“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven
When I was young, my brother and I came across a collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe while visiting our grandparents. My brother was fascinated by them, and I ended up with recurring nightmares about being buried alive! (In my defense, being buried alive was somewhat of an obsession for Poe.)
Dark as his writing was, you won’t find a single English Literature student who isn’t familiar with the work of Poe. This poet, who lived from 1809-1849, put his pen to paper and produced a collection of writings which have truly endured the sands of time.
The secret to his success? I have a few ideas:
The writings of Poe can reach any audience, regardless of age or culture, because they touch on a universal theme: fear. Feeling afraid, particularly of death, is a sensation that is common to all human beings, and is something that every reader can instantly relate to.
If you want your own writings to reach a wide audience and achieve mass appeal, consider honing in on a universal emotion. We all know what it feels like to experience fear, the longing to be loved, the pride that comes with accomplishment, and the surprise that comes with discovering something unexpected about oneself.
The Beauty of Repetition
Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry was dark, to be sure, but it was also beautifully crafted. He was a master of taking a single idea or even a single word, and thoroughly exploring all the possibilities of what that word could mean, allowing his readers to enjoy the word more fully than before.
Consider, for example, the repeated use of the word “Nevermore” in the last two stanzas of Poe’s famous poem, The Raven:
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Fear: The Absence of Faith
Poe was certainly not a religious man, and was even quoted as saying that “All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.” His work can serve as a sobering reminder that when you remove faith from a person’s life, the result is the sort of raw terror and restlessness of spirit that make Poe’s writing so distinctive.
According to I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
Is there someone in your life who is overwhelmed by a sense of fear and impending doom? Do you know a writer whose work is characterized by dark themes and hopelessness? These are telltale signs that this person most likely does not have the peace and assurance that comes with Christian faith. But the good news is this: when we share the Good News with individuals such as this, we give them the opportunity to replace their fear with faith. Because you see, perfect love casts out fear.
No need for nightmares.
Photo Credit: The Raven, 1875, by Edouard Manet. Public Domain.
This post was submitted as part of the A to Z Challenge, where participants agree to write an article that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet, posting every day of the month of April (except Sundays).
Here on The Artistic Christian, my theme for the month is The Classics. Each day I’ll examine a book, film, or work of art that has become a beloved classic and discuss what has made it such a success, and what eternal themes it contains that Christian artists can use as modern illustrations.
For daily reflections from my personal travels around the world, check out my companion blog, A Shepherd’s Reflections, where my theme for April is Reflections From Around the World.