Summary and Analysis of Edgar Allan Poes The Raven

     Poe must have sat down and written the whole poem in a burst of inspiration because how else could something so beautiful have been created, right? Wrong. Poe carefully and methodically wrote this poem, first deciding on a refrain, narrowing it down to a single word, and then deciding on “Nevermore” as the word that would work best but he almost went on a radically different path from the one he took in writing his poem.

     How disturbing is the thought that Poe almost put the word “Nevermore” into the mouth of a parrot? It could have happened, as he explained in the aforementioned essay, because he had chosen “Nevermore” as the refrain of the poem but was having a hard time coming up with a plausible reason for a character to say “Nevermore” over and over again. That is when he hit upon the idea of a non-human serving as the chorus:

     I did not fail to perceive, in short, that the difficulty lay in the reconciliation of this monotony with the exercise of reason on the part of the creature repeating the word. Here, then, immediately arose the idea of a non-reasoning creature capable of speech, and very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone.      Though the poem is called “The Raven” and the bird’s somber pronunciations are often what is most remembered about it, the poem is not really about a bird. Poe felt that there was only one real reason to write a poem, and that was to express beauty:

     Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem…That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect- they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul- not of intellect, or of heart- upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating the “beautiful.” Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes- that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment

    Why, then, would one write a poem in which the narrator gradually drives himself into a frenzy of despair over a bird’s replies to his questions about a lost love? Again, Poe provides the answer: Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation- and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

    The loss of a lover is thus the best possible way to express beauty through poetry which might explain why the romantic poets remain perpetually popular and also why teenage goths so often fail to fall for prose while professing a preference for poetry.

    “The Raven” is therefore, if one uses Poe’s own measuring stick, a nearly perfect poem. That it is still one of the most anthologized poems is testament not to sudden inspiration but to dogged determination and careful, thoughtful writing. Bird bloggers, like anyone else who use the written word, could learn a thing or two from Edgar Allan Poe.

The Raven Summary 

   It's late at night, and late in the year (after midnight on a December evening, to be precise). A man is sitting in his room, half reading, half falling asleep, and trying to forget his lost love, Lenore. Suddenly, he hears someone (or something) knocking at the door. 

   He calls out, apologizing to the "visitor" he imagines must be outside. Then he opens the door and finds…nothing. This freaks him out a little, and he reassures himself that it is just the wind against the window. So he goes and opens the window, and in flies (you guessed it) a raven.

    The Raven settles in on a statue above the door, and for some reason, our speaker's first instinct is to talk to it. He asks for its name, just like you usually do with strange birds that fly into your house, right? Amazingly enough, though, the Raven answers back, with a single word: "Nevermore." 

    Understandably surprised, the man asks more questions. The bird's vocabulary turns out to be pretty limited, though; all it says is "Nevermore." Our narrator catches on to this rather slowly and asks more and more questions, which get more painful and personal. The Raven, though, doesn't change his story, and the poor speaker starts to lose his sanity.

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