This Week in Poetic History

Just for fun: we’re celebrating the lives of three poets that were changed this week in history, many years ago, and examining the curious ways one turn of events can change a legacy. Here are three world-altering events from three years in poetic history…

“The Raven” Is Born

Tenniel-TheRavenOn this day in 1845, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” one of the best-known poems in the English language, was first published. But it was no easy feat getting it into print. Poe first submitted the poem his friend and owner of Graham’s Magazine George Rex Graham, who declined. He did, however, give Poe $15 out of what could best be described as pity. The poem was eventually bought by The American Review, for $9. Still, Poe was not yet to become the household name he would shortly be; the magazine printed it under the pseudonym “Quarles.”

It was in the Evening Mirror that the poem first appeared with Poe’s name beneath it. Thanks to this publication, Edgar Allen Poe and his “Raven” achieved  immediate success,both praised by Elizabeth Barrett (“Your ‘Raven’ has produced a sensation, a fit o’ horror, here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by ‘Nevermore'”) and memorized by Abraham Lincoln himself.

To discover more about and celebrate this influential poem, find the annotated eText of “The Raven” here at eNotes.

Dante Alighieri Is Exiled

Paradiso_Canto_31If it weren’t for an unfortunate turn of politics, would Dante have written the masterpiece we all remember him for?

On January 27th, 1302, the poet was banished from Florence, where he served as one of the city’s six priors. “Dante’s political activities, including the banishing of several rivals, led to his own banishment, and he wrote his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, as a virtual wanderer, seeking protection for his family in town after town,” which may or may not be akin to walking the nine circles of Hell… Of course, nowhere is this experience listed as inspiration for The Divine Comedy–we just couldn’t resist the temptation of a good “what if”! Yet surely this must have been a time of reflection for Alighieri, as the part of his guide through Paradise, the last portion of the series, was given to a Beatrice Potinari, Dante’s own childhood love and adult muse.

For additional background, analysis, and critical essays of Dante’s masterpiece, find the complete study guide here.

The Last Poems of Yeats Are Published from His Deathbed

wbyeatsSeventy-five years ago, celebrated Irish poet William Butler Yeats took his last breath. In the same month, three of his last poems ran in The Atlantic. As he faced his own mortality, how did the Nobel Prizewinner look back on his life and work? Heartrendingly, with little regard for his own ego or extensive achievements.

In “The Man and the Echo,” for instance, Yeats examined his role in the 1916 Easter Rising, a bloody rebellion by Irish republicans against British rule. In the poem the poet apportions blame to himself, as the speaker confesses to his own unforgiving echo:

Man. In a cleft that’s christened Alt
Under broken stone I halt
At the bottom of a pit
That broad noon has never lit,
And shout a secret to the stone.
All that I have said and done,
Now that I am old and ill,
Turns into a question till
I lie awake night after night
And never get the answers right.
Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman’s reeling brain?
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?
And all seems evil until I
Sleepless would lie down and die.

Echo. Lie down and die.

Yeats died on January 28th, 1939 in a boarding house in Menton, France.