Tuesday, April 29, 2014

R is for The Raven

Isn't is about time we looked at a poem during our literary romp through the alphabet? I thought so, and decided to visit a classic: The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.

Poe had a short life, but got a lot written in that time, stories of the macabre, poems, the invention of the detective short story, and more. Certainly  The Raven is a perfect example of his style.  

To me, Poe did two things exceptionally well: use language and create mood.  "Once upon a midnight dreary..." 
just a few words and we know the setting and the situation. 

The nameless narrator is in mourning for a lost loved one. Poe's characters are almost always in mourning for someone (even if they just killed them) and in this case its "the fair and radiant maiden whom the angels name Leonore".  Whatever the name they were all stand ins for Poe's dead child bride Virginia. Nobody could brood like Poe. 

So the narrator is brooding in his study when something taps on his door. He gets up an looks. Nothing there. More tapping. ('As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door") This time a raven comes fluttering in and perches above a bust of Athena. 

The narrator thinks the raven might be a messenger from the dead, so he makes enquiries of it.  All are answered with the same word: "Nevermore"

At the end of the poem, some time has apparently passed, but the raven, the visible manifestation of the poets grief "Still is sitting, still is sitting" and not likely to leave.  "Shall be lifted nevermore."

One of my kids had, in high school English, what may have been the stupidest assignment of all time: rewrite The Raven in prose. (though asking teenage boys to introspect their way through their own version of Song of Myself was pretty dumb too).  It was stupid because The Raven is one of those poems that are about the language that is used more than what is being said. Multiple paragraphs of "The poet asked about Leonore, the raven said "never more" AGAIN, quickly become tedious. They certainly weren't learning to appreciate one of the great poems  of the English language.

Fortunately Poe and his Raven endure weird English projects to remain one of the most liked and accessible of poems.

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