The Raven; with literary and historical commentary/Parodies
NOTHER peculiar sign of the wide influence exercised by The Raven is the number of parodies and imitations it has given rise to: whilst many of these are beneath contempt some of them, for various reasons, are worthy of notice and even of preservation. The first of these, probably, in point of time if not of merit, is The Gazelle, by Philip P. Cooke, a young Virginian poet, who died just as he was giving promise of future fame. His beautiful lyric of Florence Vane had attracted the notice of Poe, who cited it and praised it highly, in his lectures on "The Poets and Poetry of America." The Gazelle might almost be regarded as a response to the elder poet's generous notice. Poe himself observes, that this parody "although professedly an imitation, has a very great deal of original power," and he published it in the New York Evening Mirror (April 29th, 1845), with the remark that "the following, from our new-found boy poet of fifteen years of age, shows a most happy faculty of imitation"—
Far from friends and kindred wandering, in my sick and sad soul pondering,
Then my book at once down flinging, from my reverie up springing,
With her dark eye backward turning, as if some mysterious yearning
"Glorious one," I cried, upspringing, "art thou joyful tidings bringing,
Another of the earliest parodies on The Raven deserves allusion as having, like the preceding, received recognition at the hands of Poe himself. In the number of the Broadway Journal (then partly edited by Poe) of the 26th of April, 1845, the following editorial note appeared, above the stanzas hereafter cited:—
A GENTLE PUFF.
"If we copied into our Journal all the complimentary notices that are bestowed upon us, it would contain hardly anything besides; the following done into poetry is probably the only one of the kind that we shall receive, and we extract it from our neighbour, the New World, for the sake of its uniqueness."
Then with step sedate and stately, as if thrones had borne him lately,
With his keen sardonic smiling, every other care beguiling,
This opinion of a contemporary journalist on Poe's non-respect, in his critical capacity, of persons, was speedily followed by several other parodies of more or less interest. The Evening Mirror for May 30th, 1845, contained one entitled The Whippoorwill, the citation of one stanza of which will, doubtless, suffice for "most readers:
"In the wilderness benighted, lo! at last my guide alighted
On a lowly little cedar that overspread a running rill;
Still his cry of grief he uttered, and around me wildly fluttered,
Whilst unconsciously I muttered, filled with boundless wonder still;
Wherefore dost thou so implore me, piteously implore me still?
Tell me, tell me, Whippoorwill!
These lines on an American bird, like those cited from the Broadway, must have passed under Poe's own eyes, even if he did not give them publication, as at the time they appeared he was assistant-editor to the Evening Mirror.
There is yet another parody on The Raven which Poe is known to have spoken of, and to have most truthfully described, in a letter of 16th June, 1849, as "miserably stupid." The lines, only deserving mention from the fact that they invoked Poe's notice, appeared in an American brochure, now of the utmost rarity, styled The Moral of Authors: a New Satire, by J. E. Tuel, and were dated from the—
Raven Creek, In the Year of Poetry
Before the Dismal Ages, A.D. 18—"
A quotation from the lines themselves is needless.
It has been seen how rapidly The Raven winged its way across the Atlantic. The ominous bird had not long settled on the English shores ere its wonderful music had penetrated into every literary home. As a natural consequence of its weird power and artificial composition it was speedily imitated: one of the first English parodies was contributed by Robert Brough, to Cruikshank's Comic Almanack for 1853, and was republished in the Piccadilly Annual in 1870. The Vulture, as it is styled, is scarcely worthy of its parentage, but the two first stanzas may be cited as typical of the whole piece, which is descriptive of the depredations committed by a certain class of "sponges" on those people who are willing to put up with their ways:—
Once upon a midnight chilling, as I held my feet unwilling
O'er a tub of scalding water, at a heat of ninety-four;
Nervously a toe in dipping, dripping, slipping, then out-skipping,
Suddenly there came a ripping, whipping, at my chambers door.
"Tis the second floor," I mutter'd, "flipping at my chambers door—
Wants a light—and nothing more!"
Ah! distinctly I remember, it was in the chill November,
And each cuticle and member was with influenza sore;
Falt'ringly I stirr'd the gruel, steaming, creaming o'er the fuel,
And anon removed the jewel that each frosted nostril bore,
Wiped away the trembling jewel that each redden'd nostril bore—
Nameless here for evermore!
A much better parody on The Raven was contributed by Mr. Edmund Yates to Mirth and Metre, a brochure which appeared in 1855. From The Tankard the following stanzas may be given:—
Sitting in my lonely chamber, in this dreary, dark December,
* * * * *
Grasping then the light, upstanding, looked I round the dreary landing,
* * * * *
Our Miscellany, another brochure, published in 1856, contained The Parrot, apparently by the same hand and of about the same calibre. The opening stanzas read thus:—
"Once, as through the streets I wandered, and o'er many a fancy pondered,
"May my timbers now be shivered—" oh, at this my poor heart quivered,—
Scarcely to my friends I'd shown it, when (my mother's dreadful groan!—it
"Parrot!" said I, "bird of evil! parrot still, or bird or devil!
* * * *
The last stanza reads,—
Aud the parrot never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the very self-same perch where first he sat in days of yore;
And his only occupations seem acquiring imprecations
Of the last and freshest fashion, which he picks up by the score;
Picks them up, and, with the greatest gusto, bawls them by the score,
And will swear for evermore.
A parody of no little force, styled The Craven, was published in The Tomahawk, a satirical periodical, on the 19th of June, 1867. From The Craven, who, need it be pointed out, was Napoleon the Third, these stanzas are extracted.
Deep into the darkness peering, not in fear, but only fearing
"Wretch!" he cried, "some fiend hath sent thee, by that mocking voice he lent thee
In the Carols of Cockayne, a volume of elegant verse by the late Henry S. Leigh, published in 1872, was a parody on The Raven, styled Chateaux d'Espagne, "A Reminiscence of David Garrick and The Castle of Andalusia" The following stanzas show the spirit of the piece:—
Once upon an evening weary, shortly after Lord Dundreary
So I put the question lowly: and my neighbour answer'd slowly.
* * * * *
The Dove has had a considerable circulation in the United States. It is by the Rev. J. W. Scott, D.D., and is stated to have been written upon his wife's death. It appeared first in 1874, and is in many lines, more a repetition than a parody of The Raven: the first three, the fourteenth and the last stanzas will suffice to show the style of the piece:—
Once upon a storm-night dreary, sat I pond'ring, restless, weary,
She had passed the gloomy portals, which forever hide from mortals
* * * * *
Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer,
* * * * *
And the white dove, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
Some lines on "The Death of Edgar Poe," written by Sarah J. Bolton for the Poe Memorial Committee, are composed in imitation of The Raven, and are as follows:
They have laid thee down to slumber where the sorrows that encumber
Ocean, earth, and air could utter words that made thy spirit flutter—
* * * * *
Thou did'st see the sunlight quiver over many a fabled river,
From the earth a star has faded, and the shrine of song has shaded,
If a living human being ever had the gift of seeing
Numberless other parodies, more or less smart or inane, as the case may be, have appeared, and continue to appear, in American, British, and Colonial publications. Many of the best of these imitations have appeared in the London Punch, but others of scarcely less vigour have been published in the minor comic papers. Those of our readers who feel interested in this branch of our theme will find a large and varied collection of these imitations, they might fitly be termed desecrations of The Raven, in Mr. Walter Hamilton's collection of Parodies, now publishing monthly: from it some of our specimens have been drawn. This section of our book may properly conclude with the following quotation from Funny Folks Annual for 1884, entitled The End of the Raven:—
You'll remember that a Raven in my study found a haven
"Be those words our sign of parting!" cried I, suddenly upstarting,
* * * * *
Last Bank Holiday, whilst walking at the Zoo, and idly talking,
Suddenly I heard low accents that recalled the days of yore;
And up to the cages nearing, and upon the perches peering—
There, with steak his beak besmearing, draggle-tailed, sat "Nevermore!"
Mutual was our recognition, and, in his debased condition, he too thought of heretofore;
For anon he hoarsely muttered, shook his draggled tail and fluttered, drew a cork at me and swore—
Yes, distinctly drew three corks, and most indubitably swore!
Only that, and nothing more!
- Adrian Marx, purveyor of Court news to The Figaro.
- Reeves & Turner, 196, Strand, W.C.