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Poetry, which is a form of literature, can touch our souls by expressing things which are hard to verbalize. A poem can create images and feelings between the lines. Sometimes, it gives us strong emotions; it makes us laugh, makes us cry, makes us feel horrible – makes us think. Poetry doesn’t have to express only love or disgust, but also elation, wild imagination and any other feelings we can or cannot imagine. A good example of these characteristics of poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.
It is one of the most famous poems by Poe, published in January 1845, and will be the basis of this paper. The poet Richard Wilbur said that “of American writers, it is Poe who most challenges the reader not only to read him but to solve him” (Lehman 61). Based on this quote it seems to be hard work to understand Poe’s poems. Nevertheless, this paper aims to ‘solve’ his poem The Raven by analyzing it and by pointing out the significance of the raven within the poem itself, and, on an abstract level, its impact on our everyday life. At first glance, the raven seems to be a symbol of death, which holds control over the narrator within the poem, and moreover becomes a constant reminder about the inability of man to escape his ultimate fate.
To make my point clear, I will start with a critical analysis of the poem, which includes a debate about Poe’s imagination and the structure of his poems. Afterwards, I will give evidence for my thesis and show the significances of the raven for the poem itself and point out in which way the raven has an impact on our daily life.
Due to the relatively short length of this paper, an intricately detailed analysis of the poem is simply not possible. However, the most important and relevant facts will be covered, as they will support my thesis and help to interact with the criticism on Poe's dealings with death in poems.
In his criticism on Poe, Joseph J. Moldenhauer mention that “his sensibility seems to […] [be] divided between two distinct phases.” (Moldenhauer 830) The second phase, which is indicated by Moldenhauer, includes the most famous poems and tales of terror by Poe. In his works, like The Raven, “Poe’s imagination exhibits its ‘submissive,’ ‘self-pitying’ or ‘depressive’ phase.” (Moldenhauer 830) Especially the depressive part can be found when looking closely at the poem itself. An example is the use of a mostly trochaic octameter, with eight stressed-unstressed two-syllable feet per line, combined with a predominating ABCBBB end rhyme scheme and the frequent use of internal rhyme. When you read the poem aloud, the meter and the refrain of “nothing more” and “nevermore” give the poem a musical lit. Mainly the “o”-sound in words such as “Lenore” and “nevermore” underline the melancholy of the poem and establish a depressing atmosphere. Finally, the repetition of “nevermore” at the end of stanzas 8 to 18 underlines the dark, morbid character of the poem. (Poe 58 – 61)
Aside from that, the setting of the poem reflects the emotional state of mind of the central character, and permits conclusions to Moldenhauer’s statement:
“The protagonist, who is also typically the narrator of the piece, is driven by inner compulsions or beset by horrific external forces, or both; he seems to assert no control over his acts, and moves inexorably toward destruction.” (Moldenhauer 830f.)
To prove what Moldenhauer mentions here in general about Poe’s poems, I will have a closer look at the protagonist. The poem begins in a typically nightmarish setting with a lonely apartment, a dying fire, and a “bleak December” (Line 7) night. The unnamed protagonist, who is also the narrator, tries to distract himself from the loss of Lenore. (1 – 12) In summary, the first seven stanzas establish the dark and cold setting and the narrator’s melancholic, impressible state of mind. Over the course of the poem, the protagonist becomes more and more agitated both in action and in mind. The narrator starts a process of self-destruction by framing masochistically, painful questions, after he associated the raven’s “nevermore” with his thoughts of the departed Lenore. The foreseeable answers of the raven provokes the protagonist, in a state of maddened frenzy, to frankly ask his ultimate question (93 – 95), whether his soul will ever be reunited with Lenore in heaven. Receiving the “nevermore” answer in reply, the protagonist falls into a state of black despair. What can be seen here is that you can find evidence for the “submissive” and “self-pitying” part of Poe’s imagination and on top of that, the statement of Moldenhauer towards the typical structure of Poe’s poems and the role of the protagonist can be proved as far as The Raven is concerned.
So far I have shown that the raven has a deep impact on the protagonist and seems to be the linchpin of the poem. As mentioned before, in my opinion, the raven is a symbol of death, which holds dominion over the narrator within the poem, and moreover becomes a constant reminder about the inability of man to escape his ultimate fate. The thesis itself is not surprising, because most of the readers would most likely come to a similar conclusion after reading it. However, it is worthwhile to point out why most of the readers have the same opinion towards the raven. It seems as if Poe intended, that the poem is creating a certain image of the raven and I will try to point out how it is done.
The image of the raven is the most striking aspect of the poem and will be analyzed in more details. The raven is more than only the title of the poem. If you look closely at lines 38 – 40, it becomes obvious that Poe attached importance to the entrance of the raven. He is described as a “stately Raven of the saintly days of yore” (38), who is stepping in the room. The image, which is created here, is of a noble man, probably a king walking to his throne. His mien, while entering, is characterized as a “mien of lord or lady” (40). As we can see, the raven is described as stately creature, who is perching upon a bust of Pallas, who is the goddess of wisdom, above the narrator’s door. Therefore, the reader gets the impression that the raven is high-flying and superior to the narrator, who is not able to stop him.
In addition to that, line 48 marks a turning point to the relation between the narrator and the raven. “Quoth the Raven, Nevermore” (48) becomes the refrain of the poem. At first, the narrator thinks the raven’s nevermore is not noteworthy, but after a while it becomes a horrifying prophecy. The repetition of the word “nevermore” turns the narrator from mournful, edgy into a depressed, hopeless man. Therefore, the raven becomes a kind of oracle, which is answering the narrator’s question with only one word. The one-word answer is so powerful that it is destroying all hopes of the narrator to see his beloved Lenore once again. As we see here, the raven becomes a constant reminder about the inability of the narrator to escape from his worst fears.
In line 85 it becomes clear, that the narrator notices the raven as prophet, who is foretelling the future by saying “nevermore”. Even though he is not sure if the raven is just an ordinary bird or something evil, like the devil itself. But, in the end the narrator strongly believes that the raven is telling nothing but the truth, which turns him mad. As it turns out, the raven becomes an all-knowing creature in the narrator’s point of view, and thus Poe establishes a connection between the bird and Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, on whose head the raven perches.
The final image of the raven, which is created by Poe in line 105 is that of a sleeping demon, whose shadow casts the room. This shows clearly the dominion of the raven over the narrator and the situation itself. In an abstract way, we can see here a metamorphosis of the raven from an ordinary bird to a symbol of death and evil.
In summary, the image of the raven is strongly affected by his role within the poem. His darkish appearance, the elliptical way of speech and his dominant behavior towards the protagonist makes him a typical ‘bad guy’, who seems to be omniscient. Because of these characteristics it is clear, that the raven becomes a symbol of death. In relation to the content, he becomes a constant reminder about the inability of man to escape his ultimate fate. It is therefore not surprising that the precise image of the raven that Poe created has the same effect on the reader's attitude towards him.
As I have shown, the raven has a deep impact on the narrator and is – caused by its image created within the poem – a symbol of death. His role as a reminder of death is still current in the present day. The poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe influences a lot of people because it is one of the most read poems. Even in modern times, you can find links towards the poem, as you can see in the The Simpsons Halloween Special aired on October 25, 1990, in which Lisa, who is one of the main characters of The Simpsons, reads The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. In this adaptation Bart, who is also the main character, plays the raven. Homer, who is the father of Bart and Lisa, finds himself in the role of the protagonist. Lisa and Maggie are seraphim. Homer’s wife Marge appears as a painting of Lenore. As The Simpsons has a great audience, the raven can fulfil its part as reminder about death. Another famous example is the NFL football team the Baltimore Ravens. Their name was influenced by this poem and is a tribute to Poe, who lived in Baltimore for a few years.
As shown, The Raven has clearly had an impact on our lives, due to the fact that Poe's message is current and continues to remain relevant to our lives.
David Lehman. The Oxford Book of American Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Joseph J. Moldenhauer. “From Murder as a Fine Art: Basic Connections between Poe’s Aesthetics, Psychology and Moral Vision.” The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. G.R. Thompson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 829 – 843.
Edgar Allan Poe. “The Raven.” The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. G.R. Thompson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 58 – 61.
- Quote paper
- M.Ed. Christoph Grave (Author), 2016, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. An Analysis of the Raven as a Symbol of Death, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/370458