With Halloween creeping up on us like a stalker in the night, it seemed appropriate to delve into some of the darker corners of the WHG closed stacks. In my desperate search for something suitably October to write about, I pondered many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Then, what to my wandering eyes should appear..? (I may have just jumped poems there. Or perhaps that was a shark.) Poe’s The Raven… the most clichéd of all possible options, trotted out every autumn with the regularity of an atomic clock.
So, why would I turn to this entirely predictable chestnut? Well, I can assure you it’s not because there’s a dearth of suitably creepy material contained within our collections. The fact is, the particular copy of The Raven which calls our archives home is something special, and not just because it’s over 130 years old. The real draw here is not the poem itself (which can be found in any number of sources), nor even the commentary by contemporary poet Edmund Stedman. The main attraction here is the more than 25 lithographic plates by Gustave Doré contained within, each inspired by a specific stanza.
Let’s be honest here… Edgar Allan Poe really wasn’t the most talented poet. His meter was frequently ungainly and tended to occasionally wander like a drunkard; his alliteration often seemed overly calculated and forced; and his “rhymes” sometimes required a suspension of disbelief rivaled only by Bigfoot sightings and alien abduction stories. (No matter how you parse it, “evil” and “devil” simply don’t rhyme.) It says something, then, that The Raven is one of the (if not the) most recognized poems in history, with the likely exception of some Mother Goose selections.
There’s a reason for that, beyond the fact that it’s often required reading in middle schools. What Mr. Poe may have lacked in poetic prowess, he more than made up for in evocative imagery and emotional gut-punches. The lamentations of a man torn between his desperate desire to remember his lost love Lenore, and his desperate desire to forget, is one which resonates on a primal level.
The fact that there’s nothing overtly supernatural about the tale makes it all the more impactful.
I assure you that the scanned images displayed in this blog don’t do justice to the originals. For starters, the tome is roughly 21 x 15 inches, and while the plates aren’t full page, they’re likely significantly larger than what is displayed on your monitor. The originals also have no digital compression artifacts, which is a fairly substantial benefit… delicate cross-hatching tends to really confuse scanners.
The next time you find yourself in our neck of the woods, ask any of our amazing staff, and they’ll be happy to arrange a viewing. I encourage you to spend a few minutes perusing this beautiful manuscript in all its glory.