This writer’s words were enchanted by darkness and got a thrill by the thought of death. Edgar Allan Poe was famous for his dark and savage side of life. Poe lived a secluded and isolated life, which that included the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Born in 1809 to his parents David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold he was an orphan by the age of three. “Elizabeth died at twenty- four performing in Richmond, Virginia; the evidence suggests that her husband died soon afterward at the age of twenty-seven” (Baym 604).
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After his parent’s death he was sent to live with John Allan and his wife Frances. His siblings were sent to other foster homes. Although never officially adopted by the couple they renamed him and raised him as their own. In 1826 Poe attended the University of Virginia where he wrote poetry and was considered a good student, but he couldn’t really afford college. That pushed Poe to great debt and drinking he eventually had to leave the university. A year later he joined the army for two years, afterward he entered WestPoint. After his time served, he went to live with his aunt, Maria Clemm and his wife Virginia who was also his cousin. At that time Poe was able to write for The Southern Literary Messenger.
Poe had quite the collections of his stories from the less common ones to the most famous like “The Raven.” The poem is written in first person you can imagine the man as Poe or a make-believe character. Around the tine Poe was writing this piece his own wife Virginia was dying of tuberculosis, assuming the situation it could be easy to believe the narrator is Poe.
The best mood to describe this piece is “uncanniness”. The word uncanniness is defined as “the quality or state of being impossible to know, understand, or explain.” (Merriam-Webster). Poe gives “The Raven” a sinister atmosphere with his repetition and rhyming. The narrator experience ranges of feelings throughout the poem. In the poem Poe describes Lenore, God, and the raven.
The poem examines a man who is suffering from the loss of his beloved wife Lenore. He tries to distract himself from his sadness through books. The books, however, is little to no help at all. The night becomes a nightmare as it continues. His sanity is destroyed by a single visit from the raven. The raven is the main symbol representing the narrator self-torture he is enduring in the story. The raven can also be viewed as something sinister or supernatural. Or it can be argued that the raven is just an illusion of his imagination which shows he is still grieving over the death of Lenore. Poe informs us with symbolism that the man doesn’t know if the raven is good or evil.
As the man sits in his chambers late at night he was nodding nearly napping. The narrator puts you in perspective that he might be in a subconscious state. When the raven starts to tap on his chamber door, he thinks it’s the spirit or ghost of Lenore. “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” (Poe 613). When he opens the door, he sees nothing. Suddenly the raven fly’s in and places itself on the top of his chamber door. As he began to talk to the raven, he asks “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!” (Poe 614). Stated in The Norton Anthology American Literature textbook “black, as in the underworld ruled by Pluto in Greek mythology.” (Baym 614) The raven is symbolizing something dark and evil.
The raven does not justify or make clear of his answer “Nevermore” to the narrator. It allows the man to interpret the phrase that is repeated after every question he asks the raven. The outcome of that is the narrator started to lose his mind. Just that one word could symbolize that his wife is dead, and she is never come back and there isn’t anything he could do to change that. Poe mentioned in the poem that God may have sent the raven. “Wretch,” I cried, thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee Respite- respite and Nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!” (Poe 614). That can be interpreted as God sending company to distract him from his grieving. The narrator also starts to go insane and he screams at the bird as being the devil. “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! Prophet still, if bird or devil!” (Poe 614)
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With that being said, the raven could be something that he has to endure for the rest of his life. In some religions if you go to hell the punishment you receive is repetition. As stated previously the raven repeats “Nevermore” which could indicate that the man is going to endure the mourning of his wife forever. The narrator is left in anguish pain and sorrow. While the readers are left with a lot of unanswered questions about the raven as a symbol or a punishment that lasts forever.
In The Philosophy of Composition, the first reflection of The Raven, Poe claims the length of The Raven is a read that can be accomplished in one sitting. He felt if the work was to long it loses the important effect he was trying to portray. Poe states “I reached at once what I conceived the proper length for my intended poem- a length of about one hundred lines.” (Poe 704). Something to consider in philosophy is that “The Raven” is written backwards. The effect is determined first, and then the plot of the poem is set. Poe chose beauty to be the theme. Since “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem.” (Poe 704) After choosing beauty his second choice was sadness it was considered the highest indication of beauty. “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive souls to tears.” (Poe 704) Of all desolation topics, Poe wanted to apply one that everyone could sympathize with and therefore he chose death.
- Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology American Literature Beginnings to 1820. ninth ed., A.
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