This is my second entry, today--be sure and read the earlier one, because it's far more important, announcing, as it does, a major discovery.
In this Facebook group for fans of Edgar Allan Poe, which I was in for a few days, I was challenged by a member who adamantly insisted that Poe had written a great many poems in the style of "The Raven," and how could I claim he didn't write it, if I hadn't even read Poe's poetry? My answer was logical--I have proven that Mathew Franklin Whittier wrote the poem, so Poe couldn't have. But that isn't going to cut it if I have to defend my conclusions on radio, say, or with academics in person. So this afternoon, I put aside my plans to edit my second video (with five more pieces of evidence), and turned my attention to this question.
First, however, I took a brief glance at one of Poe's short stories, which this group member had cited. He said that Poe had devised many plots which were reminiscent of "The Raven," before that poem was published.
Well, based on this one story, he had, and he hadn't. Because these are horror stories. Okay, you can say they are psychological horror stories, if you wish, but that doesn't change much of anything, in my view. They are made-up stories, intended to be as disturbing (and hence as entertaining) as possible. We are all quite familiar with this genre on television and in the movies. No doubt each of these screenwriters will claim that he or she is creating great psychological art, but we know better. (Ca-ching.)
The spiritually discerning will know that "The Raven" was written by a man very much in love with his late wife, who is struggling terribly with his faith in survival of the spirit after death. He is both hopeful, and at the same time terrified, of spirit contact. And I will tell you that the circumstances of that poem were literal, for Mathew. Nothing was made up except, perhaps, the raven itself. The rest was as it occurred.
But now I turn to Poe's poetry, and these are my conclusions. I have my reasons--this is an educated guess.
Poe appears to have plagiarized about 90%, or more, of what he published, and what is claimed for him. It's all over the map (just as Elizabeth Barrett's 1844 compilation is, and George W. Light's compilation). Some of the poets he stole from believed in God--some of them didn't. One appears to have believed that you lie there in the tomb waiting for Resurrection--another was a Spiritualist. One is an old man looking back on his youth--others are youths, themselves, trying desperately to write with "young poet's angst." Some are excellent and inspired--some are childish, or else intellectual and contrived. And so-on and so-forth. The styles, also, are all over the place, and with a couple of very small exceptions, none are anything like "The Raven."
The only caveat is that there appears to have been a known style, or a known technique, of repetition in sounding somber. I don't think that either Mathew or Poe invented that. I think it was "around" at the time. As I recall, there were two poems which used this technique (but not nearly as effectively and elegantly as in "The Raven"). The only poem that really looked a bit like "The Raven," were two lines that Poe wrote in his own hand at about age 14. But there is no way to know whether he liked them and was copying them over or was composing them. The lines read:
"Last night, with many cares & toils oppress'd
Weary, I laid me on a couch to rest--"
This may sound vaguely like the opening to "The Raven," but it doesn't sound like any 14-year-old boy I know. Most have worries, and angst, but not "cares and toils." At any rate, all we know is that it is in his handwriting--and that's not enough for me to assume he composed it.
So we are left with almost nothing, in the way of poetry, which could be considered a precursor to "The Raven." There is one other, but I discount it as Poe's work, because it's the Christian who evidently believes in the Resurrection of the Dead, and who has lost his wife. If there's one poem in the entire collection I am sure Poe plagiarized from somebody, it would be that one. The answer is that there appears to have been a style of predominantly religious poetry which used this style, and which Mathew--being religious--also preferred. He modified it at times, as he did with "The Raven"--at other times he stayed entirely within the expected rhythm. But he was not the only religious person to use it.
Of course, I only analyzed poetry attributed to Poe which was written before 1842, when I believe Mathew shared some of his unpublished work. That work which Poe published afterwards is irrelevant, as he would have been merely imitating the style of "The Raven," so as to make it look plausible that he could have written it. That's why he explained how he supposedly wrote it, in his essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," also.
The problem, here, is that Poe--who was suspected of being a man of poor character by many, and has been suspected of plagiarism more than once--was actually far worse a plagiarist than anybody has guessed. It is my distinct impression, from various things Mathew said out of the side of his mouth, that Poe was actually an awful poet. He was the 19th-century Stephen King--he was a gothic prose writer. He was no poet, at all, though he wanted to fancy himself one, because authors, in that day, had to also be poets. That's all. He no more wrote "The Raven" than I built the Empire State Building.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Another Tricky Day" by The Who,
from the album, Face Dances