Analysis of the Raven
The Raven “The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, andsupernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of a number of folk and classical references.
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Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty byCharles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout. “The Raven” was first attributed to Poe in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845.
Its publication made Poe widely popular in his lifetime, though it did not bring him much financial success. Soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated, critical opinion is divided as to the poem’s status, though it remains one of the most famous poems ever written. Synopsis – “The Raven” follows an unnamed narrator who sits reading “forgotten lore” as a method to forget the loss of his love, Lenore. A “rapping at [his] chamber door”reveals nothing, but excites his soul to “burning”. A similar rapping, slightly louder, is heard at his window.
When he goes to investigate, a raven steps into his chamber. Paying no attention to the man, the raven perches on a bust of Pallas. Amused by the raven’s comically serious disposition, the man demands that the bird tell him its name. The raven’s only answer is “Nevermore”. The narrator is surprised that the raven can talk, though it says nothing further. The narrator remarks to himself that his “friend” the raven will soon fly out of his life, Just as “other friends have flown before” along with his previous hopes. As if answering, the raven responds again with “Nevermore”.
The narrator reasons that the bird learned the word “Nevermore” from some “unhappy master” and that it is the only word it knows. Even so, the narrator pulls his chair directly in front of the raven, determined to learn more about it. He thinks for a moment, not saying anything, but his mind wanders back to his lost Lenore. He thinks the air grows denser and feels the presence of angels. Confused by the association of the angels with the bird, the narrator becomes angry, calling the raven a “thing of evil” and a “prophet”. As he yells at the raven it only responds, “Nevermore”.
Finally, he asks the raven whether he will be reunited with Lenore in Heaven. When the raven responds with its typical “Nevermore”, he hrieks and commands the raven to return to the “Plutonian shore”, though it never “still is sitting” on the bust of Pallas. The narrator’s final admission is that his soul is trapped beneath the raven’s shadow and shall be lifted “Nevermore”. Analysis – Poe wrote the poem as a narrative, without intentionally creating an allegory or falling into didacticism. The main theme of the poem is one of undying devotion. The narrator experiences a perverse conflictbetween desire to forget and desire to remember.
He seems to get some pleasure from focusing on loss. The narrator assumes that the word “Nevermore” is the raven’s “only stock and store”, nd, yet, he continues to ask it questions, knowing what the answer will be. His questions, then, are purposely self-deprecating and further incite his feelings of loss. Poe leaves it unclear if the raven actually knows what it is saying or if it really intends to cause a reaction in the poem’s narrator. The narrator begins as weak and weary, becomes regretful and grief-stricken, before passing into a frenzy and, finally, madness.
Christopher F. S. Maligec suggests the poem is a type of elegiac paraclausithyron, an ancient Greek and Roman poetic form consisting of the lament of an excluded, locked-out lover at the sealed door of his beloved. Allusion – Poe says that the narrator is a young scholar. Though this is not explicitly stated in the poem, it is mentioned in “The Philosophy of Composition”. It is also suggested by the narrator reading books of “lore” as well as by the bust of Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom. He is reading “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”.
Similar to the studies suggested in Poe’s short story “Ligeia”, this lore may be about the occult or black magic. This is also emphasized in the author’s choice to set the poem in December, a month which is traditionally associated with the forces of darkness. The use of the raven ” the “devil bird ” ” also suggests this. This devil image is emphasized by the narrator’s belief that the raven is “from the Night’s Plutonian shore”, or a messenger from the afterlife, referring to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld (also known as Hades in Greek mythology).
Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a “non- reasoning” creature capable of speech. He decided on a raven, which he considered “equally capable of speech” as a parrot, because it matched the intended tone of the poem. Poe said the raven is meant to symbolize “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens. One scene in particular bears a resemblance to “The Raven”: at the end of the fifth chapter of Dickens’s novel, Grip makes a noise and someone says, “What was that – him tapping at the door? The response is, “‘Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter. ” Dickens’s raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird’s more dramatic qualities. Poe had written a review of Barnaby Rudge for Graham’s Magazine saying, among other things, that the raven should ave served a more symbolic, prophetic purpose. The similarity did not go unnoticed: James Russell Lowell in his A Fable for Critics wrote the verse, “Here comes Poe with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge / Three-fifths of him genius and two- fifths sheer fudge. Poe may also have been drawing upon various references to named Huginn and Muninn, representing thought and memory. The raven also gets a reputation as a bird of ill omen in the story of Genesis. According to Hebrew folklore, Noah sends a white raven to check conditions while on the ark. It learns that the floodwaters are beginning to dissipate, but it does not immediately eturn with the news. It is punished by being turned black and being forced to feed on carrion forever. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a raven also begins as white before Apollo punishes it by turning it black for delivering a message of a lover’s unfaithfulness.
The raven’s role as a messenger in Poe’s poem may draw from those stories. Poe also mentions the Balm of Gilead, a reference to the Book of Jeremiah (8:22) in the Bible: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? ” In that context, he Balm of Gilead is a resin used for medicinal purposes (suggesting, perhaps, that the narrator needs to be healed after the loss of Lenore). He also refers to “Aidenn”, another word for the Garden of Eden, though Poe uses it to ask if Lenore has been accepted into Heaven.