If you’re a native Saratogian, you’ve heard this tasty historical morsel: famed poet of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, wrote “The Raven” in Saratoga Springs. But how much truth is there to the tale? According to a handful of Poe historians, the real story is a little more complicated; technically, Poe worked on “The Raven” for about a decade before he finally published what would become arguably his most famous poem.
Susan Archer Talley Weiss, an associate of Edgar Allan Poe, recalled that the manuscript for the poem “had lain for more than ten years in his desk unfinished, while he would at long intervals work on it, adding a few words or lines, altering, omitting or even changing the plan or idea of the poem in the endeavor to make something which would satisfy himself,” records Thomas Ollive Mabbott, editor of the Complete Poems by Edgar Allan Poe. “He is said to have discussed the poem with Ann Van Riper Gillespie Barhyte, wife of [tavern] owner John Barhyte, and herself a poet,” says Mabbott. The Barhytes’ tavern? An early fixture in Saratoga Springs. (The land where the inn stood would later be purchased by Spencer Trask, and is now where Yaddo is located.) “Their children, James and Mary, remembered Poe, and the former claimed to have heard Poe reciting parts of the poem aloud in the open air. Poe did sometimes compose aloud, and the story is well-witnessed. Since Mrs. Barhyte died in April 1844, the date is fixed as prior to the time Poe composed a version of his poem he finally published.” Still with us?
According to George E. Woodberry, author of The Life of Edgar Allan Poe: Personal and Literary, the draft that Poe wrote at Barhyte’s tavern in Saratoga would ultimately be rejected by George Rex Graham, editor of Graham’s Magazine. Graham and his colleagues “condemned the poem,” but sent Poe $15 out of charity, as the poet had mentioned that he and his wife were starving. “He had this poem, which may be correctly described as a draft, at least, when, in 1844, he went to New York and boarded at Mrs. Brennan’s,” writes Woodberry. “It is clear whatever revision he gave, it was done there.”
Whatever revisions he made in Mrs. Brennan’s farmhouse, located on what is now 84th street in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were certainly effective. The successful draft of “The Raven” would be published in The Evening Mirror in January 1845, originally written under the pseudonym “Quarles.” It was re-published in The New-York Daily Tribune, Broadway Journal and American Review. It was even re-published by The Evening Mirror, this time under Poe’s real name and with a preface written by the editor, who celebrated Poe’s writing as “unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift and pokerishness.”
So when Edgar Allan Poe wrote the creepy poem we all know and love, he was actually down in New York City. But, for what it’s worth, Poe did fail at writing “The Raven” right here in Saratoga Springs.