The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #97666   Message #1924643
Posted By: Azizi
02-Jan-07 - 07:26 AM
Thread Name: Is there Balm in Gilead?
Subject: RE: Is there Balm in Gilead?
I admit that I couldn't remember the words to the Edgar Allen Poe's 1845 poem "The Raven", and so I Googled it.

I found the complete poem here


As to whether Poe knew the spiritual "Balm In Gilead", I think it's rather doubtful as the Raven poem was written in 1845 and "The Jubilee Singers put on their first performance singing the old captive's songs at a religious conference in 1871. The songs were first published in 1872 in a book titled Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, by Thomas F. Steward. Later these religious songs became known as "Negro spirituals" to distinguish this music from the spiritual music of other peoples".

I guess it's remotely possible that Poe might have heard the spiritual "Balm in Gilead" when he attended the University of Virgina. It's also remotely possible that sometime in his life Poe made the acquaintance of some freed slave or some Black free man {or woman or child}who knew this song.And I guess it's possible that Edgar Allen Poe knew some White person who heard Black people singing this particular spiritual. Hey, anything is possible.

However, I think it's much more possible that Poe knew the Biblical references to balm in Gilead, and that's why he wove that phrase into the Raven poem.


Fwiw, I found this forum for Q&A's about Poe's writing: Critiques of Edgar Allen's Powe's writing

I'm not sure if this site is currently active as it seems that most of the entries are from 2002-2003. Also, I didn't find any specific Q&A about the phrase "balm in Gilead", partly because I'm rushing posting this so I can get to work. That forum might have at least one specific question about "balm in Gilead", and/or there might be be some references to this phrase in replies to other questions. Be that as it may, there are several questions about the symbolism of the raven and the meaning of Lenore. To give you a flavor of that website, here's one of the response to a query that I found particularly interesting:

"Why did he write "Lenore"? Who did he write it about? Did he write it out of anger, or spite? Why would you reccomend it to readers? If you would reccomend it to any, who?

-- Shari Furness..., February 09, 2002

Hmmm. This is a case of constant reworking of an old poe "A Paean" written in his early collection in 1831. The 1843 version is the best BUT Poe reworked it again for the last 1844 version and was still working on it the summer of his death. The long version, perhaps inspired by the structures of Barrett"s "Lady Geraldine's Courtship", is best known as a a steeping stone to "The Raven." Something the "Marginalia" by Poe in 1844 concerning elegiac poems sums up his aim : "Better still, (they should) utter the notes of triumph. I have endeavored to carry out this idea in some verses which I have called "Lenore'"

Helen, Ellen, Elenore, Lenore, Eleanora are consciously chosen. All generally signify "bright" or "light" the muselike beacon Poe writes so well about in "To Helen". These sonorous names had been used nby others in the context of tragic beauty. As for a particular woman this is doubtful. This is Poe's grand ideal theme, the woman being his symbol of ideal beauty and the goal toward which his unsatified heart ever turns.

The tale of the poem: Stock mourners(Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 and the Premature Burial, 3rd paragraph) in this elegy question the bereaved lover DeVere why he shows no appropriate sorrow. (DeVere is just a name taken from a novel of the time of no other real imprtance for the understanding of the poem "Guy DeVere A Man of Independence",1827, by John Plummer Ward. DeVere rebukes the mourners like Job his accusers who are hypocrites who envied and hated her. Spare her the sorrow and this wrong and let her be the hope that goes before and let the poet sing with joy the old happy memories. "Let NO bell toll!"from the "damned earth" to disturb her in happiness and glory.

Well, and so forth. The interesting thing is Poe's attitude differs from the conventional. That is part and parcel of his own alienation from jealous and inferior foes and his miseries that can only be overcome in two ways. By keeping his eyes fixed on his Ideal, his heaven, his hope, his loves that have gone before AND keeping the memories of past happiness. Nuts to the present world. The varying success of these goals in Poe's other poems comes from his persona's rooted stance before the grave, before the shore, looking behind and ahead but in neither place, possessing neither the past nor salvation just yet, just that dynamic passion. (With help from Thomas Ollive Mabbott's book on Poe's poems.)"