Intermediate Examination Paper, 2001
15 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)
2. Structure of the poem
2.1. The three parts
2.2. Rhyme and refrain
3. Contrasts in the poem
3.1. Contrast in the course of the conversation
3.2. Heaven and hell
3.2.1. God contra devil
3.2.2. Angels contra demon
3.3.3. Contrast between heaven and hell
4. The raven's credibility
5. The lost love
Edgar Allan Poe´s The Raven"was the poem that finally made him popular as it popped up in a number of magazines and newspapers" (Shucard, 1990: 120). This may be so, among other things, because of the extraordinary usage of refrain, alliteration, assonance and the complex structure of this poem.
In this term paper I am going to concentrate on the structure of the poem. First I will give a general overview of the structure and then will give a more detailed appreciation of the poem. I have chosen two contrasting aspects which I will analyze in more detail: the contrast in the course of the conversation between the raven and the speaker and the contrast between heaven and hell. Then I will make a short sidestep to discuss the credibility of the raven. This is necessary for the confirmation of some elements of the contrast between heaven and hell. Finally I will examine the elements of and the ideas presented by lost love.
The individual elements of this poem can not be separated totally from each other, as these said elements often overlap. Sometimes, I feel that it is not possible to discuss something in full detail in one part of this work, as the same elements appear later again in another context, where the discussion can assume new and different aspects.
After the quotations from the poem itself, I will only give the number of the line or lines where it comes from.
In order to talk about this poem it is essential to mention The Philosophy of Composition by Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe´s discussion of ´The Raven´ in ´The Philosophy of Composition´, ..., offers the reader a unique opportunity to learn from the author the meanings he consciously expressed in his own work [and] the forms he fashioned to express himself. ( Wuletich-Brinberg, 1988: 77)
Therefore I will quote some - in my opinion - important sections of this work during my discussion of the poem to bolster and quantify my assertions. Furthermore, besides books about American poetry and books on Poe´s work, I have also used Wörterbuch der Symbolik and Brockhaus Enzyklopädie to round off my work. These books are a necessity for my work to explain not only certain words but also their symbolic meaning.
A clear pattern can be found in the poem. It is written like a narrative, like a story using the typical expressions like "once upon" and "then". The poem can be divided into three parts. The first part lasts until the end of the sixth stanza. The speaker is introduced: he is thinking about his dead love Lenore. He hears a tapping and opens the door but there is nobody. He goes back into his chamber but can hear the tapping again, this time at the "window lattice" (33). In this first part the reader gets to know about the sorrow of the student. The raven is still not in the room, but the title of the poem and the constant rapping and tapping, foreshadow its arrival.
In the next part (7-13 stanza) the raven enters the house and gets into a conversation with the student, in which the latter asks questions. These are all continually with the same reply: "nevermore". Firstly this conversation seems to divert the speaker's attention from Lenore but at the end of this second part the speaker is again thinking of her. At this point the student still does not suspect anything about the bird.
However, at the beginning of the third part, the speaker becomes more and more horrified, because each answer of the bird concerning Lenore causes him greater pain than the previous one. During the rising to the climax in the fifeteenth and sixteenth stanza he begins to call the raven "[p]rophet", "thing of evil" and "devil". In these two stanzas the lover realizes that there is no hope, he will never forget Lenore, he will always feel the pain of her death. Realizing this he is very angry with the bird and tries to send it away but the raven, just like the memories of Lenore, will never leave him.
The theme of the poem is about the never ending pain, which is felt when a loved one dies. There is no cure against this pain, nothing and nobody can take away this feeling of loss an sadness.
"The most prominent formal features of the poem are its refrain and its abcbbb rhyme scheme" (Blasing, 1987: 27). They are all exact rhymes. All 18 stanzas have the same pattern. Each consists of six lines where the sixth is shorter than the other five. At the end of these six lines the following, already mentioned rhyme scheme can be discovered: abcbbb. Furthermore in every first and third line of each stanza there is an internal rhyme between the end of the first and the second part of the line. The end of the first part of the fourth line even rhymes with the end of the first and second part of the third line.
"As commonly used, the refrain, ... depends for its impression upon the force of monotone - both in sound and thought" (Poe, 1965: 199). But in this poem [b]y varying the context in which the same refrain appeared, [Poe] reasoned that he could qualify the refrain, throwing different facets of it into relief with each different context. (Caputi, 1993: 93)
Therefore the rhyme is not a monotone part of the poem which over and over again appears but a varied edge of each stanza.
"The b rhymes consist of the long ´o´ and ´r´ sounds and rhyme with ´nevermore,´ echoing this ´melancholy burden´ throughout the poem" (Blasing, 1987: 27). This expression - "nevermore" - radiates despair in the context of this poem and over and over again it reminds the reader of the sorrow of the speaker and the sadness of the poem's theme. Furthermore the letters n, e, r, and o appear in both words: in "nevermore" and in "Lenore" which indicates that hearing the word nevermore at the end of each stanza not just generates the effects mentioned above but it also satisfies the speakers "desire to repeat the letters of his beloved's name" (Blasing, 1987: 27).
Another interesting point is, that the long o and r are often seen as mournful sounds, "perhaps because they are the generic vowels of the past, being produced farther back in the mouth" (Blasing, 1987: 28). The person Lenore - in whose name these sounds can be found - is now also somebody who belongs to the past because she is dead and therefore she is not any longer part of the present world.
 In The Philosophy of Composition the speaker of the poem is also called ´student´ or ´lover´. In the following I will use all of these expressions.
 except "evil" and "devil" in line 85 and 91. See also the part 5. The lost love.
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