Essay on Poe’s poem “The Raven”

Outline

1.    Introduction
2.    The setting of the poem
3.    Symbols and literary techniques employed by the poet
4.    The motifs and the recurrent images of the poem.
5.   Conclusion

‘The Raven’ is one of Poe’s most famous poems and is the story of clinging to the memory of idealized lost love in spite of the fact that this love is doomed.  In the poem the bird is an ever-present reminder of the barriers currently separating the poet from his lost love.  The poet’s memory about his love eventually becomes less a permanent symbol of idealized beauty and love than a constant source of pain and personal negation. The setting of the poem, its symbolical features, literary devices and motifs are used by Poe to intensify the misery of the main character.

Help with Essay on Poe’s poem “The Raven”
Help with Essay on Poe’s poem “The Raven”

At midnight one bleak December night, the grieving lover/narrator/poet sits alone in his dreary chamber reading books in an effort to avoid thinking about his ‘lost Lenore.’  However, his strategy backfires as his overly conscious attempt to escape her memory only serves to summon it.  The poem turns into a nocturnal dialogue between a bereaved lover and an intrusive raven who visits him and refuses the poet’s command to “leave my loneliness unbroken!-quit the bust above my door!” (Poe 86).  A conversation ensues between the poet and the bird with each of the mourner’s frustrated queries provoking a single word response: “Nevermore.”

Real raven or hallucination, good or evil, bird or demon?  It is never confirmed exactly what this intrusive raven represents.  But what is clear is that the bird helps to reveal a human mind that is unraveling, and that finally gives up its hold on sanity and descends completely into the madness of despair.

In the course of the poem it is clear that the role of the raven quickly changes from one of amusement to something more somber.  Dating back to Homer, the raven has always been a bad omen.  As the poet realizes this fact his attitude toward the bird changes from one of bemusement to one of irritation and ultimate despair.  The raven has come to him with a prophetic message of negation: his lover will not be coming back, the prospect of reuniting with her at a future time and place is unlikely, and the poet’s personal loss and loneliness will not be soon relieved.  The bird perched above his door, unable-or at least unwilling-to do anything more than croak the same negative refrain, becomes an apt symbol of the narrator’s impotent state of being.

In order to escalate the sufferings of the narrator, Poe employed a sophisticated meter and a haunting refrain. The meter of Poe’s poem is generally trochaic octameter and his rhyme scheme is consistently ABCBBB that occasionally offers a rippling internal rhyme of somber words – ‘dreary’ and ‘weary;’  ‘napping’ and ‘tapping,’ ‘uttered’ and ‘fluttered.’  The constant repetition of the word “Nevermore” to each of the narrator’s questions creates an ever-more frustrating and irritating situation.

The Raven is most obviously about a lost love and the narrator’s inability, or unwillingness, to shed his romantic melancholia.  Poe’s speaker subsists inside a room where he perversely studies and covets his pain.  His isolation is interrupted by the raven whose sole purpose centers upon increasing the narrator’s misery.  However, the narrator does nothing to force the bird into leaving-he never does call for help from a pest exterminator-and his questions regarding the ultimate destiny of the dead Lenore are rhetorically constructed to end in the bird’s negative comments.

As the bird is allowed to remain in the room, essentially stimulating the poet’s sense of despair, the readers realize that its presence parallels the man’s own desire to nurture his grief.  At the conclusion of the poem the raven has become a permanent resident of the poet’s chamber and soul; moreover, the narrator appears to gain a real pleasure in the additional gloom afforded by the raven’s presence: “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted-nevermore!” (Poe 86) With an alluring mix of accessibility and mystery that earns it enduring affection, it is a remarkable poem about a forsaken lover who clings with a desperate zeal to his grief; it is all he has left.  The raven will be always present in the heart of the narrator and the poet’s soul will never escape the shadow of the bird.

Conclusion

The Raven is a highly powerful poem about the sad but all too common inability of a person to accept and move on after the death of a loved one.  Poe uses the raven as the symbol of man’s spiraling depression and sadness, and by the use of the single word ‘Nevermore’ forces the grief-stricken lover to answer his innermost questions.

The conversation that ensues between the author and the raven is not a conversation between two individuals, but a conversation between a man and his own conscience. It is a powerful analogy about the power of the human mind, desolate acceptance of an unbearable situation and the fact that the author seems to welcome the ensuing misery – rather than fighting to rid himself of it.

Is the author mad?  The poem is a superb example of giving credit to the reader to come to his or her own conclusion of this, rather than stating it word for word.  Although this poem is over one hundred and fifty years old, it still strikes a chord with one of the most common of modern complaints – depression, and is perhaps one of the best descriptions of how its clutches can settle in a person’s soul and manipulate them for their entire life.

Works Cited
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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