The Raven

According to today’s categorisation the poem written by Edgar Allan Poe entitled “The Raven” is a gothic novel. This poem is indeed more like a short story. Let’s dive into this dark poem where a raven has a conversation with a man, about his lost love.

The illustrations

Let’s not start with the poem. Let’s take a moment to analyse that what’s not been made by Poe. It was Gustave Doré (Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré, 1832 – 1883) who made the illustration for “The Raven.”

Doré wasn’t just any other artist who illustrated for “The Raven.” He started at the age of fifteen with illustration for others. He made them for Honoré de Balzac and even Lord Byron. He was asked in 1853 to make the work Byron and that made the way for his illustrations for others.

Paul Gustave Doré by Felix Nadar, Paris 1855-1859. Source: Wikipedia.

He made fame with his illustrations for “La Grande Bible de Tours” (1866).  These 241 illustrations were named “The Illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours.”

The work he did for “The Raven” earned him 30.000 francs (± 5.000 USD / 4.500 EURO)  from the publishers (Harper & Brothers, 1883). The only one who wasn’t alive anymore to see these illustrations was the writer/poet himself. Edgar Allan Poe died on 7 October 1849 at the age of 40.

The poem was known long before Doré made the illustrations. It was first published op 29 January 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror.

Gustave Doré photographed by Felix Nadar
Image source: Wikipedia

Analysis of "The Raven"

About “The Raven”

Poe wanted to write a poem that would consist of about a hundred lines. If you don’t know the dates by heart, you might assume that it is based on his grief. Nothing is less true.

In 1847, two years after writing the poem, his wife – Virginia – died of tuberculosis. It was only after her death that a life full of alcohol and drugs began, which ended with a suicide attempt (1848), a mysterious disappearance (1849) and his death. So no, “The Raven” is not based on his personal experiences.

"Nevermore"

“Nevermore” (never again) is the most important word in this poem. Poe had this word uttered by an animal that is normally considered dumb. But at the same time, ravens equate to a certain melancholic mood. Moreover, there is a hint of disaster over these animals. According to many fables, the raven is the bringer of mischief.

Parrot…

Initially, he wanted to use a speaking bird: the parrot. Only this one might have a character or appearance a little too cheerful.

The Raven lands on Pallas Athena

Another important part of this poem is wisdom. The raven – the stupid animal – perches on the statue of Pallas (Athena), the goddess of wisdom, among other things. It suggests that this is not just any raven talking. It emphasizes that this is indeed a smart animal. Poe himself said it was because of the word “Pallas.” The translation of this name is ‘young girl.’

Time and month

Not unimportant in all of this is the time and the month of the year. It is midnight and in December. Both are a metaphor for the end. Besides, there is a desire to let the night go on after midnight and to have it come after December January; so hope or change. Before that happens, the storm outside will first have to calm down. The storm contrasts with the loneliness of the room in which the man is staying. Incidentally, the man is also the narrator in this poem.

Like no other, Poe was able to captivate the reader with his sentences full of expectations. For example, there is a knock, but why and who is knocking? Like a dragging melody, the sentences continue until we know that this poem is about the loss of a loved one. Something that Poe himself would have to experience years later.

Inspiration

Many took inspiration from this poem by Poe. Think of Tim Burton (“Vincent”, 1982), The Alan Parsons Project (“Tales of Mystery and Imagination”, 1976) and The Stranglers (“The Raven”, 1979), just to name a few. It makes sense because this is an imposing poem. A poem that has not lost its power after centuries.

The Raven

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
“Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless 
here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow 
he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

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 hath 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.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—
is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“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!

— Edgar Allan Poe

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