Early Romantics – The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) is arguably one of the most talented poets ever to grace the literary world. Growing up in the Antebellum Period, Poe was exposed to Dark Romanticism and developed a pessimistic outlook on matters related to transcendentalism. He, therefore, sought to explore complex issues affecting humanity and the suffering that individuals would have to encounter at particular stages in their lives. By so doing, he merged deep-seated emotions with imaginations in an attempt to espouse escapism in a world wrought with dark realities.  The Raven exemplifies this approach and is one of Poe’s best-known works. First published in 1945, the poem presents a dark romantic story with a rather supernatural atmosphere. The narrator’s conversation with an eponymous raven has even led many to contend that Poe foresaw the tragedies that befell him culminating in his untimely death in 1849 (McGann 56).  Hence, in writing this macabre tale, Poe intended to express some remarkable ideas and concepts that were, hitherto, unheard of in the literary landscape. For instance, he intimated that a perfect length in poetry was one that consisted of no more than 107 lines and that his signature “or” sound was most appropriate for resonant poems. Using an admixture of stylized language and a carefully crafted narrative approach, Poe relates a man’s mysterious encounter with a visiting raven at a time when he was reeling from a profound heartbreak. An analysis focusing on the poem’s interpretation, structure, and composition is, therefore, necessary to gain a better comprehension of the subject under discussion.

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The poem tells the story of a forlorn man in his bedroom that has a hard time falling asleep and who chooses to pass the time by reading an ancient book. As time goes by, he gets weary and hears a sudden knock at his bedroom door. He stands from his chair, opens the door but is surprised to find no one. A while later, he hears the name of his former lover being whispered and is soon confronted by a talking raven. As a result of this rapid progression of events, the narrator collapses, the raven now sitting above his door. Poe relates this chain of events in the first person using a narrator who is subjectively explicit allowing him to converse directly with the readers. The author is well aware of the unreliability of this methodology since it is difficult to tell whether the narrator who collapsed moments ago is an apparition, though a Poe trademark strategy. In addition to this, an ominous mood permeates the poem. Even though the verse starts with the “once upon” tagline popularly used in fairy tales, it degenerates rapidly to a somber narrative. An ironic twist captivates the reader in such a way that they would want to investigate such happenings further and establish the exact motive behind such an approach. The poem also personifies extreme feelings of angst and loss that may have been experienced by the main character. It is clear that the narrator has undergone periods of deep grief that have left him bruised. These feelings resonate with the readers since they are typical life experiences.

In writing The Raven, Poe employed a rather unusual structure rarely seen in poetry. He makes sure that each stanza features only six lines. Every first and third line in each stanza uses a trochaic octameter where stressed syllables exist in every metric line. It is also noteworthy to acknowledge that the author employs the use of a troche whenever the narration approaches the sixth line containing the troche. They are monosyllabic and give a tangible idea of the raven’s image. For instance, the words “lore” and “door” are used advisedly in the first stanza to break meter and incept a series of trochaic repetitions. The ABCBBBB rhyme is used throughout the poem and repeated to create emphasis. For instance, the first and fourth line of the first stanza focuses on “door” resulting in an identical rhyme and epiphora. Furthermore, the author incorporates internal rhyme within specific lines. They occur after two consecutive lines before developing a mosaic rhyme: “Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door – Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door – perched, and sat, and nothing more” (Poe 614). In essence, the rhythm created by this style creates a flow of imagery that aids the reader in comprehending the events experienced by the author. The words that follow every rhyme generate a sense of musicality that distinguishes it from prose work. A sense of order is also created by matching sounds and syllables which are held together by its harmony in the course of the narration. Through this technique, the poem comes to life for the pattern created connects the audience to the subject matter and promotes a better understanding of the theme being explored.

As regards the over composition, the author applies didacticism to express the central theme inherent in the poem. The narrator has undergone a great deal of pain and grapples with finding the best technique to alleviate his pain. He experiences a moment of crisis when the talking raven finds a comfortable perch, revealing the poem’s elegiac paraclausithyron origins. There is an aspect of allusion in the poem since the narrator is said to have been reading a curious volume of overlooked “lore” which may suggest an occult inclination. Poe also chooses to use the raven, a bird that is often associated with black magic and Satanic mythology. It also acts as a central symbol since it exhibits unusual behavior such as being able to communicate with a human being. The presence of alliteration and consonance also bolsters the fluidity of the story being narrated. In particular, the use of consonance is evident in many of the successive syllables creating an imitating effect: “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain” (Poe 614).  The author also employs the use of metaphors and exemplifications to improve his delivery. Tertium comparationis are evident in the raven being referred to as having eyes akin to those of a dreaming demon. A direct comparison, therefore, aids the readers in creating a mental image of the creature in question. It is also quite theatrical as it spectacularly personifies a raven amid a fatigued mood. The chamber door symbolizes a level of insecurity exhibited by the narrator who is afraid of opening up to the world after his tragic loss. In conclusion, The Raven is Edgar Allan Poe’s magnum opus and one of the most captivating poems ever written. The author uses an assortment of literary techniques to achieve his ultimate goal of a masterpiece that is both moving and thematically moving. Even though it was a work of fiction, many still believe that it portended Poe’s mysterious demise at the age of forty.

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