I saw in the news this morning that today marks the 171st anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ I understand how and why many people recognize ‘The Raven,’ but it makes me sad. In many ways, the raven has become synonymous with Poe. His name is mentioned, and someone inevitably says, ‘Nevermore!’
I was told as a child that Poe was a mentally unstable addict, and that he wrote while he was high on opium and alcohol. While some of that may be true, I never understood the man behind the mask until I entered college. I learned that the true picture of Poe was that he was a very gentle, loving soul who could often be found playing tag or hoops with children in the streets, a man who was loyal to a fault to his wife as she was consumed in a slow and painful death. It was the many tragedies that fell upon him that drove him to cry out in writing, to try to find some measure of peace and understanding.
The curtain rises, and the mime steps forward. The people laugh because that’s what they came to do. He begins his skit, acting the clown, tripping himself and falling on stage, and the people applaud. He gets up and slaps himself for being such a fool, and the people applaud. He tries again and again, failing each time, and the people applaud. He opens his arms in a forlorn gesture to the crowd, and the people applaud.
’This isn’t a show. Don’t you people realize that I’m dying inside right now?’ he asks through silent gestures that the crowd does not comprehend. He scans the crowd over and over for one face that understands his pain, that sees him as he is.
‘He’s a great actor!’ one declares. ‘What a talented fellow!’ another chimes. But only mimes speak the language of mimes.
People don’t want to see the man. They only come to see the raven.