Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not a purpose, but a passion

The popularity of "The Raven" led to the publication of a collection of poetry titled The Raven and Other Poems, released on November 19, 1845. Wiley & Putnam issued the small volume of 100 pages with a cover price of 31 cents. In his introduction, Poe referred to the poems within as "trifles." He adds: "It is incumbent upon me to say, that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very creditable to myself."

These "trifles" included not only the title poem but also "The Valley of Unrest," "Bridal Ballad," "The Sleeper," "The Coliseum," "Lenore," "The City in the Sea," "To One in Paradise," "Eulalie," "The Haunted Palace," and "The Conqueror Worm" (my personal favorite), among others.

I tend to agree with George Pope Morris, who wrote in his review: "In spite of Mr. Poe's majestic disclaimer of any great interest in this book, we must venture to think it contains a good deal of that which we call poetry — an element too rare in these days of frigid verse-making to be treated with disregard."

Poe also notes that "with me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion." He could never dedicate his life to writing poetry because he knew he would never make substantial money from it. So, rather than it being a "purpose," it was a "passion" for him.

Poe dedicated the collection to the popular English poet Elizabeth Barrett. Poe had reviewed her work (specifically The Drama of Exile and Other Poems) earlier that year and Barrett (later Browning) responded positively to "The Raven." Poe's dedication was as follows:
To the Noblest of her Sex—
To the author of
The Drama of Exile—
To Miss Elizabeth Barrett Barrett,
Of England
I Dedicate This Volume
With the most Enthusiasm Admiration
And with the most Sincere Esteem.

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