Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore"

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!
(From The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe)

It's late. It's bleak and cold. Our poor narrator strives to beat back despondency and the dismal weather with a feel good book. But the sadness lurks just beyond his happy chamber. It taps. It raps. It even entreats entrance. But when the shutter is thrown open, our narrator finds no ghost as he feared or hoped. Instead, we meet the raven.

But we're not really dealing with a bird, are we? No, the raven is the personification (or rather, the ornithopterification) of despair itself--despair over a death, the narrator's beloved Lenore.

Poe himself was grieving at the time he wrote these lines. Perhaps he was shooing his own raven from its roost. When The Raven was published in 1845, Virginia Clemm, Poe's wife and cousin, was languishing with tuberculosis. She had suffered a debilitating lung hemorrhage in 1842. Her death finally came in 1847, two years after the publication of The Raven. The loss overwhelmed Poe, who died a mere two years later. The Raven's chilling response of "nevermore" was true for Poe. No relief would come. No joyful reunion.

Pain and loss are like that--forever darkening us with its shadow.

So, I ask you in this time of year when light and dark, life and death, meet and then cross: glance over at your own chamber door. Are the glowering eyes of a raven reflecting the lamplight? What does it represent? And how great is the shadow it casts over your soul?


LiVEwiRe said...

And how great is the shadow it casts over your soul? I think that's one of the answers I've been hiding from. That Poe, such a likable guy, no? And I actually mean that... he just put it all out there. People can identify with his sense of despair and the twists of darkness that run throughout. (By the way, nice use of ornithopterification.)

anne said...

Apparently, I've relinquished my personality over to livewire, and I agree on ornithopterification. Still very unfamiliar with Poe, though.

jason evans said...

LIVEwiRe, I first became fascinated with Poe when I was 9 years old. Weird, huh?

When I was looking up facts for this post, I came across a personal account of him. He was described as having an ethereal, other-worldly quality about him. I enjoy dabbling in darkness and melancholy themes, but Poe drowned in them. I see him as gifted and tragic at the same time.

Anne, I realized when I wrote this post that I was presupposing a certain familiarity with The Raven and with Poe. Hopefully, it's still an interesting read without that background.

LiVEwiRe said...

I think I was around 12... still not the topic of most middle school reading groups, was it?

jason evans said...

Topic of middle school reading groups? No way. It wasn't.

How did you get started? It was a film strip on "The Tell-Tale Heart" for me. (Film strip? Ugh. I'm dating myself here.) I then went and read "The Pit and the Pendulum" on my own. Didn't understand 80% of it, but I was blown away nonetheless.

Actually, I'm just realizing it was my first introduction into Victorian English. The loftier, more intricate writing style made a big impression on me.

LiVEwiRe said...

I think I overheard someone reciting a few lines of Alone...

From childhood's hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw...

It was almost as if they were my thoughts from another's tongue. Then I read part of The Cask of Amontillado from a borrowed library book... such a dark plot.

Plus, those moody dark haired boys get me every time... =)

jason evans said...

Then...was drawn from every depth of good and ill the mystery which binds me still.

Yes, that poem rings true.

Beanie said...

When I was in third grade, my teacher wanted us all to memorize a poem. Although everybody else was assigned a 10-liner tops from the workbook, she asked me to memorize Annabel Lee. I just thought she did it because she knew I was capable of memorizing things in bulk, but I've come to realize she may have seen the part of me that would later come to identify with writing like that. If that was the case, she was the greatest third-grade teacher ever and deserved a serious raise! *LOL* I memorized the poem and it's haunted me every since. I've never been able to forget it, not a word. As for my ravens, I have a whole flock. And they never sleep. I realize what it does to me to live in the past like I do, but (sort of how I imagine Poe felt) realization doesn't necessarily inspire action. Whether I'm too lazy, too sad or too defeated to do anything about it, I don't know. I just hope I motivate myself to invest in a scarecrow one of these days. :)

Bernita said...

Seems it's often the essential melancholy of certain lines that stay with us, long after we first read them, that take us "through the posterns of the past, alone and half-afraid" (Edna St. Vincent Millay ???) or Wordsworth ( I think) with his "old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago." that strike a note like a hanging harp, a secret sign, a thrill of recognition to those of us who feel a little alien, a little outcast, etranger. Poe is one of the best, even if we all have not gone so far into the darkness as he.
Thank you, Jason, a VERY nice piece. And no, I see nothing at all "weird" about it.

Lori said...

I don't remember when I first read Poe or whether it was The Tell Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado I read first. I think I read them both about the same time and it was definitely before the majority of kids encountered him.

I don't know. There's something about Poe that catches the darkside of the human condition without marginalizing or whitewashing it.

jason evans said...

Beanie, Annabel Lee certainly is a haunting poem, especially for a third grader! Sleeping next to his love in her tomb by the sea.... I can't think of a more powerful (bittersweet in a deranged way?) depiction of grief.

You might try throwing the ravens a few crumbs instead of attempting to scare them away.

Bernita, I'm glad you also feel that "thrill of recognition." There are far too few of us.

Lori, after reading The Cask of Amontillado, I could never look at a brick wall the same way again. The torture of laying the bricks course by course demonstrates the stark, cold capabilities of human hatred and revenge.

anne frasier said...

i agree with everybody. great post, jason. and another great photo below!! i think i was in 7th grade when a relative dumped off a giant box of used books at our house. in the box was a 2 or 3 volume poe collection. i read everything more than once, scared to death and fascinated. :D the books themselves were bound in ornate, cracked leather.

jason evans said...

Anne, thanks! I'm writing another poem, and with it I'll post a photo I took the same night. I have to say, it's one of the strangest pictures I've ever taken. Just wait! =)