Shall be lifted—nevermore!
November 3, 2017
“The Raven” may indeed be the most famous poems by Edgar Allan Poe and even the most famous poem of all time and for good reason.
This poem follows an unnamed protagonist in a gothic setting, in a lonely apartment in the “bleak December” night while trying to read books in an attempt to stop thinking about his loved one who had/has been recently deceased, by the name of Lenore. He manages to suppress his emotions fairly well, as shown by his slow and calm speaking voice, but as the poem progresses the protagonist becomes more and more agitated in both his mind and action. In every stanza towards the end, his exclamations are shown in the calm desolation of the sentences, which end with, “Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore,’” reflecting the despair in his soul.
This, surprisingly, is not the first time in which Poe had centered around the protagonist being crushed by the loss of a loved one. It is featured in both “Annabel Lee,” and “Ulalume.” Through poetry, the narrator is unable to free himself of the pain of the death and memory of Lenore. When he asks the Raven if there is “balm in Gilead,” he is asking if there is a sort of spiritual salvation for Lenore, or even if Lenore is in the afterlife, but instead “the Raven” rejects these ideas. The fear of death or oblivion has been used much time in Poe’s works, but this is the first time in which there is a definite answer, no.
The Raven is used as a symbol of bad news, death, illness. The raven is important because it allows the narrator to be both the deliverer and interpreter of the sinister message, without the existence of an obvious supernatural intervention. This Raven can also be used as a reference to Norse mythology, where the god Odin has two ravens by the name of Hugin and Munin, which means “thought” and “memory.” The narrator is a student, therefore follows Hugin, but Munin continually interrupts his thoughts and in this case takes a physical form by landing on the bust of Pallas, which alludes to Athena, the Greek goddess of learning. The raven actively stimulates his thoughts of Lenore, and he effectively causes his own fate through the medium of a non-sentient animal.
Though this poem can be interpreted in any way the reader so chooses, there is one definite meaning: loneliness and the pain of loss. Through an animal, a man has descended into utter and pain and almost madness. Poe may be one the saddest men to ever walk this earth – he had a horrible life – and was capable to produce beauty with his own depression. For this we thank him.