]] gloating o'er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by angels whose faint 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; [column 2:]

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!

That the author has both music and imagination may be gathered from his own poem of —


BY a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have reached these lands but newly

From an ultimate dim Thule —

From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,

Out of SPACE — out of TIME.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,

With forms that no man can discover

For the dews that drip all over;

Mountains toppling evermore

Into seas without a shore;

Seas that restlessly aspire,

Surging, unto skies of fire;

Lakes that endlessly outspread

Their lone waters — lone and dead, —

Their still waters — still and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily.

By the lakes that thus outspread

Their lone waters, lone and dead, —

Their sad waters, sad and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily, —

By the mountains — near the river

Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever, —

By the grey woods, — by the swamp

Where the toad and the newt encamp, —

By the dismal tarns and pools

Where dwell the Ghouls, —

By each spot the most unholy —

In each nook most melancholy, —

There the traveller meets aghast

Sheeted Memories of the Past —

Shrouded forms that start and sigh

As they pass the wanderer by —

White-robed forms of friends long given,

In agony, to the Earth — and Heaven.

For the heart whose woes are legion

'Tis a peaceful, soothing region —

For the spirit that walks in shadow

'Tis — oh 'tis an Eldorado!

But the traveller, travelling through it,

May not — dare not openly view it;

Never its mysteries are exposed

To the weak human eye unclosed;

So wills its King, who hath forbid

The uplifting of the fringed lid;

And thus the sad Soul that here passes

Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

By a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have wandered home but newly

From this ultimate dim Thule.

Into the region of Tycho Brahe's lost star — which appeared in the heavens for a few days only, and, after attaining a brilliancy surpassing that of Jupiter, disappeared as suddenly as it came, and has never since been seen — we confess our inability to follow our author. Something of the mystery that involves the planet has communicated itself to the poem — which, perhaps, the author may think a merit; but it has the disadvantage of not enabling the reader to judge of the amount of that merit. The sense of the vague and mysterious, no doubt, may be conveyed by mysterious music; but the character and meaning of the mystery wants some more intelligible exponent. The best advice which we can give to Mr. Poe is to be simple and natural: — and, above all, to strike his harp amid the grand novelties which his own country presents. Their mere expression will be found to be rich in the effects which he seeks by means less legitimate; and to give an air of originality to his Muse which she will never wear in the most curiously-fashioned garment that can be furnished by the schools.







[S:0 - AUK, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of The Raven and Other Poems (T. K. Hervey, 1845)