Most people know that Edgar Allen Poe wrote poetry. Of course, you'd be hard-pressed to make them quote a line that doesn't involve ravens.
Well, it's time for some poetry homework -- "The Raven" is neither Poe's most beautiful nor his most striking poem. That is reserved for other, more obscure works in Poe's "Complete Poetry" -- and while one might expect the ghostly or macabre to be all throughout his work, it's also filled with transcendent beauty, wistfulness, and some truly amazing wordwork.
Over his lifetime, Poe tried out many styles -- there are sonnets, short hymns, long rambling odes written in dramatic, vaguely Shakespearean style ("O, human love! thou spirit given/On Earth, of all we hope in Heaven!"), acrostics, little exercises in self-reflection, a lyrical song or two, and some haunting stories rendered in verse like the bittersweet "Annabel Lee."
And the content of these poems is just as diverse. Some of them are distinctly dark -- sunken cities, tolling bells, haunted palaces, thoughts on the lingering spirits of the dead, abandoned valleys, and loved ones that have been stolen away by death (" I pray to God that she may lie/For ever with unopened eye/While the pale sheeted ghosts go by!"). And yes, it has the one about a midnight dreary, and a creepy raven with eyes like "a demon's that is dreaming."
And there are a lot of moments of beauty -- lush descriptions of nature, bittersweet dreams, love for a beautiful girl, and elfin odes to those who "put out the star-light/With the breath from their pale faces/About twelve by the moon-dial..." But in many of these, Poe manages to add a melancholy atmosphere -- just look at "Bridal Ballad," whose narrator assures us that she is happy, but who is haunted by the "dead who is forsaken," her former lover.
Yeah, Poe's verse tends to be about as cheerful as his best known fiction, and often with some of the same preoccupations. He was a little less successful in verse at times, as occasionally you get some very strained verse schemes, like the terribly awkward "Eulalie" ("Now Doubt - now Pain/Come never again/For her soul gives me sigh for sigh").
But like his stories, Poe's poems are spun out of exquisite, dreamlike words that can sometimes evolve into nightmares. This guy could evoke everything from ghosts to fairy-tales, brides to wormlike horrors. Even the more sentimental moments have a dark edge ("Oh, may her sleep/As it is lasting, so be deep!/Soft may the worms about her creep!"). And he also wraps his verse in some truly beautiful natural metaphors -- ancient forests, flowers, misty moons, and many other beautiful touches.
And Poe's poetry even allows a window into his own mind at times, most painfully expressed as "from childhood's hour I have not been/As others were -- I have not seen/As others saw -- I could not bring/My passions from a common spring..." and the "mystery which binds me still."
For anyone who can appreciate his exquisite use of words, the "Complete Poetry of Edgar Allen Poe" is a must-read -- full of dark, meditative little gems and exquisite language.