Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on June 30, 2012

Powerful atmospherics with brevity of words is one of the many ways in which great poetry manifests itself. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a fine example of this. Written in 1845, the poem portrays the mental turmoil, angst and fear of a bereaving lover who on a cold and wintry night of December is visited by a raven. The man is uncertain if the visitor is evil or kind for it is watchful, fearsome and silent except croaking repetitively one single word “nevermore”. The man without his knowing attributes supernatural powers to the raven and implores with the bird to let him know of the well-being of his dead lover and also if there is a respite for him from his sorrow. The raven, perched on the bust of Athena, does not respond leaving the man distraught, hopeless, sad and with the weariness of a heavy soul leading him to conclude:

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! 

The symbolism in Poe’s choice of agents and references is to an extent revealing. For example, the only bird that can be active in the night and also possess an ability to make sounds that resemble human talk is a raven (Owls and bats could not have fit the bill despite being nocturnal birds and parrots and other talking birds are diurnal), the perching on the bust of wise Athena indicates a sense of wisdom to which the grieving lover is appealing to and the mythological references to Aidenn (Eden), balm of Gilead and Plutonian nights are self-evident

What makes the poem memorable and haunting besides its atmospherics of darkness, loneliness, fear and chill is the generously repetitive usage of words which rhyme effortlessly. The rhyming words are employed through the body of the poem and not necessarily in the ends of sentences which we as poetry readers have gotten used to. Consider this:

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
 Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Evil, devil, laden, Aidenn, maiden, adore, Lenore, nevermore – are repeated many times over and used not only in a given stanza but through the body of the poem leading to the pinning down of the reader’s attention

It is said that Poe not only became famous throughout America immediately after the publishing of this poem but also attracted both bouquets and brickbats from peers and critics including accusations of plagiarism. However, over a period of time this poem has come to be acknowledged as a masterpiece of American literature and is said to have inspired many modern works, including Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Bernard Malamud’s “The Jewbird” and Ray Bradbury’s “The Parrot Who Knew Papa”

I have followed my reading of the poem with audio renderings by Sir Christopher Lee, James Earl Jones and Vincent Price and all of them were brilliant in their evocation of the mood and atmospherics

Overall, a joyous experience coming into the know of this great poem.


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