The film begins by tracing Poe's ancestral heritage before Poe himself is born. After the loss of his parents, Poe is taken in by the John and Francis Allan in Richmond, Virginia. The film then jumps ahead about 15 years to Poe's time at the University of Virginia. Due to debts from playing cards and a growing interest in wine, Poe begins to have difficulties. He hallucinates that he has killed a man in a pistol duel.
Poe meets Virginia and they spend a day together, riding a horse and sitting "beside the glassy pool of romance." He tells her a fairy tale, a raven perching on Poe's shoulder as he finishes the story, before they go on a walk together. Upon seeing a black slave (listed in the credits only as "Negro") being whipped, he buys the slave with an "I.O.U." for $600.00. The slave's former owner then goes to John Allan to collect the debt. Allan calls Poe a "scoundrel" for causing so many bills.
After having a drink with his "chum" Tony, Poe goes to visit Virginia. Tony follows shortly after and the two compete for Virginia's affection. Later, Virginia says she will choose the man who guesses which hand holds a wreath behind her back. Poe allows Tony to go first and, though he guesses correctly, Virginia secretly switches the wreath to the other hand so that Poe can win. Shortly after, in front of Tony and Virginia, Allan questions Poe's spending habits. Allan causes quite a scene, despite his wife's attempts to calm him. Poe is asked to leave the Allan family but Virginia offers to come along. Poe's recently-purchased slave comes along as well.
Poe has an alcohol-induced hallucination that recreates his poem (and the film's namesake) "The Raven". As Poe sits alone, he hears a tapping at the chamber door. The door knocker moves on its own and Poe thinks he sees the outline of a large, black bird. As Poe stumbles outside, the word "wine" appearing on a rock he braces himself against, he sees a ghost. As he reaches for another sip of wine, a human skull appears in place of the glass. Finally, a raven makes its way into the room, repeating the word "Nevermore" as Poe attempts to talk to it.
Poe, in Fordham, New York, is in "dire poverty" along with Virginia and her mother Maria. Virginia has a terrible coughing fit, a sign of her tuberculosis. Poe, desperate for money, unsuccessfully attempts to sell some of his work to George Rex Graham. Virginia, bothered by the cold winter weather, is kept warm by Poe's old coat from his time at West Point and from their pet black cat. She dies the next day, causing Poe great grief.
Sarah Helen Whitman is introduced at the end of the film, assisting an elderly couple. She and Poe, however, do not cross paths.
Henry Walthall was granted the lead role as Edgar Allan Poe after previously playing the same author in D. W. Griffith's The Avenging Conscience in 1914. Because of the repeat role, he was dubbed "the image of Poe."
Henry B. Walthall ... Edgar Allan Poe
Warda Howard ... Virginia Clemm/Helen Whitman/The Lost Lenore/A Spirit
Ernest Maupain ... John Allan
Eleanor Thompson ... Mrs. Allan
Marian Skinner ... Mrs. Clemm (as Marion Skinner)
Harry Dunkinson ... Tony
Grant Foreman ... George Rex Graham
Hugh Thompson ... David Poe, Jr. (as Hugh E. Thompson)
Peggy Meredith ... Mrs. Hopkins Poe
Frank Hamilton ... David Poe, Sr.
Billy Robinson ... Joseph Reed
Bert Weston ... Negro
Charles Harris ... Mr. Pelham (as Charles K. Harris)
1.^ Smith, Don G. The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1999. p. 20 ISBN 078641703X