The Link Between the Baltimore Ravens and Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe's Home in Baltimore
The Ravens Are Hatched
As a career English teacher, a former high school football player, and a lifelong football fan (including being an early fan of Johnny Unitas and his Baltimore Colts), it would never have occurred to me that there could possibly be a connection between Edgar Allan Poe and any national football team. But the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 and 2012, and the team was named after the bird in Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven."
The Baltimore Colts, whose games were broadcast into middle Tennessee in my pre-teenage years, left Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984 for Indianapolis. Then in 1995, the Cleveland Browns, looking for more money, relocated to Baltimore and were hatched as the Ravens.
Who's Going to Name Baltimore's New Team?
Public relations is always important to NFL teams, and naming the newly moved Browns after the move to Baltimore was a public relations opportunity. One important way chosen for this boost was letting the new Baltimore fans of the team name it. A website, ‘Knowing Poe,’ gives us the following facts: A telephone poll was conducted by a newspaper in the city, The Baltimore Sun. More than 33,000 voted. About 5,500 cast votes for the Marauders, and 5,597 voted for the Americans, but 21,108 selected the Ravens, and thus the team was named after Poe’s famous bird.
According to a reference from the Baltimore Sun article, Poe ‘met his wife here, died here, and is buried here’, enough reason for naming the team the Ravens, at least for some people. The cause of Poe’s death is unknown. According to a Poe Museum biography, "he was found in the bar room of a public house . . . unresponsive, and transported to a hospital, where he died few years later.” The cause of his death remains unknown, but the use of drugs and alcohol, both of which he was accused, have been suggested as possibly contributing to his death.
James Earl Jones Reads 'The Raven'
My Study of Poe
I first met Poe in a high school American Literature class. This meeting was during my junior year in high school when I chose to write a paper on Poe. In my studies of American Literature as a high school and college student and teacher for over 50 years, I came to value Poe [1809-1849] as one of America’s truly great creative geniuses as a poet, short story writer, and literary critic. In addition to these usual literary accomplishments, Poe is also credited with being an inventor of the modern short story, and helping to invent science fiction writing.
It seems to me that Poe’s most famous writing is certainly ‘The Raven.’ The poem has 18 seven line stanzas with intricate rhyming. The poem has two characters, the narrator, and a raven which has somehow learned to speak one word, ‘Nevermore.’ In the background of the poem is the dead beloved woman of the speaker of the poem, Lenore. Fortunately, or unfortunately, whichever the case may be, the word ‘nevermore’ perfectly answers a series of questions put to the bird by the narrator of the poem.
Poe's Tragic Life
“The Raven” indirectly expresses the situation of Poe’s life at the time. “The Raven” was published in 1849, after the death of his wife, Virginia, in 1847. She died of tuberculosis, as did Poe’s mother, before Poe was three. Without any real way to treat the disease at the time, death was agonizing, and usually long in coming, but its appearance was dramatic. The reality of the agony of the disease began with spitting up of blood. [As John Keats said, ‘That spot of blood is my death warrant,’ since he had seen both his mother and his brother die of the disease.]
Poe’s mostly tragic life began with his father’s desertion of him and his mother, Eliza, shortly after Poe’s birth, followed by his mother’s death.. Poe was adopted by the John Allan family in Richmond, Virginia, thus he added ‘Allan’ as his middle name. His relationship with Mrs. Allan is said to have been generally good but equally terrible with Mr. Allan. When Allan died, he had cut Edgar out of his will, though he included an illegitimate child in the same will.
After Allan’s death, Poe joined members of his family in Baltimore, including his aunt Maria Clemm who had a daughter, Virginia. According to the Poe Museum biography, Virginia first carried letters to women whom Poe was interested in. Then Poe became romantically interested in Virginia. They were married in 1835 when Poe was 26 and she was not yet 14. Indications are that their marriage was a good one, with Maria pretty much acting as a mother to both Virginia and Edgar.
Here is the first stanza of the poem:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while l pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While l nodded nearly napping,
Suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor, “I muttered, “Tapping at my chamber door.
Only this and nothing more.
The mood of the poem is somber; the speaker is ‘weak and weary,’ and we learn later in the poem that he his grieving the loss of his beloved, Lenore. The next five stanzas presents us with more information about he narrator of the poem, his great love of Lenore and his overwhelming sadness in her loss. The final question of the poem is whether or not he will ever see Lenore again, which the raven answers, with his single word: “Nevermore.” This word is the poem’s death sentence of grief for the speaker of the poem.
The rhyme of the poem is quite complex. The end rhyme of the poem I a abccbbb. In addition to the end rhyme usually used in poetry of Poe’s day, he adds internal rhyme as well.
Here is an illustration of the end and internal rhymes in the first stanza of “The Raven.”
Line 1 dreary [internal] weary [a] end
Line 2 lore [b] end
Line 3 napping [internal] rapping [c] end
Line 4 rapping [twice] tapping [c] end
Line 5 door [b] end
Line 6 door [b] end
Line 7 more [b] end
One of my research sources called “The Raven” the greatest poem ever written, or something of the sort. Though I would not go anywhere near that far in my evaluation,
I would call it a good poem, and an absolutely an exquisite example of the poetry of 19th century Romanticism in America.
Poe's Literary Accomplishments
To me, most of Poe’s writing, both in tone and content, is an expression of an unhappy life, stemming from the loss of his natural and adoptive families, including the loss of his beloved Virginia. Though Poe had great personal tragedies in his life, and made his own mistakes, I believe that he is to be greatly admired for his personal perseverance and genius as both a literary critic and a writer. I know of no other writer about whom it can be said, that he helped to have created a literary genre, the short story, to say nothing of having a hand in creating a sub-category of the short story, the detective story, and science fiction as well. It is most interesting to me to speculate of what more Poe might have accomplished if he had not been so burdened by personal disasters and genuine bad luck throughout his life, but then, these disasters provided him much of the subject matter of his writing. As one of our granddaughters said once about one of her accomplishments, “Bravo for Poe.”