Throwback Thursday: Poe’s ‘The Raven’ Turns 170

It was published in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845.

Photo Credit: Steve Annear

Photo Credit: Steve Annear

On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe made a name for himself. That day, The New York Evening Mirror published his poem, “The Raven.” Its depiction of a bird’s mysterious visit to a heartbroken man instantly made Poe a household name. To this day, it remains his most iconic work.

How Poe thought up such a dark poem isn’t much of a mystery when you consider his life up to that point. Born in Boston, he was orphaned at age three and forced to move to Richmond, Virginia. After a failed career in the military, he tried to make it as a writer. By 1845, his wife had fallen ill (she would die two years later) and he was drinking heavily. At that point, he had published some collections of poetry (the first he signed only as “A Bostonian”) as well as short stories, and literary criticism. But it was not until “The Raven” that he became a household name.

Poe never made much money off the poem’s success. But it gave him a legacy. There’s a reason, after all, that the dramatic sculpture of Poe installed in Boston last October shows him wielding a giant raven.

So do yourself a favor and reread the poem today. (We’re guessing it’s been a while.) It doesn’t take long, and as Poe explained in his follow-up essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” he wrote it to “suit at once the popular and critical taste.” Don’t worry, it has aged well. In fact, at 170, it’s looking pretty darn good.