A train of thought that began with my noticing that in a few days it will be December eventually carried me to these lines from "The Raven":
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor...
I hadn't read the poem in I don't know how long, so I pulled out my old Norton anthology of American literature and did so. Oh my goodness! As a reasonably sophisticated reader of poetry, I'm probably not supposed to think very highly of "The Raven," but...oh my goodness, it's a fine one.
Yes, it's gimmicky, and somewhat over the top. Okay, more than somewhat. Musically it tends to produce a naive sing-song effect, with its heavy trochaic rhythm (DAH-dah-DAH-dah), its plentifully repeated feminine rhymes, and entire repeated phrases. The lines are eight feet long and the internal rhyme makes most of those effectively two lines, but running them together is a brilliant move that gives them speed and reduces the possible nursery-rhyme effect. And it's almost absurdly melodramatic; the atmosphere is laid on very heavily, so that it's easy to make fun of, and of course has been. But if you read it aloud, try not to let the beat run away with you, and discard the cynicism that might lead you to mock it, it's hard to resist.
And why should one resist? Do you resist Chopin's Funeral March? If so, it's probably for some of the same reasons: a perception that it's cheesy, which is as much a result of over-exposure, parody, and perhaps snobbery as of any fault within the work. Works like this are in a sense too good, or rather I guess I should say too appealing: almost everyone finds them accessible and enjoyable, and that can lead to their being overexposed and devalued. I'm reading "The Raven" now as if I were in the 8th grade, or whatever it was, again, and realizing that I was right to love it then.
Naturally there are some readings of it on YouTube. I sampled three--by Christopher Lee, James Earl Jones, and Vincent Price--but I don't recommend them, so am not including them here. In general to my taste actors act too much when they read poetry, reading "with expression," as someone says with annoyance in some story or other--too much expression. It's as if they're trying to upstage the poet. I have to say though that the Vincent Price one is sort of fun. It's not just read but dramatized, with thunder, purple curtains, a skull sitting on Price's desk, and an actual raven, which however does not speak.