There’s a new show at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. The exhibit includes a variety of original manuscripts, showing the development of Poe’s work and will feature an early version of his poem ‘To Helen.’
I visited the Poe Museum back in February during my Poe Road Trip Weekend. In February, the special exhibit was of James Carling’s wildly hallucinogenic illustrations of ‘The Raven.’ The pictures made me re-think the familiar poem. Carling delved deep into Poe’s imaginary — and dangerous, monster-filled — world.
James Carling 1857-1887 began his art career as a child ‘pavement artist’ drawing with chalk on the streets of Liverpool. Needless to say this was a tough start in life. He was basically a graffiti artist of his day. On Christmas Eve of 1865, when he was all of eight-years old, he wound up in Cheapside Jail. If this strikes you as a Dickensian childhood scene — you are not alone.
His luck changed when the authorities sent him to Saint George’s Industrial School where he learned to read and write. At 14, his older brother took him to the U.S. and in Philadelphia he went from sidewalk artist to ‘Lightening Caricaturist’ in a vaudeville troupe. Then it was on to New York where he was featured in a musical as a chalk/talk performer.
He must have been a talented young man.
From New York it was on to Chicago where he entered a contest to illustrate Poe’s poem held by Harpers Magazine. He didn’t win. Gustave Dore illustrated the volume. You’ve probably seen those illustrations. Missing that key opportunity must have been a terrible blow. But artists have to weather all sorts of rejection. He died at the age of 29, leaving behind an unpublished autobiography and some extraordinary illustrations, including his Raven drawings.
I particularly like the following lines from ‘The Raven.’ Poe’s language is specific and intriguing. He’s also expressing a timeless desire to obliterate a painful memory. (Nepenthe is an ancient potion that induces the user to forget pain or sorrow.)
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he has sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
So, if you are in or near Richmond, Virginia between now and July 11, be sure to visit the Poe Museum and report to me about the new exhibit.