Author: Edgar Allan Poe
One of the most famous poems in the English language, “The Raven” first appeared in the January 29, 1845 edition of the New York Evening Mirror. It brought Edgar Allan Poe, then in his mid-thirties and well-known poet, critic, and short story writer, his first taste of celebrity on a grand scale. “The Raven” remains Poe's best-known work, yet it is only one of a dazzling series of poems and stories that won him an enduring place in world literature.
This volume contains “The Raven” and 40 others of Edgar Allan Poe's most memorable poems, among them “The Bells”, “Ulalume”, “Israfel”, “To Helen”, “The Conqueror Worm”, “Eldorado” and “Annabel Lee”. Together they reveal the extraordinary spectrum of Poe's personality - his idealism, his visionary qualities; his responsiveness to beauty, to love, and to women; and his susceptibility to the eerie and morbid. They reveal, too, his virtuoso command of poetic language, rhythms and figures of speech - a command that would make his one of the most distinct voices in all of poetry. (from the blurb)
I enjoyed reading this collection precisely because it showed me the variety of themes Poe was able to work with. I was (like most people?) more familiar with his short stories, some of which I remember reading in school. And this was, if I recall correctly (though I may not be!), the first time I read “The Raven” in it's entirety... and as I read it softly to myself (not just in my head) I could I see why it's called a classic, and why it deserves that epithet.
I like his other poems that tell a story too, particularly “Annabel Lee”, “The Haunted Palace”, and “Eldorado”.
But my favourites were “A Dream within a Dream” and “To the River – ”.
A Dream within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow –
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of golden sand –
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
To the River –
Fair river! In thy bright, clear flow Of crystal, wandering water, Thou art an emblem of the glow Of beauty – the unhidden heart – The playfull maziness of art In Old Alberto's daughter. But when within thy wave she looks – Which glistens then, and trembles – Why, then, the prettiest of brooks Her worshipper resembles; For in his heart, as in thy stream, Her image deeply lies – His heart which trembles at the beam Of her soul-searching eyes
For me the second one took a second read for his message to sink in but when it does...wow.
Others that I liked for their emotional punches included A Dream; The Happiest Day, the Happiest Hour; Bells; and, particularly in the second half of the poem, The Coliseum.
There was one poem that stood out for me for what the blurb call's Poe's “responsiveness to beauty” and that is ““The Lake: To –”.
There were also some poems in which particular phrases, or stanzas, stood out to me.
To – (the bowers whereat) (last stanza of three)
Thy heart – thy heart! – I wake and sigh, And sleep to dream till day Of the truth that gold can never buy – Of the baubles that it may.
Israfel (about an angel) (last two stanzas of eight)
Yes, Heaven is thine; but this Is a world of sweets and sours; Our flowers are merely – flowers, And the shadow of thy perfect bliss Is the sunshine of ours. If I could dwell Where Israfel Hath dwelt, and he where I, He might not sing so wildly well A mortal melody, While a bolder note than this might swell From my lyre within the sky.
Overall, I'm glad I read this.