Poe, Frost, Birds

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and Other Poems was published on this day in 1845. This was the final collection published in his lifetime, and the one most closely associated with his enduring profile as poet of the macabre. The title poem was immediately popular, reprinted across America in many newspapers and literary magazines before book publication. After Poe’s death in 1849, it was even more widely reprinted, elevated to the status of poetic masterpiece, signature and self-eulogy. In his 1846 essay, “The Philosophy of Composition” Poe encouraged this sort of homage, providing a lengthy argument for the poem’s “unity of effect,” and elevating the croaking bird to archetypal status as “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.” The commentary which accompanied “The Raven” in one publication of the day (New World, Feb. 22, 1845) describes “a wild and shivery poem … written in a Stanza unknown before to gods, men, and booksellers.” This was not the case, as Poe had borrowed the poem’s meter and rhyme scheme from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship.” In a review of one of Barrett Browning’s collections, Poe had revealed himself as a fan, and he went as far as dedicating The Raven and Other Poems to her, though he never acknowledged any debt for “The Raven.” When Barrett Browning received from Poe a copy of his book, she wrote back with praise and gratitude for the dedication, and without mentioning the borrowing.

Robert Frost’s West-Running Brook, his fourth book, was published on this day in 1928. Though not one of his most well-known or Pulitzer-winning collections, it included several often-anthologized poems — for example, “Once by the Pacific,” and “Acquainted with the Night.” Below, to go with Poe’s, “A Minor Bird”:

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.