Edgar allen poe is said to have implied that writing “the raven” was a methodical process, like solving a math problem, and that he wrote the end of it first and filled in the beginning afterwards. He also told one reporter that he had written “the raven” in a feverish passion over a couple of days… and someone else that it had laid on his desk for 10 years.
What ever method he used (pause) the poem is regarded as a classic and loved by all age groups which leads me to introduce my guiding question which is: what effect does this poem have on different age groups? But I will answer that (pause) once I summarise the poem for you.
Firstly, the poem is written in the first person from the perspective of an unnamed man, which could be referring to Poe himself or a make-believe character. The man is mourning his dead lover. Around the time the poem was published Poe’s own wife Virginia was dying of tuberclusosis, which is further proof Poe, could be referring to himself.
(sad tone) The narrator is sitting alone in a room (pause) reading many volumes of books in an effort to distract himself. His thoughts however, (pause) continue to roam back to his love Lenore, as he sits in a room she frequented and (watch) which is full of his memories of her.
The main theme is one of romantic horror involving many references to the heaven, hell and the devil. It is best described as a darkly romantic classic using the full range of Poe’s dramatic talent.
-The tone and subject of the poem are sadness and beauty. When Poe decided to write this poem, he wanted to write about beauty because it evokes the most positive effect. For everyone understands the passion and excitement of Beauty.
-The tone used is one of ‘sadness’. Beauty of whatever kind, when well illustrated, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetic tones to be used here. In his mind the saddest most beautiful event would be the death of a beautiful woman. (Pause question?) And who best to convey the story then her bereaved lover?
The poem’s very first verse plunges straight into many poetic techniques evoking the reader to feel the theme of frightful horror. Alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme are amoung the most prevalent techniques. It goes:
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 some one gently rapping – rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”
This tapping at his chamber door continues until the male character dares to open his door but what he expects – a sir or madam knocking lightly on his door so as not to wake him – is not there.
– The continuous words such as (pause) “wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dare to dream…” and the rhythm accompanied, which continues thru out the piece (pause) is much akin to the pounding of one’s heart and the suspense created causes young children to scream with fright when we are told that our character is greeted with nothing but darkness.
All the while the unnamed narrator pines for his lost love “Lenore”. In fact when he opens the door and finds no one there he whispers into the night the name Lenore. This can be interpreted as a longing to connect with his dead lover, which is a continuing underlying theme.
Again the tapping continues and again Poe uses rhythm and (watch it!) continuous similar syllabled words to build up suspense (pause) much like when the suspense in horror movies is increased by the use of music slowing growing in volume. Until, (pause) the narrator flings open the window in a daring attempt (pause) to confront the creator of this mysterious tapping noise.
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 an instant 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.
The word ‘obeisance’ refers to a movement of the body expressing deep respect; such as a bow or curtsy. ‘Mien’ means the way a person has of showing character, feeling etc. Poe is saying the raven paid him no respect and seemed to express the air of a lord or lady.
‘Pallas’ is a reference to the Greek goddess otherwise called ‘Athena’ who was the goddess of warfare, wisdom and arts and crafts. This could be symbolic of the raven as a sign of evil associated with (pause) methodical bloodshed. For example in paintings of war and carnage, there are often ravens or crows perched precariously in the trees watching and waiting for their turn for, (pause) both birds are birds of prey and feed on meat.
The narrator also questions the Raven using the terms ‘On the Night’s Plutonium Shore’ Plutonium refers to Pluto the god of hell, also known as Hades. It has a demonic undertone. Plutonium is also a chemical element, which is produced artificially and is highly radioactive. This can be interpreted as the lover accusing the raven of being unnatural and harmful. Both Pallas and Pluto (and here we have some alliteration) are symbolic of horror scenes of bloodshed and fiery hellish times. This again aids Poe in creating a theme of darkly romantic horror.
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.”
A censer is a ball of incense held on chains, which is used to ward away evil spirits. Here, Poe illustrates the Archangel Seraphim swinging this ball in an attempt to ward of the evil of the Raven. The narrator’s senses in a heightened frenzy seem to smell the incense and alert him to the evil of the Raven. ‘nepenthe’ is an ancient drug (pause) writer’s refer to as a means of forgetting trouble or grief. Poe also uses this writing technique to express the unbearable grief felt by the lover, which he wishes to forget.
In the next verse Poe has his narrator ask the raven a commonplace query “tell me what thy lordly name is?” to which the Raven replies ‘Nevermore’. The lover intrigued by the birds response continues to ask questions, the second and third queries are even less commonplace respectively until at length the lover, startled from his original nonchalance by the melancholy nature of the word itself and its frequent repetition, – is excited to a state of superstition and a kind of despair (pause) which delights in self-torture.
He does this not because he believes in the prophetic or demonic nature of the bird itself (pause) but because he evokes in himself a frenzied pleasure and in so moulds his questions so that the answer is always the expected ‘Nevermore’. The lover so mournful of his dead woman intends to punish himself by evoking the most intolerable of sorrow. As the questioning of the lover to the raven increases in significance (pause) the reader perceives a climax or concluding query to which the raven’s reply of ‘nevermore’ would evoke the most inconceivable amount of sorrow and despair.
The climax of the concluding query goes:
“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, up starting –
“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.”
Aidenn is a poetic spelling of ‘Eden’ as in the Garden of Eden. With this the lover enquires desperately if his love Lenore is in heaven? Even tho he knows the answer will be ‘nevermore’ he still asks. (pause) This self-punishment and torture alludes to a possible guilt of the lover. Is he merely grieving or does he have a conscience of guilt?
The lover then yells for the raven to leave him in peace and ‘take thy beak from out my heart’ (pause) as in discontinue agonising and tormenting him.
The poem concludes with a description of the lover lying broken on the floor with the raven (pause) still sitting above the bust of Pallas on the chamber door as the lamplight throws his shadow on the floor. It is a menacing and gloomy anti-climax to the poem that leaves the reader feeling a sense of doom and injustice. As if the ending is not correctly completed. It is in fact a perfect ending.
In order to answer my guiding question of: what effect does “the raven” have on different age groups? I am going to analyse the effect it has on children and adults
1) First: the young child children believe that adult are always there to protect them and so when they are shown that adults are vulnerable (pause) it can leave a horrified effect, which is just what Poe intended. Young children cannot comprehend when the abuse of the adult innocent. In fact, when Edgar Allen Poe published “the raven” in 1895 it made his so popular that children would chase him (pause) until he would turn around, (pause) raise his arms (pause) and yell “Nevermore.” Something about the dark and haunting injustice of the poem caused all age groups to keep coming back for more to try and find the reasoning for evil triumphing.
The image of the raven and the sad tone and the demonic undertones can all be realised consciously or sub consciously by the child (pause) adding to the gloom and sad beauty of the poem. Furthermore, (pause) children instantly respond to the repetition of ‘nevermore’. They scream the word out at the end of each stanza. Poe has implicitly communicated with his audience and given them a part to play in his poem. Children express their fascination with all things scary in their reaction to “the raven”. To kids, it’s a fun scary rhyme.
2) Secondly: the effect on the adult The theme of love is more accessible and comprehendible to the adult than the child. The majority of adults have at one point or another in life, experienced the loss of a loved one and therefore can identify with that. The sad tone is then emphasised and adults feel the grief of the lover. Furthermore the connection between the sad tone and the loss of a beauty is more deeply understood (pause) and adults are able (due to more knowledge) to understand the more exact symbolism of religious references on the poem. Although the repetition of ‘nevermore’ is less significant to adults it allows for a steady rhythm creating a flow.
To conclude, Edgar Allen Poe’s “the raven” is enjoyed by all age groups children and adults alike but on different levels and each connects with different themes/aspects in the poem. Children take pleasure in the delights of the scariness and suspense enjoying the fun side of the poem. Adults are able to see into the poem more and connect with the grief, despair and superstitions of the lover as well as the religious allusions created. Altho people of all ages, the ending (pause) leaves readers with a sense of sad injustice leaving a lasting impression in their mind. This is the dramatic talent of Edgar Allen Poe
Word count: 2282
Mr Wood’s notes:
1. The phrase ‘Night’s Plutonium Shore’ certainly carries demonic connotations, as you correctly suggest. It also alludes to the name of the god Pluto, who was the god of the grave as well as the god of Tartaros, the Roman underworld, which they believed the spirits of the dead had to pass through before reaching Elysium, or paradise. Thus the phrase also connotes images of death and the world belonging to the dead.
2. Balm is a contraction of an older word, ‘balsam’. The suggestion of the line ‘is there balm in Gilead?’ really poses the question for the reader to ponder in relation to the persona of whether there is any available consolation or remedy. It carries very strongly the implied question, Is there no consolation to be found in religion? The historic balm of Gilead is a plant traditionally known for its healing properties.
3. Aidenn is the transliteration of an Arabic word meaning an earthly paradise. So, yes, it here connotes a sense of heaven, or certainly the opposite to the world of the grave and death connoted by ‘Night’s Plutonium Shore’.