Thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, the raven has become a popular symbol of death and mystery from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Known for his gothic style of writing, Poe communicates the suggested eerie depth in his composition of "The Raven,” published in 1845. “The Raven” is a famous narrative poem about a man wrapped in grief who is disturbed by the sudden visitation of a raven on one gothic night. I argue that the speaker of the poem imagines the raven, which gives voice to his unconscious mind struggling with the realities of loss, grief, and death. This interpretation of “The Raven” is demonstrated by exploring the devices of setting, use of symbols, the added personification of the raven as well as questioning the state of mind of the speaker. By addressing the imagination of the raven, the reader of Poe's poem dives into the depths of literature dramatically impacting the intention and objective of the poem and leaving one impacted “evermore.”
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Elements of the setting which is revealed in the first two stanzas of the poem is a perception of the emotional circumstance of the speaker. Poe uses the physical setting as an essential tool to enhance the visibility of the emotions of the speaker where one can interpret as the unconscious internal struggles of death, grief and loss. As the raven seems to visit at the darkest hour "upon a midnight dreary" (line 1) "in the bleak December” (line 7), and as a fire is “dying,” the build-up of mystery and suspension intensifies. Poe, demonstrates through repeating descriptions such as the effect of a “darkness”: “Darkness there and nothing more / Deep into that darkness peering” (lines 24-25) to further encourages the dark and morbid moods surrounding the speaker. Alongside the rhyme, scheme and song-like refrains, the physical uneasiness in the setting is also revealed by repetition and the phantom “tapping, tapping” (line 22) which Stovall in his article, “The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe,” suggests is ahead of the times of the early 19th century (419). This points to how there are moods of mystery, darkness and uneasiness that give us a clue at the emotional context of the speaker. As the realities of the surrounding setting slowly unravel the question of the reality of the speaker, the reveal of the emotions also suggests the imaginative raven that is soon to visit the speaker.
As suggested above, the first stanza of the poem Poe uses the setting to address a visibility of the emotions of the speaker. Additionally, the perception of the narrator's current state of mind is questioned which reveals how the speaker of the poem imagines the raven and why. The poem opens to the speaker slowing and "nearly napping" (line 3) and dealing with the profound process of grief and “sorrow for the lost Lenore” (line 10). Here Poe fixes the attention on the narrator's current state of mind to be centred entirely on loss, grief, and death. This points to the question of how one cannot be sure of the speaker’s current state of mind and his ability to deal with the reality of the situation. To further suggest the speaker's inabilities to deal with such themes the raven voices to his unconscious mind the continual response of “nevermore" (line 48). This becomes a foreseeable stanza of the poem even as the speaker continues to demand answers to comfort his grief. The speaker himself contributes to his misery, and one can interpret how the speaker imagines the raven as a device to escape his unconscious mind struggling with the realities of grief. From the continuation of the speaker asking the supernatural and dark mysteries it reveals how not even the speaker's emotions are steady which we can further interpret through the narrator's personification of the raven.Poe’s attention to the speaker’s significance of the raven's words and human characteristics suggest one can understand the speaker of the poem has imagined the raven. The personification of the raven contributes to the narrator’s mental state in its connection to loss, grief, and death. Monteiro, who is known for his in-depth analysis of Portuguese and American literature, touches on this concept, where he reveals how the bird's human trait of language ultimately “enables the speaker to wallow in his misery over the lost Lenore” (109). As the raven actively “converses” with the speaker and through the use of the poem's first-person point of view, the speaker's choice questions to the raven suggest the realities of not only the speaker but that of the raven as well. In the secondary source “The Philosophy of Composition” also written by Poe, the audible response of the raven’s ’nevermore’ is intentionally placed to suggest feelings of pensive sadness that reflect the speakers internal anguish (149). From the introduction of the “tapping, tapping at my chamber door” (line 22), the reader is in expectation of a midnight encounter with a “visiter” (line 16), perhaps even the speaker’s “Lenore?” (line 28). Therefore, when the narrative takes a turn as the visitor appears to be a “stately Raven” (line 38) the speaker is “marvelled” (line 49) at the entrance yet the suggested symbolism of wisdom and knowledge eventually turns to address the accurate perception that the raven is.
As the raven appears, “perched upon a bust of Pallas” (line 41), the symbolism of the raven and the surrounding context is further perceived as a perception of his unconscious mind struggling with the realities of loss, grief, and death. Although the speaker interpreted the raven to be a symbol of wisdom and knowledge as suggested by sitting on the bust of Pallas the poem reveals a slow decline of this state of mind at the raven's simple reply of "nevermore” (line 48). Abu-Melhim, a professor and author, uses a psycho-linguistic analysis of “The Raven” to further interpret Poe’s literary devices and the symbols. In his critique, he suggests the raven is more than a simple “ebony bird” (line 43) and claims the imagination of the raven from the intentional symbolism: “The Raven appears to symbolize loneliness, sadness, and the feeling of going insane coupled with a sense of uncertainty even about one’s own self” (117). The symbols surrounding the imagined concept of the raven suggest a deeper meaning behind the presence of the grim bird of prey. As the raven develops into a symbol of darkness and even death, it reveals that not everything in this poem is as it seems. Through the awareness of the symbols surrounding the raven we can interpret how the speaker rejects dealing with the loss of Lenore, the grief engulfing him and the realities of death as suggested by the remark of the god of the Greek underworld in “the Night's Plutonian shore” (line 47). Any rational thinking behind the appearance of the raven is judged as the projection of the depths of loss, grief, and death surrounding the “raven” are enhanced which is questioned by the labelling from “ prophet," and a "thing of evil” to that of a “devil," (line 91). The interpretation that the speaker of the poem has imagined the raven is exemplified by how the labels of the raven change as the speaker's state of mind progress. By intensifying the messages of death, grief and loss associated with the raven, the symbols surrounding the imagined concept of the raven ultimately reveal a projection of the speaker behind the presence of the raven.
In conclusion, I argue that as the raven is a projection of the speaker’s unconscious mind struggling with the realities of loss, grief, and death. Poe uses devices of setting, the personification of the raven and the symbols interpreted from the speaker to create this effect. The interpretation of these elements accompanies the evidence within the poem of the speaker's state of mind leading the reader to grasp how the speaker of the poem imagines the raven. From the development and the valuable understanding of the raven as an imagined concept, we ultimately deal with not only the speaker's struggle with the realities of loss, grief, and death but one can assume humanities as well. To "quoth the raven, ‘nevermore’” (line 84) will one see an “ebony bird” (line 43) and not be reminded of the dramatic and long-lasting effect of Poe’s poem.
- Abu-Melhim, Abdel-Rahman Husni. “Explicating Poe's Raven from a Psycho-Linguistic Perspective.” Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 7, no. 3, 2013, pp. 113–118. ResearchGate, doi:10.3968/j.sll.1923156320130703.3016. Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.
- Monteiro, George. “The Bat and The Raven.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review, vol. 11, no. 1, 2010, pp. 105–120. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41506393. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. The Raven: Poems and Essays on Poetry. Edited by C. H. Sisson, Carcanet Press Ltd., 2014.
- Poe. “The Raven.” The Broadview Introduction to Literature, edited by Lisa Chalykoff; Neta Gordon; Paul Lumsden, Edition. (if available), Publisher, 2018, pp. .
- Stovall, Floyd. “The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe.” College English, vol. 24, no. 6, 1963, pp. 417–421. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/373878. Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.
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