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A Poem That Illustrates Tools and Techniques Discussed in This Chapter

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)

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Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston. After the death of his parents when he was three years old, his aunt and uncle in Richmond, Virginia took him in and raised him. Poe is best known as the author of strange stories with bizarre characters, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” His works as poet, novelist, and editorial writer made him an influential voice of the late Romantic period in the 19th century. However, he spent a lot of his life on the edge of poverty. Losses in business ventures and his wife’s struggle with tuberculosis that brought her death after 11 years of marriage contributed to melancholy that Poe could barely manage. He drifted in his final years, giving lecture tours, searching for love relation-ships, and losing hold on sobriety. On a trip, after no communication for five days, he was found delirious in the streets of Baltimore and died a few days later.

The Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

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.'”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow 5

From my books surcease1 of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore,

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore:

 Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; 10

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door:

 This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, 15

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the

  door: —

 Darkness there and nothing more. 20

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,

  fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream

  before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,

  ”Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore:”

25

 Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore; 30

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore:

 ’Tis the wind and nothing more.”

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 obeisance2 made he; not a minute stopped or

  stayed he; 35

But, with mien3 of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door,

Perched upon a bust of Pallas4 just above my chamber door:

 Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling5 my sad fancy into smiling

By the grave and stern decorum6 of the countenance it wore,— 40

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no

  craven,7

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore: 45

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”8

 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

 With such name as “Nevermore.” 50

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered,

Till I scarcely more than muttered—”Other friends have flown

  before;

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.” 55

 Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,9

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore: 60

Till the dirges10 of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

 Of ‘Never—nevermore.’

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and

  door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking 65

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous11 bird of yore,

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

 Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core; 70

This and more I sat divining,12 with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

 She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen

  censer 75

Swung by Seraphim13 whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he has

  sent thee

Respite14—respite and nepenthe15 from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff,16 oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore.”

 Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” 80

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here

  ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore:

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?17 —tell me—tell me, I implore!”

85

 Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“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,18

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore: 90

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore!”

 Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked

  upstarting:

“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! 95

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.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; 100

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

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! 105

This selection is in the public domain.

___________

1 Surcease: Ending

2 Obeisance: Bowing with respect

3 Mien: Appearance

4 Pallas: Athena, goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology

5 Beguiling: Tricking

6 Decorum: Orderly behavior

7 Craven: Cowardly

8 Plutonian shore: Afterlife. In Roman mythology, Pluto is god of the underworld.

9 Stock and store: Something the bird has been taught to say

10 Dirges: Sad song

11 Ominous: Foreboding, threatening

12 Divining: Seeking to foretell the future

13 Seraphim: Angel at the throne of God, described in Bible

14 Respite: A brief rest (or delay) before facing something unpleasant

15 Nepenthe: An ancient drug used to cause sorrow or pain to be forgotten or eased

16 Quaff: To drink a beverage heartily

17 Balm: A healing substance, plentiful in Gilead, an area in ancient Palestine cited in biblical history

18 Aidenn: Garden of Eden in the Bible, which becomes paradise for the redeemed

Analyzing “The Raven”

All of the tools and techniques discussed in this chapter can be used in analyzing Poe’s famous poem. After publication of “The Raven,” Poe wrote “The Philosophy of Composition,” an essay explaining how he had created his poetic masterpiece. His biographer, Kenneth Silverman (1991), summarizes the steps this way:

Patiently, lengthily, minutely dissecting “The Raven,” he showed that he wrote the poem by exercising a methodical, total control. He contended, for example, that he deliberately made the night tempestuous in order to account for the raven’s seeking entrance to the room; deliberately made the bird alight on a bust in order to contrast its plumage with the marble; deliberately chose a bust of Pallas in order to evoke the scholarship of the mournful student, and so on through every feature of the poem’s plot, imagery and language. . . . The work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem (p. 296)

In one key passage, Poe describes how he searched for and decided on the subject for the poem, claiming he chose the subject objectively and it did not spring from personal concerns—although, as some critics have pointed out, the subject of the poem is intractably related to conditions of Poe’s personal life:

I asked myself—”Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death—was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” . . . [T]he answer, here also, is obvious—”When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world[.] (as cited in Silverman, p. 297)

Literary Techniques:

Speaker (Persona

Diction

Sounds and Mood

Figurative Language

Narrative/Storytelling

Theme

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