Edgar Allan Poe: Using Primary Sources from the Library of Congress to Deepen Understanding of “The Raven”

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the 2013-2015 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Because of his tendency toward the macabre, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe are frequently associated with Halloween, but his writing has had a far deeper reach than connections to the holiday. As National Poetry Month approaches, students can explore his work and its cultural impact through primary sources from the Library of Congress.

The raven. [Facsimile of a manuscript]

The raven. [Facsimile of a manuscript]

One of Poe’s most-often read works is “The Raven,” set at “midnight dreary,” with its mournful refrain of “Nevermore” as the narrator laments his lost love Lenore. Encourage students to engage with the poem with this manuscript version. Prompt students with questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Manuscripts.

Deepen the conversation, asking:

  • How does reading the poem in Poe’s own hand differ from reading from a printed text?
  • What might differences between this version and a published version tell us about Poe as a writer?

Illustrate the impact of “The Raven” on the cultural consciousness of his era and the decades since with a variety of political cartoons that allude to the poem. Select questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Political Cartoons  with the primary source analysis tool to engage students with these cartoons.

Quoth the raven, "nevermore" //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.27809

Quoth the raven, “nevermore”, 1912
//hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.27809

For each cartoon, ask:

  • What is the connection between the political cartoon and Poe’s poem?
  • What elements of “The Raven” appear in the cartoon?
  • Why might the artist have chosen specific details from the poem to make his point?

Use questions the students generate to drive further investigation into the historical events that prompted each cartoon. Encourage critical thinking about political cartoons and literary allusion by sending students on a search in the Library’s collections for other examples.

Additional primary sources related to Poe’s work can be found in the Library’s primary source set American Authors in the Nineteenth Century: Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, Stowe, and Poe.

As a bonus, consider using the “Treehouse of Horror” Simpson’s episode 16 to further conversation about parody and allusion related to “The Raven. ” How many references can you and your students find to Poe’s ebony bird in today’s popular culture?

One Comment

  1. Karyn Simonelli
    March 17, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Starting Poe as soon as SOL testing ends tomorrow. I excitedly opened this email, and then I was even more excited to see Rebecca Newland’s name on it! Thanks Rebecca! We miss you.

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