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The Raven -- Edgar Allan Poe

This week's theme (if you can call it a theme) is oft-parodied poems,
starting off with what is probably the most famous of them all...
(Poem #85) 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 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
 From my books surcease 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;
 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,
 "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 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 above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
       With such name as "Nevermore."

 But the raven, sitting lonely on that 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 will he 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 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
 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."

 Thus 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 violet 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 footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
 "Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has 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 named Lenore --
 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!
 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.
-- Edgar Allan Poe
Another of my favourite poems - this is a lovely example of both the art and
the craft of poetry. The poetry is undeniable - the lovely atmospheric
buildup, the increasingly distraught reactions of the narrator. But IMHO all
that is overshadowed by the sheer quality of the verse - the complicated
yet flawless rhyme scheme and metre, the way the different line lengths are
balanced with no hint of strain, the plethora of polysyllabics that *work*
rather than sounding pretentious.

Of course, the distinctive, indeed instantly recognisable quality of the
verse lends itself marvellously to parody, and several excellent ones have
been written. A few of them have been collected at

The reader is strongly urged to read Poe's essay, 'The Philosophy of
Composition', which uses The Raven for illustration, and which greatly
enhances the understanding and enjoyment of the poem.

The essay can be found at
<[broken link]>

Some excerpts:
 I select 'The Raven' as most generally known. It is my design to render it
 manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to
 accident or intuition- that the work proceeded step by step, to its
 completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical


 The sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to
 select a word embodying this sound, and at the same
 time in the fullest possible keeping with that melancholy which I had
 pre-determined as the tone of the poem. In such a
 search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word
 "Nevermore." In fact it was the very first which
 presented itself.


 Of course I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of the
 "Raven." The former is trochaic- the latter is octametre acatalectic,
 alternating with heptametre catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth
 verse, and terminating with tetrametre catalectic. Less pedantically the
 feet employed throughout (trochees) consist of a long syllable followed by
 a short, the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet, the
 second of seven and a half (in effect two-thirds), the third of eight, the
 fourth of seven and a half, the fifth the same, the sixth three and a half.
 Now, each of these lines taken individually has been employed before, and
 what originality the "Raven" has, is in their combination into stanza;
 nothing even remotely approaching this has ever been attempted. The effect
 of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual and some
 altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of
 the principles of rhyme and alliteration.


 I had now to combine the two ideas of a lover lamenting his deceased
 mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word "Nevermore." I had to
 combine these, bearing in mind my design of varying at every turn the
 application of the word repeated, but the only intelligible mode of such
 combination is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in answer to
 the queries of the lover. And here it was that I saw at once the
 opportunity afforded for the effect on which I had been depending, that is
 to say, the effect of the variation of application. I saw that I could make
 the first query propounded by the lover- the first query to which the Raven
 should reply "Nevermore"- that I could make this first query a commonplace
 one, the second less so, the third still less, and so on, until at length
 the lover, startled from his original nonchalance by the melancholy
 character of the word itself, by its frequent repetition, and by a
 consideration of the ominous reputation of the fowl that uttered it, is at
 length excited to superstition, and wildly propounds queries of a far
 different character- queries whose solution he has passionately at heart-
 propounds them half in superstition and half in that species of despair
 which delights in self-torture- propounds them not altogether because he
 believes in the prophetic or demoniac character of the bird (which reason
 assures him is merely repeating a lesson learned by rote), but because he
 experiences a frenzied pleasure in so modelling his questions as to receive
 from the expected "Nevermore" the most delicious because the most
 intolerable of sorrows.

Biographical Notes and Appraisal:

Poe, Edgar Allan

 b. Jan. 19, 1809, Boston, Mass., U.S.
 d. Oct. 7, 1849, Baltimore, Md.

  American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for
  his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. His tale "The Murders in the
  Rue Morgue" (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the
  atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His
  "The Raven" (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national

  Poe's work owes much to the concern of Romanticism with the occult and the
  satanic. It owes much also to his own feverish dreams, to which he applied
  a rare faculty of shaping plausible fabrics out of impalpable materials.
  With an air of objectivity and spontaneity, his productions are closely
  dependent on his own powers of imagination and an elaborate technique. His
  keen and sound judgment as appraiser of contemporary literature, his
  idealism and musical gift as a poet, his dramatic art as a storyteller,
  considerably appreciated in his lifetime, secured him a prominent place
  among universally known men of letters.

  The outstanding fact in Poe's character is a strange duality. The wide
  divergence of contemporary judgments on the man seems almost to point to
  the coexistence of two persons in him. With those he loved he was gentle
  and devoted. Others, who were the butt of his sharp criticism, found him
  irritable and self-centred and went so far as to accuse him of lack of
  principle. Was it, it has been asked, a double of the man rising from
  harrowing nightmares or from the haggard inner vision of dark crimes or
  from appalling graveyard fantasies that loomed in Poe's unstable being?

  Much of Poe's best work is concerned with terror and sadness, but in
  ordinary circumstances the poet was a pleasant companion. He talked
  brilliantly, chiefly of literature, and read his own poetry and that of
  others in a voice of surpassing beauty. He admired Shakespeare and
  Alexander Pope. He had a sense of humour, apologizing to a visitor for not
  keep ing a pet raven. If the mind of Poe is considered, the duality is
  still more striking. On one side, he was an idealist and a visionary. His
  yearning for the ideal was both of the heart and of the imagination. [...]
  On the other side, Poe is conspicuous for a close observation of minute
  details, as in the long narratives and in many of the descriptions that
  introduce the tales or constitute their settings.

  The same duality is evinced in his art. He was capable of writing angelic
  or weird poetry, with a supreme sense of rhythm and word appeal, or prose
  of sumptuous beauty and suggestiveness, with the apparent abandon of
  compelling inspiration; yet he would write down a problem of morbid
  psychology or the outlines of an unrelenting plot in a hard and dry style.
  In Poe's masterpieces the double contents of his temper, of his mind, and
  of his art are fused into a oneness of tone, structure, and movement, the
  more effective, perhaps, as it is compounded of various elements.

        -- EB

  A nice online biography can be found at


43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Death Ring Webmaster said...

This poem maks ma crazyyyy...

Jennica McGuire said...

Hi wuts up^ umm u posted on this web page having 2 do w/ Edgar Allen Poe and
umm I went there cuz we're studying him in my creative writing class and so
yah but anyway umm I don't think u care that much about him especially since
he's dead so anyways ASL? Make sure u write bak plz don't care wut we talk
about just anything so plz plz plz write bak 2 me k thnx c'ya buh-bye

Asmileya5 said...

What's up? You are so right about Poe. Why do we study stupid things like
this anyway? What can he do for me? Umm...Not a damn thang.
Well, gotta go.
Email me back when you get a chance.

caitlin somerville said...

This is a very unique poem. Not many people understand the true meaning of his poetry, let alone this one. What makes this one so powerful are the words "Nevermore". Some may think that this poem is about a mistake he made in his personal life, in which he is the raven. Some shall never know.

Anonymous said...

This poem is so complex in verse, so untainted in word choice and meter, that I memorized it.

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