January 19, 1809-October 7, 1849
Birth Date: January 19, 1809
Death Date: October 7, 1849
Genre(s): SHORT STORIES/HORROR FICTION/FICTION/MYSTERY/CRIME/SUSPENSE FICTION
“Poe’s work has earned him an enviable place in American literature. He is not only a pioneer of the short story, he’s America’s first major horror writer as well as the father of the detective story. His tales contain an almost timeless fairy tale-like quality; filled with grim dungeons, Gothic castles, dwarves and madmen, Poe’s fictional universe still exerts a hold on the imagination more than a century after his death. American International Pictures adapted eight of his stories into films beginning in 1960, and writers as disparate as H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King have cited Poe as a major influence on their work.
His poetry also exhibits an astounding popularity. “The Raven” is perhaps the most recognizable poem in the English language, its haunting sing-song rhythm and unforgettable imagery appealing not only to literary connoisseurs but also to school children and people who rarely read poetry. Everyone, it seems, knows the raven’s cry of “Nevermore.”
It is finally, then, his command of language that is his greatest bequest to posterity. From the classic opening line of “The Raven,” to the ornate description of the decaying House of Usher, Poe’s diction is often elevated and complex, but it could also be blunt and fragmented. Poe was a deliberate, precise wordsmith who labored over the placement of every dash and comma. Like Shakespeare, he could transcend the sordidness of his subject matter by the sheer force of his language.
Poe was not the first Gothic writer but he is undeniably one of the most potent. While other horror writers come and go, his place in horror literature will remain unchanged, for it is his work that has formed a lasting foundation upon which others continue to build.”
Written by Joseph Iorillo, first published in Dark Realms Magazine,
Issue #8, Fall 2002,
Please vote for your favourite Poe short and/or poem. You can make a few choices if you like. I did 🙂 I’ll write something about the result in a month or so if I get a significant outcome either way. Tell your friends, especially Poe fans. 🙂
For a writing challenge about four years ago, I had to write a short story inspired by one of my favourite poems. I wrote what follows (yes, I know it needs polishing. I’ve learned a lot since then) 😀 X
The Devil’s Bird
This is a short story based on a poem called The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, which can be found at http://www.heise.de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven.html
It was a silky, black December night. The moon decorated the sky flawlessly, despite the storm brewing, and high winds tickling the purple drapes through holes in the ancient window frame. William could not see the night, hidden within his chamber. There, he remained alone, searching for an end to his sorrow within books about the dark arts. Lovers walked beneath his window, blanketed in the night’s metallic glow, but the sound of their laughter didn’t reach William – deafened as he’d become by an obsessive search for answers.
Those lovers blindly bathed in moonlight, romance and sweet naiveté, equally unaware of his torment.
William lay restless in a pitifully large, bed. He lamented his lover’s passing while seeing her everywhere in everything, in his every thought and deed. His lover lingered like an omnipresent virus. Sleep found no receptacle in this house, peace had forsaken him. William had lost his Lenore, and with her, his heart.
Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.
“If that’s you, Sally, go home. I want nothing more from you, tonight.”
Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.
“Sally, is that you? Answer me, I say.”
William considered for a moment, then realised it couldn’t be his maid. She would have answered his call immediately. In fact, he thought she would have gone home by now, though he no longer kept track of irrelevancies, such as time.
“Sir,” he said. “Or Madam, please forgive my insistence. I wish to rest, yet find myself unnerved by your tapping.” When no reply taunted him, William felt an incredible panic rise up from acidic bowels. To calm himself, he felt a compulsion to repeat the calming mantra, ‘It is some visitor at my door, nothing more. It is some visitor at my door, nothing more.’
Uncertain and with a growing sense of alarm, William nervously left the sanctuary of his soft, velvet bedding and shuffled toward where the noise had originated. Listening at the door, he heard nothing other than a quiet tapping, ‘a visitor, nothing more.’ A deep breath empowered him to swing it open, supposing he’d reveal the perpetrator! Yet, no one stood beyond it, only darkness. Staring into the gloom, wondering, fearing and doubting, he became lost in visions, the like of which, sheer mortals never dared to imagine. An unbroken silence clutched William — that is, until the whispers came with his lover’s name on their lips — ‘Lenore, Lenore.’
“Lenore,” William replied to the darkness, “Lenore.”
No reply, and no repeat of the whispers, came.
With a resigned shrug and a huge sigh, William returned to bed, empty and cold. He could still faintly smell Lenore nestled within the bedding, and her violet pillow hungrily gripped onto a few long, pale hairs, which once perfectly framed her face. His bedroom became his favourite place. He’d been there since Lenore’s funeral, many months ago. There, memories of her were strongest — a bittersweet blessing. He’d found her nearness both comforting and torturous.
Months had passed since he lost her. Since then he’d ignored friends and family, who’d eventually left him to his mourning. His maid made his meals, which remained largely untouched. He still enjoyed drinking tea, but more because Lenore had favoured it, so enjoyed the invocation of memories, more than anything else. The smell of it evoked a picture of her pretty lips delicately caressing her floral cup, just before she’d slurp, then gulp. For fun, she’d teased him by licking its rim, suggestively. Now, all fun had died with her.
Time passed in thoughts of her, almost tangible images of her danced around the walls, surrounding him in . He would stare for hours at them, lost in his illusions. He couldn’t smell the pungency of his filth, of damp and old rotting food. He could only smell her perfume. All he hoped for was the presence of her spirit.
Startled, William listened in dread to a new, Tap, tap, tap – Tap, tap, tap! A louder tapping, which came from his window. It scared him to his bones. A noise which wrenched him from thoughts of his Lenore.
“For Heaven’s, sake. This will not do.”
William held onto his breath and committed to explore the disturbance. He flung away musty, velvet again, and marched to his window. He halted with panic, his skin became bumpy. His hands shook a little as he pulled back the drapes and flung back the shutters. An ebony raven flew right past him through his room, swiftly. He flew over William’s books on the occult and black magic, over pictures and paintings of Lenore scattered over the floor, and over plates of putrid food. He flew around and around, owning the environment, inspiring fear, commanding attention and respect. Finally, he perched upon a bust of Pallas Athena: God of Wisdom. Lenore had acquired this for him the year he began university. A magnificent time, the memory of it passed swiftly through his body. Both the splendour and regret of it embraced him in her absence, and formed a lump in his throat and courage in his heart.
Through his fear, William challenged the bird, “What are you doing, perched upon my bust? Leave here now, bird of the Devil. Do you come to torment me?” William cowered in the corner, confronting the stately raven of old. The raven didn’t move, but held himself with the demeanour of a Lord or Lady. He examined William and beguiled William into smiling …briefly. Its expression both grave and stern, came in reply.
“Though you’re shorn and shaven, I see you’re no faint-heart. Horrifying, bleak and ancient raven, tell me what your name is on the Nights Plutonian shore,” asked William, having read of such a bird within his many of historical texts.
The raven simply proclaimed, “Nevermore.”
Its stare penetrated William, through flesh and blood, within bone and sinew. William felt sure the bird came as a messenger from Hell, from the afterlife.
The bird can speak. He must come from Gods or Devils, from magical realms. Perhaps with news of Lenore.
Stunned, William’s body stiffened, his throat wished to shout yet became mute, and his troubled mind whirled. Eyes darting without sight as their guide, he repeated another mantra to himself: The bird speaks, and his name is Nevermore. So many questions tormented his psyche, he needed answers. He’d ask of Lenore, of her location, of her well-being, and of when or whether they would be reunited in the afterlife. He sought knowledge and this was his one opportunity to get.
“Where is my Lenore Nevermore? Is she in Aidenn? They would surely accept one of their own, an angel, back among them. And what of our reunion? When shall I we be together once more?”
The raven said all he could say, “Nevermore.” He could say nothing more.
William staggered backward, but steadied himself before falling. “Nevermore, you say?” I don’t understand? “You cut me with your callous reply, raven. Do you mean to infer her rejection from Aidenn is certain? Would the angels not allow her to return to their garden? Do angels truly refuse other angels? Say it is not, so. Say she rests with her kind. Say she has found peace, everlasting.”
Again, the raven gave the only reply possible, “Nevermore.”
William dared to wonder what this harsh and menacing bird meant by croaking, ‘Nevermore.’ There must be more to it. He sat silent in conjecture, reclining on his bed, remembering how he’d reclined with Lenore, and how he’d do so ‘nevermore’. William became increasingly agitated, anxious and exasperated. He insisted on conversing with the raven, ignorant or blind to the truth – that its replies would only ever be a repeat of its first.
He paced over the decay of his room, thoughtlessly. His emaciated body operated on anxiety, alone. His mind further fractured, distorting every memory and thought, provoked. Confusion lapped at him, like sea water on an extended safari. Sweat shone on his pallid flesh — unwashed and unloved. Colours mingled with the filth and debris of his room. The smell of rot grew stronger as his feet disrupted the rot. Imagination bent around reality until the lines between them merged, indiscriminately. Delirium sat beside poor William, closing in.
Ravens silence screamed in Williams head. His mind grew more bewildered. Finally, even his dulled senses whispered to him, desperately, that he needed to heal. But he did not think to seek out friends or food or support of any kind, and he doubted he’d ever satisfy his need for sleep again. Instead, he continued to look around him, for answers.
“If you have not come to talk of Lenore, did you at least bring me Balm of Gilead, to heal my heart? I read of it here, in the books of your ways.” Pacing, searching for the book, picking up book after book, throwing it back down in frustration. Then, William saw something and stopped abruptly. His own reflection glared back at him from an ornate, gilded mirror, as the sheet he’d thrown over it months ago, finally fell in the commotion. He took a step back to take in the whole image — the dishevelled, unclean, malnourished figure he’d become. Who are you? He dropped to his knees and sobbed, hands held out to the Seraphim.
“Please save me from all this torment. Heal me.”
Again, no reply. “You are not here in kindness, then. You will not commune with me, as any good soul would. Do you not see the pain in these wet eyes? Are you a figure of cruelty? Would you torment me further than loss?”
Knelt upon his floor, surrounded in filth and evidence of Lenore, William screamed, “No!” The fatigue won over his cognition, his hearts will to hold on to Lenore began to shut down. As he frantically clung to pictures and words and smells, he knew he could no longer fight reality. To heal, he must surrender to sleep, and so, to losing Lenore a little more each day. As if a vacuum had been inserted into his mind, he recoiled as it sucked his Lenore, away.
“No – You came to poison me. You used nepenthe to induce forgetfulness, and it is working. Tricked by a servant of the Devil. I take it all back – I do not wish to heal if it means losing my Lenore. You may remove her from my mind, but you never from my heart. Won’t you leave me with my sorrow? Allow me to exist in my agony?”
And in true raven-style, he replied, “Nevermore.”
“That’s final. I insist we part company. Fly back to Night’s Plutonian shore, taking with you all the lies you’ve spoken. Leave the bust above my door, remove your beak from my heart, and my loneliness unbroken.”
The raven perched without acknowledging the commands of William. He simply sat and stared, looked around. Williams frustration bubbled in his belly, “Do you dream, raven? You have the look of demons who dream.”
The raven did not reply.
“The lamp light casts your shadow upon my floor. You are everywhere, raven. You touch me all over and darken my room. Your shadow smothers all things, my books and pictures, even my soul. See it? There at my feet. It broke away from me somehow and fell into your shadow. Your beak still punctures my battered heart.”
William stared at his own feet, frozen. He thought he saw his soul held captive by the shadow of the Devil’s bird. Outside, the storm screamed, lightning illuminated William’s room, and the rot around him. The raven looked at him defiantly, fear of the storm his only reason to stay. William could not see this simple fact. He could not see the raven’s reasoning as he demanded the raven should leave.
“What should I do? I see now why you came. To lie as demons do, and to confiscate my soul. You leave me empty, raven. With a soul that will not join with Lenore in death, a soul that shall be mine – nevermore.”
He looked around, the ruinous wreck of his room became stifling. I longed to run into the storm, to cleanse his soulless self, to scream out that his Lenore would never return, to escape the thief of her captivity.
“Be gone raven. Your job is done and eyes grow weary.” And at last, William curled up on his bed to sleep.
William’s breakdown was complete. The time for healing had begun.
Shah Wharton (c) 2010.
If you have yet to read the The Raven please do. It’s marvellous!
- “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe (pilar221b.wordpress.com)
- New Orleans filmmaker making Edgar Allan Poe books into films (wgno.com)
- Edgar Allan Poe, C. S. Lewis, and Monty the Cat (thomascotterill.wordpress.com)
- Nevermore – Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe (erie3746.wordpress.com)
- All An Idiot Needs To Know (About Edgar Allan Poe) (maggiestoriesawb.wordpress.com)
- “Reynolds! Reynolds!” – The End of Edgar Allan Poe (christopherleedeards.com)