Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Literary birds: The Raven

Charles Dickens had a pet bird, a raven named Grip.
Grip was the inspiration for the talking raven in Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge, which was in turn reviewed by American author of the uncanny, Edgar Allen Poe in 1842. Of Barnaby Rudge, Poe wrote critically:
The raven, too, intensely amusing as it is, might have been made, more than we now see it, a portion of the conception of the fantastic Barnaby. Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.
And that, they say, was the genesis of Poe's idea for a talking raven that acts as a prophet. A few years roll by, and Poe writes his poetic masterpiece, The Raven, about a "ghastly, grim and ancient raven" that croaks only the single word 'Nevermore' and reduces the narrator to a state of terror and despair:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'
The poem is too long to reproduce on the blog, but check out the whole thing here. Here's an article about the link between the poem and Grip, and here's the last stanza of The Raven because I love it:
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,

And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted- nevermore!
When Grip died, Dickens had him stuffed by a taxidermist and mounted in a glass case. Being a prominent literary bird, Grip is now preserved in a museum in Philadelphia where he is sometimes on display as a testament to the works he inspired.

This tale, all new to me, comes courteousy of the knowledgeable librarians at the Portico Library, which I revisited again last week (can't keep away from the place now) and had a quick tour of their current exhibition Charles Dickens: Children and Childhood in his Life and Works, which runs until 27th June.

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