A lonely man tries to ease his "sorrow for the lost Lenore," by distracting his mind with old books of "forgotten lore." He is interrupted while he is "nearly napping," by a "tapping on [his] chamber door." As he opens up the door, he finds "darkness there and nothing more." Into the darkness he whispers, "Lenore," hoping his lost love had come back, but all that could beheard was "an echo [that] murmured back the word 'Lenore!'"
With a burning soul, the man returns to his chamber, and this time he can hear a tapping at the window lattice. As he "flung [open] the shutter," "in [there] stepped a stately Raven," the bird of ill-omen (Poe, 1850). The raven perched on the bust of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom in Greek mythology, above his chamber door.
The man asksthe Raven for his name, and surprisingly it answers, and croaks "Nevermore." The man knows that the bird does not speak from wisdom, but has been taught by "some unhappy master," and that the word "nevermore" is its only "stock and store."
The man welcomes the raven, and is afraid that the raven will be gone in the morning, "as [his] Hopes have flown before"; however, the raven answers,"Nevermore." The man smiled, and pulled up a chair, interested in what the raven "meant in croaking, ‘Nevermore.’" The chair, where Lenore once sat, brought back painful memories. The man, who knows the irrational nature in the raven’s speech, still cannot help but ask the raven questions. Since the narrator is aware that the raven only knows one word, he can anticipate the bird's responses. "Is there balmin Gilead?" - "Nevermore." Can Lenore be found in paradise? - "Nevermore." "Take thy form from off my door!" - "Nevermore." Finally the man concedes, realizing that to continue this dialogue would be pointless. And his "soul from out that shadow" that the raven throws on the floor, "Shall be lifted -- Nevermore!"
In this poem, one of the most famous American poems ever, Poe usesseveral symbols to take the poem to a higher level. The most obvious symbol is, of course, the raven itself. When Poe had decided to use a refrain that repeated the word "nevermore," he found that it would be most effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the word. It would make little sense to use a human, since the human could reason to answer the questions (Poe, 1850). In "The Raven"it is important that the answers to the questions are already known, to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself. This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning, is "one of the most profound impulses of human nature" (Quinn, 1998:441).
Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven; however, because of the melancholy tone, and the symbolismof ravens as birds of ill-omen, he found the raven more suitable for the mood in the poem (Poe, 1850). Quoth the Parrot, "Nevermore?"
Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas. Why did the raven decide to perch on the goddess of wisdom? One reason could be, because it would lead the narrator to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom, and was not just repeating its only "stock and store,"and to signify the scholarship of the narrator. Another reason for using "Pallas" in the poem was, according to Poe himself, simply because of the "sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself" (Poe, 1850).
A less obvious symbol, might be the use of "midnight" in the first verse, and "December" in the second verse. Both midnight and December, symbolize an end of something, and also the anticipation ofsomething new, a change, to happen. The midnight in December, might very well be New Year’s eve, a date most of us connect with change. This also seems to be what Viktor Rydberg believes when he is translating "The Raven" to Swedish, since he uses the phrase "årets sista natt var inne, " ("The last night of the year had arrived"). Kenneth Silverman connected the use of December with the death...
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