Jan. 19, 2014

The Raven (excerpt)

by Edgar Allan Poe

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 visitor," 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 named 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 visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visitor 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.

"The Raven (excerpt)" by Edgar Allan Poe. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Patricia Highsmith (books by this author), born in Fort Worth, Texas (1921). She started thinking about writing crime novels when she was a teenager, after she read a book of case histories about criminals.

She published her first novel, Strangers on a Train, in 1950. It's the story of two men, Bruno and Guy, who meet by chance while taking a train. In chatting, they discover that they each have someone they want out of the way. Bruno suggests they swap murders, and when Guy turns him down, Bruno carries out his murder anyway and then stalks and blackmails Guy until he holds up his end of the deal. Alfred Hitchcock turned the novel into a movie the following year.

Today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts (1809). His poem "The Raven" is one of his best-known works, and it is also one of the most popular poems in the English language. Even people who have no interest in poetry can usually recite a line or two. It's narrated by a studious young man who is mourning the loss of his lover, Lenore. When a talking raven visits him on a bleak December night, we follow his descent from amusement into madness. At the time he was writing the poem, Poe's young wife, Virginia, was slowly dying of tuberculosis. Poe may have gotten the idea for a talking raven from a Dickens novel: Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (1841). There was a talking raven in the Dickens book too, but it didn't bear much resemblance to the sinister bird of Poe's poem.

Poe brought the poem to his friend George Rex Graham, hoping he would publish it in Graham's Magazine. Graham turned him down, but gave him $15 anyway. The American Review agreed to publish it, and paid the poet $9. It appeared in the magazine's February 1845 issue, under the name Quarles. It was also published around that time in the Evening Mirror under Poe's name. "The Raven" was an instant sensation and made Poe a household word. One critic called it subtle, ingenious, and imaginative, and predicted, "It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it." Over the next several months, "The Raven" appeared in journals throughout the country and it was such a rousing success that Wiley and Putnam published two of Poe's books that year: a collection of prose called Tales and also The Raven and Other Poems (1845). That was his first book of poetry in 14 years.

It's the birthday of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1807). He was a career soldier, a graduate of West Point, and a veteran of the Mexican-American War. He was a hero in the South, and even Northerners respected his military leadership. President Lincoln once offered him a position as a Union Army commander. Lee was loyal to the Union and didn't believe that the South should secede, but he was even more loyal to Virginia, and when his home state declared its secession, he committed himself to the Confederate cause.

After the war, he took a post as president of Washington College, which would later be renamed Washington and Lee University. Lee suffered a stroke in 1870 and died two weeks later of pneumonia. Four years later, Georgia Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill honored Lee, saying: "He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show