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The Raven (Edgar Allan Poe)

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"The Raven" is a narrative poem by Edgar Allan Poe published for the first time on January 29, 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror[?]. In overwrought language and images, it tells of the mysterious visit of a raven to a distraught lover.

Its use of language, alliteration, internal rhymes, and archaic vocabulary, enhances the Gothic tenor of the piece and has led to numerous parodies. It is best remembered for its varied and repeated key line, "Quoth the Raven: 'Nevermore.'" It has a metrical construction that is mesmeric in quality, as shown in its famous opening lines:

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."

All 18 verses have the same form, as the narrator's night terrors increase.

Interpretation

The poem. like many other works by Poe, such as "The Black Cat" and "The Telltale Heart[?], is a study of guilt. The narrators in those stories are both murderers. An earlier poem, "Lenore" (1831), is also bout the death of a young woman. All we are told in "The Raven" is that the narrator has lost his love, Lenore. His reaction to the loss has been colored by mysticism, and we know he is filled with fear at receiving a visitor, before he even sees the mysterious raven, with its single word of judgement, "Nevermore".

Why or how Lenore was lost, we do not know, but the narrator is torn between the desire to forget and the desire to remember. In the end, the narrator clings to the memory, for that is all he has left. What the raven has taken from him so cruelly is his loneliness. The raven will stay.

Although the bird seems an hallucination, it is an uncomely real one, with real black feathers and a real croaking of the single word, "Nevermore".

The poem has been frequently parodied, a noteworthy example being the reworking of the poem in a Halloween edition of The Simpsons. "The Raven" has also been the subject of constrained writing.

Ravens can be taught to speak. Poe's raven is thought to have been inspired by the raven Grip in Barnaby Rudge[?] by Charles Dickens. Dickens' bird has many words and comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe felt that Dickens did not make enough of the bird's dramatic qualities.

Quotation

Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge,
Three fifths of him genius, two fifths sheer fudge.
James Russell Lowell, "A Fable for Critics"

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