The Raven – poem by Edgar Allan Poe

 

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The Raven is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe.

First published in January 1845, the poem is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow fall into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of a number of folk, mythological, religious, and classical references.

The poem was partly inspired by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.

“The Raven” was first attributed to Poe in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. Its publication made Poe widely popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. The poem was soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated. Critical opinion is divided as to the poem’s literary status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written.

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The New World said, “Everyone reads the Poem and praises it … justly, we think, for it seems to us full of originality and power.”The Pennsylvania Inquirer reprinted it with the heading “A Beautiful Poem”. Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Poe, “Your ‘Raven’ has produced a sensation, a fit o’ horror, here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by ‘Nevermore’.” Poe’s popularity resulted in invitations to recite “The Raven” and to lecture – in public and at private social gatherings.

“The Raven” was praised by fellow writers William Gilmore Simms and Margaret Fuller, though it was denounced by William Butler Yeats, who called it “insincere and vulgar … its execution a rhythmical trick”. Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” A critic for the Southern Quarterly Review wrote in July 1848 that the poem was ruined by “a wild and unbridled extravagance” and that minor things like a tapping at the door and a fluttering curtain would only affect “a child who had been frightened to the verge of idiocy by terrible ghost stories”

Poe wrote the poem as a narrative, without intentionally creating an allegory or falling into didacticism. The main theme of the poem is one of undying devotion. The narrator experiences a perverse conflict between desire to forget and desire to remember. He seems to get some pleasure from focusing on loss. The narrator assumes that the word “Nevermore” is the raven’s “only stock and store”, and, yet, he continues to ask it questions, knowing what the answer will be. His questions, then, are purposely self-deprecating and further incite his feelings of loss. Poe leaves it unclear if the raven actually knows what it is saying or if it really intends to cause a reaction in the poem’s narrator.

Popular culture:

  • “The Raven” was recreated as a hallucination of Poe’s in the 1915 silent film The Raven. A fictionalized biography, it starred Henry B. Walthall as Poe.
  • The 1935 film The Raven has Bela Lugosi as a Poe-obsessed doctor and co-stars Boris Karloff. The film has an interpretive dance of “The Raven”.
  • In 1942, Fleischer Studios created A Cartoon Travesty of The Raven. A two-reel Technicolor cartoon that turned the story of the poem into a lighthearted comedy.
  • A Bugs Bunny cartoon, No Parking Hare, has Bugs reading a few lines from the poem, starting with the words, “While I nodded nearly napping”. The comic he reads them from is stated as “Poe’s Kiddie Comics”.
  • In 1963, Roger Corman directed The Raven, a comedy horror film with Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, very loosely based on the poem.

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  • In the 1967 stop-motion film Mad Monster Party?, Baron von Frankenstein tests his new potion on a raven, and lets it fly until it lands on a tree branch. Watching the resulting explosion, he says with a chuckle, “Quoth the raven… nevermore. Ah, I’ve done it — created the means to destroy matter!”
  • The stop-motion short film Vincent (1982), by Tim Burton, features a protagonist named Vincent Malloy, whose “favorite author is Edgar Allan Poe.” As Vincent lies, seemingly dying, at the end of the film, he quotes the final couplet of “The Raven”.
  • In the 1983 film The Dead Zone, Christopher Walken (as a school teacher Johnny Smith) quotes “The Raven” to his class during a lesson.
  • In the 1986 film Short Circuit, the robot Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney) makes the comment “nevermore” in reference to a pet raven of Stephanie Speck’s (portrayed by Ally Sheedy).
  • In the 1989 film Batman, Jack Nicholson (as The Joker) quotes “The Raven” to Kim Basinger’s Vicky Vale when he says, “Take thy beak from out my heart.”
  • Hannes Rall directed an animated, German-language version of The Raven (Der Rabe) in 1998.
  • In the 1994 film The Crow, Eric, the tragic main character, references “The Raven” after breaking down the door to Gideon’s pawn shop: “‘Suddenly, I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.’ You heard me rapping, right?”
  • A 2003 album by Lou Reed

THE RAVEN cov

  • The film Nightmares from the Mind of Poe (2006) adapts “The Raven” along with three Poe short stories: “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Premature Burial”.
  • In the 2005 film The Crow: Wicked Prayer the third sequel to The Crow, during the final battle between Jimmy and Luc, Jimmy tauntingly shouts “Quoth the raven nevermore, motherfucker!”
  • A film entitled The Raven, which stars a fictionalized Poe, was released in March 2012.
  • The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror parodies the poem in its third segment as Lisa reads the story to Bart and Maggie. In the animated segment, Homer serves as the protagonist, Bart takes the raven’s form, Marge appears in a painting as Lenore and Lisa and Maggie are angels. Bart complains that the poem is not scary, and at one point the raven says his catchphrase “Eat my shorts” instead of “Nevermore.”

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The Raven

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 someone 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
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name 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;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“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.

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 stillness 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!”—
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—
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 obeisance made he; not a minute 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.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
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 upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

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 farther 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.”
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
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy 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
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous 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;
This and more I sat divining, 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
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.”

“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?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
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,
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, 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!
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;
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!

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