Friday, 18 April 2014

Poetry & Prose by Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Little introduction is required for this famous American author, poet, critic and master of the macabre as the enduring popularity of his writing truly speaks for itself. The Raven is an absolute treat to read and remains one of the most popular poems ever written. 

Dark, croaking and feeding on carrion, ravens readily became associated with death and ill-omen. However their long history in symbolism spans cultures and offers alternative meanings. From possessing wisdom, shamanic and prophetic qualities to having played a role in creation, the raven also has been believed to be a protector and messenger between temporal and spiritual worlds. To this day six plump plumed ravens roam the grounds of the Tower of London. Since Charles II the ravens have been protected as should they leave, the Kingdom of England will fall! Interestingly, the wisdom aspect is reinforced in Poe's The Raven when it lands on the bust of Pallas Athena - goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology. An intriguing character, Poe's verbose raven is not without a contemporary. Charles Dickens also included a talking raven in Barnaby Rudge modelled after his pet, Grip! Poe reviewed Dickens' novel and his subsequent writing of The Raven may have been aptly inspired. 

As enjoyable as Poe's epic poem is, let's now turn to his prose. Although his stories make compelling reading in their own right, they often contain additional layers of complexity as illustrated by The Mask of the Red Death. A tale rich in symbolism and allegory (see the neatly summarized notes by sparknotes), The Mask of the Red Death frequently rewards the reader with further insight with each subsequent reading of the tale.

Spoiler alert: the following will discuss details of the story Ligeia.

Although not a conventional ghost story writer, Poe gives us numerous examples whereby the separation between life and death becomes blurred; thus leaving the readers belief in the narrative dependent upon their faith in the supernatural and the reliability of the narrator. One such instance is reflected in Poe's Ligeia. In this tale, having described the compelling beauty and characteristics of the love of his life, the narrator suffers the loss of his wife. Despite remaining filled with despair, the narrator subsequently remarries. However this remains a loveless marriage as his second wife Rowena proves an insufficient replacement for his first and true love Ligeia. Shortly following the remarriage, Rowena falls terminally ill and despite best efforts to revive her, she dies. Following her death, the narrator remains in a deathly vigil by her bedside for the remainder of the night, only to be rewarded at dawn by her miraculous revival. However, incredibly the figure the narrator observes is not Rowena, but a reincarnation of his beloved Ligeia! At the close of the story the reader is left to make up their own mind as to whether to believe the tale as it is written; either ending with the death-defying reunion of the lovers or the delusional account of an opiated hallucination of an unreliable narrator.

Edgar Allen Poe was a master story-teller and I for one would be most interested in reading submissions of ghostly tales in the prominent prose of this classic writer.

This blog post was written in the spirit of the April 2014 A-Z Challenge whereby a post is written every day during the month of April (with the exception of Sunday). The theme of each post is meant to correspond with a letter of the alphabet in sequential order. Saturday's post will be on Q. For details and to visit the A-Z Challenge website, click here.

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