Text: J. S. P., “Poe’s Raven,” Waverley Magazine (Boston, MA), vol. VII, no. 12, September 17, 1853, p. 184, col. 4


[page 184, column 4:]

Poe’s Raven.

AN article entitled “Origin of Poe’s Raven,” published in the Waverly [[Waverley]] of July 30th, has given rise to a discussion lasting to the present time. And, while all the minor charges have been fully refuted, the principal one, that of plagiarism of style and rythm, by Poe, in his “ Raven,” remains unshaken. The writers who conduct the discussion appearing to prefer the bitterness of personality to the solidity of sound arguments. This you justly deprecated in your editorial, And, indeed, there is nothing so beautiful and desirable in argumentation as high-minded and generous courtesy. In the few remarks which I may make upon the point at issue, I shall avoid personal allusions, as far as is consistent with perspicuity.

Firstly, Justitia proceeds to remark that “there is a vast difference between a poem whose rythm is original, and one that is modelled entirely after it;” and that “it is very easy to write in the rythm of another, but it is very difficult to create one that does not exist anywhere.” Most true. But what is the sequitur of all this? Does the writer mean to assert that the rythm of either Poe or Chivers is original? The rythm of the poem in question is trochaic, and has been used, in various forms, by almost every poet of note.

Again, it is asserted that “the great fault of American poetry, is, that it is copied entirely from the old English forms.” Do not American poets occasionally write after the old Latin and Greek forms? Both the rythm and metre of the “Raven” and “Allegro,” have been used by poets who died centuries ago. Poe himself thus expressly asserts — “ I pretend to no originality in either the rythm or metre.”

The individual lines of the “Raven” have been frequently employed by other writers. Whatever of originality there may be consists in their “combination into stanzas.” Here, then, is precisely the point — we are to consider the peculiar combination of the lines into stanza, not the rythm or metre, for both the latter were old in the time of Horace; therefore, from the identity of combination we are to judge concerning the so-called plagiarism. And, first, we will consider the peculiarities of rythm, metre, and combination of lines in “Allegro.”

Ho y angels now are bending to receive the soul ascending

Up to heaven to joys unending, and to bible; which is divine,

While thy pale cold form is fading under death’s dark wings, now shading

Thee with gloom which is pervading this poor broken heart of mine.

Here it will be observed that the rythm is trochaic, and in the first three verses or lines the metre is octameter acatalectic. In the fourth verse or line it is heptameter catalectic, or it consists of eight trochaic feet in the first three lines, and seven and a half in the fourth. Thus we see the combination consists of three oetameters followed by one heptameter. It is without the repetition which Poe so beautifully introduces in the fifth line, and without the refrain.

We will now take the last stanza of the “Raven.”

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 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 never more!

Here the difference of combination will immediately be perceived. The first verse is octameter, as in “Allegra,” but the second is heptameter, the third octameter, the fourth heptameter, repeated with peculiar effect in the fifth, and the impression perfected in the lingering thrilling sadness of the refrain, which is tetrameter catalectic.

Here we have three distinct points wherein the “Raven” differs materially from “Allegra.” First the regular alternation of the octameter and heptameter; second, the repetition of the fifth line; and thirdly, the refrain ; which peculiarities fully justify Poe’s claim to originality of combination. But as regards the refrain, we are informed that Chivers “is the first writer who ever made use of the word i nevermore as a refrain.” This somewhat rash statement has already been refuted. The word nevermore, from its lingering, sonorous sound, has been frequently employed as a refrain. But I am not aware that it has ever been employed in the metre in which Poe has used it, (tetrameter catalectic ;) and certainly by no other writer has it been brought to convey so fully the impression of sorrow. Justitia remarks concerning the paucity of rhyme in Poe’s hexameter! Is it possible he considers the octameters of Poe’s Raven hextameters? But, in conclusion, as regards this stanza.

As an egg when broken never can be mended, but must ever

Be the same crushed egg forever, &c.”

We will say with Poe, “that the lines very narrowly missed sublimity, we will grant; that they came within a step of it, we admit; but, unhappily, the step is that one step which, time out of mind, has intervened between the sublime and ridiculous.

J. S. P.







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