"The Raven" critique

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What does the raven in the poem symbloize? I need help on critiquing "The Raven". Please help.

-- Anonymous, February 16, 2000


there are many interpretations to what the raven symbolizes. personally, i think the most popular thought is the raven represents the soul of his lost love coming back to haunt him. he feels a certain guilt for something and the soul has come back to plague him for it. Another interpretation is the raven is merely a figment of his imagination due to his unstable mental state. He so longs for "lenore" that he creates an image of her. these are all symbols for the raven.

-- Anonymous, February 18, 2000

Ms. Thomas,

This is a frequently asked question of Poes writing. But not everything in his work was intended to be symbolic. That is as symbolic is defined in Websters and offered as a figurative representation for the sake of the reader.

I would not dispute that Poe used symbolism throughout his many works. For that matter, The Raven is no different. For example, his use of the term Aidenn is merely symbolic of life after death, or perhaps, some place distant and apart from the narrators miserable existence. Although Aidenn may be a literary reference to Heaven or paradise, here it does not necessarily symbolize Gods Heaven because in his state of desperation, his reunion with Lenore would be his Heaven, his paradise. However, I would argue that the raven in the poem was symbolic of nothing other than an unexpected and curious visitor to a pitiable and despondent soul trapped in a desperate and agonizing struggle to cope with the loss of his lifes greatest love. As the poem progresses, he comes to see the raven as more than just an unexpected visitor.

What I mean to say is that I do not think the raven is intended to be a metaphorical reference to anything intangible nor is it intended to be an allegorical depiction. However, I do think that, in the mind of the narrator, the raven slowly comes to be seen as a messenger, an agent or, perhaps, even as a potential instrument for his frantic hopes of possibly, somehow, reuniting with his lost love, Lenore. The one thing, at least in my mind, the raven does not symbolize is the soul of Lenore herself.

As the story opens, the narrator bemoans the dreary lateness of the hour; he speaks of his vain attempts to ease his dreadful sorrow by reading ancient texts by candlelight and we quickly develop a sense of his pitiable demeanor, his sleeplessness and weakness from his struggle to endure his loss. He goes on to illustrate his surroundings which are just as dismal and bleak as the burdened life he leads. He sorrowfully describes the fireplace with its dying flames and glowing embers, built to keep out the bitter December chill but slowly dying just as he is slowly perishing in the absence of his love, Lenore. Even the  silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain evokes the only sounds to be heard as the chilled winter breeze gently rustles the folds of the curtain one upon the next and the next upon the next. This is an excellent example of Poes unparalleled brilliance and complete command of the written word.

It is together with these eerie sounds and within this grim and cheerless setting that he is suddenly startled to hear a tapping at the door. As he is shaken from a dreamless trance, his heart racing, he dimly recognizes the tapping as a knock at the door and assures himself that it is merely a late night visitor. Calming himself with these assurances, he moves to open the door and proceeds to vocalize his regrets for the delay in answering the visitors knock, fully expecting to welcome a late night guest. As he opens the door, he is confronted only by the cold, dark and dreary winter night. At length, he stands there, staring into the darkness, wondering if it had been a dream; fearing what it could have been; doubting that he had heard anything at all and finally, dreaming dreams that may, possibly, fulfill his desperate attempts to put an end to his despair. Hoping beyond hope, he whispers her name and eagerly awaits a reply. When the reply is heard, it is merely the disappointment of his own desperation.

As he turns back into this wretched chamber, once again to be tortured by his loneliness, he hears a tapping somewhat louder than before.. Again, his hopes are raised and he moves eagerly to the window to resolve this strange mystery but to steel himself against yet another disappointment, he reassures himself Tis the wind and nothing more. As he pushes open the shutter, he is astonished to see a black bird flutter into the room and characterizes the visitor as a  stately Raven, a majestic bird that offered no delay or polite deference to his host upon entering. Then, with the demeanor of nobility, the raven alights and rests comfortably upon a plaster bust of Pallas above the door. You will notice that at this point, the bird is perceived, perhaps facetiously, by the narrator as a noble, almost regal visitor.

Finding the bird somewhat captivating and still astonished by the surprising and rather rude entry, the narrator is compelled to smile and sarcastically asks the bird  what thy lordly name is. Initially taken aback at receiving an answer so clearly spoken, he immediately recognizes that the ravens reply held little meaning and was not at all applicable to the question offered. Unless, of course, the birds name was Nevermore. At this point the bird is referred to as merely an ungainly fowl.

As he stands and watches the raven, he mutters to himself that he has lost other friends before and tomorrow, the bird too will leave just as his hopes have always done before and he will be left, once again, to his bitter loneliness and despair. Again, the raven replies Nevermore. Shocked that he has unexpectedly received an appropriate reply, the narrator attempts to rationalize the response and tries to assure himself that, surely  what it utters is its only stock and store.... That the bird simply has no other responses to offer. He continues rationalizing the ravens origins and begins to draw parallels between the bird and his own desperate existence. Perhaps, in his mind, he and the raven share a familiar burden, a parallel hell if you like. Entranced by the raven and against all intellectual reason, he moves a cushioned chair in front of bird and bust and door.. and begins to contemplate just what this bird really meant by his unusual but fitting response.

As he reclines and quietly attempts to reflect on these strange events, in time, his mind begins to wander. He is reminded again of Lenore, whos own precious soul once reclined on the very cushion lining where he now rests his weary head. He begins to theorize imaginary and fanciful thoughts that, in time, become real, logical and finally, in his mind, the only possible truth. Suddenly, he senses a change in the room, a strange aroma permeates the air and in his pathetic state of fantasy, he concludes it is the presence of angels sent by God and that they are responsible for this strange visit. Angry at this perceived deception by the raven, he cries out Wretch, thy God has lent thee  by these angels he has sent thee! He demands a reprieve from his misery and sorrowful memories of his lost Lenore and then pleads to drink his fill of nepenthe, a legendary drug that induces forgetfulness and would ease his grief filled memory. Unmoved by his heart wrenching plea, the raven, and in the narrators mind, the very agent of God himself, denies his pitiful appeal for relief in that familiar single word Nevermore

Confused and furious at this rejection, he exclaims his displeasure and charges the raven with being a mystic with evil intent, sent to mock and torture him. He goes on to declare that regardless of whether the bird is an agent of evil or was simply tossed here by a storm, to this place, friendless yet steadfast, he pleads to hear the truth. He asks if there is ever to be a reprieve from his unrelenting sadness and mourning over his lost Lenore. Answers the raven Nevermore.

Again, angered by the apt reply, the narrator once more pleads that for the sake of all that is holy, in the name of the God of man, please tell this miserable, tortured soul that, at least, after death he will able to reunite with her and hold his beloved Lenore once again. And again the raven torments him with. Nevermore.

Furious, he commands the birds immediate departure and the absence of all evidence of his existence together with the evil lies the bird has brought with him. He demands a stop to the agony of the birds tormenting mockery and to be left alone with his last remaining dignity.. his own miserable loneliness. One final time, the raven mocks him with. Nevermore.

Completely spent and self humiliated, the narrator is forever doomed to be denied even this last dignity. As he sits, condemned to his life of ceaseless sorrow, he imagines the demonic bird is dreaming more evil schemes and the ravens burdensome shadow is a mere reminder of his everlastingly dismal fate from which his soul shall never escape. Regardless of how improbable it appears to you or I, in the beleaguered and despondent mind of the narrator, the raven has slowly come to represent a possible and, perhaps final connection, an instrument of opportunity to effect a desperately desired reunion with Lenore. Yet, in the end, he finds no hope, and in fact he finds the complete absence of hope, that this will ever transpire and ultimately, even in death, he will be forever denied his beloved Lenore.

I regret that this is so long an explanation but to characterize Poe, his poems, or any of his works for that matter, is difficult without the details. Generalizations are simply insufficient. And finally, this merely represents my personal opinion, right or wrong. However, if you have chosen to read this far, perhaps I have helped a little. Good luck and I trust you will come to enjoy his works as much as I.

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

The above explanation is remarkable. I love it. It is much more accurate and helpful than many things you can find on the internet. The only thing that I can add to it is the explanation of why the man is asking the bird questions. The man comes to realize that the raven can only say "nevermore" because that is its "only stock and store". Yet, he keeps asking it deeper and deeper questions, while anticipating the answer. So, what I am saying, is that the man is using the raven as a means of self-torture, over his grief for the "lost Lenore". The raven is meerly a bird that can say "nevermore."

-- Anonymous, February 25, 2000

Follow through the poem as if you are the narator. You would know the track of things, so start with what I write below. Now don't get mad at me, I'm trying to prove a point. Next time you can't get to sleep, try going through the raven as if you are the narrator, cutting out the poetry, so that you can capture both the flow of things, and this guys mindset.

Ponder weak and weary over the volumes of lore at midnight, in a desk, with a candle burned low. You start to doze off, and suddenly there is a tapping at the door.

While you cast a glance at the dying embers, you wish that it were tomorow. Hey, let's say that you are scared of the dark. You think of your books, and your mind feeds you back a flashback of Lanor.

Now look at the window. (Now remember that the Raven will soon go from the door where he is nocking right now, to this window. Why not be at both at once?) There are purple curtans moveing against a gentle breeze there, and this downright freakes you out, increasing your heartbeat. You stand because of something that happened at the window, and start to chant that there is a visitor, wanting to get into the room. A very late visitor... (Perhaps you can allow yourself another flashback. Lanor has been through that door.)

Now you feel better. "Sir, or madam," (notice this. "Or madam". I think that Poe was trying to make a point with it.) (Paraphrase) "Sorry that I couldn't let you in sooner. I was napping, and you woke me by nocking at the door, and I scarce was sure I heard you (notice that too.)." Now open the door, and you see darkness. (It wasn't what he was expecting. For one, this guy is half mad with greaf, half mad with lore which he recently forgot, and for me right after I wake up I'm rather insane. It isn't much of a streatch to beleave that it is Lanor.)

Stand there for a long time. Now dream something that you shouldn't dare to dream in your sane mind. (I came up with the narator watching Lanor die, and then I added spiders to the cause of death, because it made the whole scean more forbidding to me.) After a long time of standing there, nothing has changed. Now whisper "Lanor" in any way you think possible.

Quickly turn back into the chamber. (From the picture that I had, the echo hit him in a funny spot.) Your mind is racing, and your heart is beating very quickly once again. While you are still in a frenzy from the door (Like you were earlyer in a frenzy from the window) you hear a tapping. (Now compair it to the one before.) You hear it comming from your window lattice, and you know there is something there, so you head over there to open the window. The thought about the wind is wishful thinking for your heart's benifit.

When you open the shutter, there is a raven on the window seal, only you knocked it off while you opened the window. It goes to perch on the bust of Palase, and just sitts there for a while.

Now you get a good look at its face. Notice that its face has an element to it that most ravens don't have. (The next line I'm not sure how a crest would be shorn and shaven, but it looks to be in dicise.) Okay, now you are certain that it is not necceasarily a raven, and if it is, then it is something moor too. (I think that warents smiling at the thing.) Now say what you now think, and then ask the bird what it is, and what its name is. You get the answer "Nevermore." (As a side note from it all, "Nevermore might have had an abstract meaning, but not to the narator. It might be meaning, "Nevermore am I a raven," "nevermore will you need to know any name," "Nevermore will I tell you" and of course, "Nevermore is my name." the problem with this assumption is the way the bird said it.)

Now you get to thinking about what it said. It spoke it as if its soul it outpored. (I just noticed that the narator doesn't actually discredit the raven's answer the first time, does he? Well, if he does, then think, 'Well, I guess that isn't his name. It is the only thing that it said, and besides, it is a word that its name is.) For some reason, probably the fact that the bird is there, and it is company, it is now you friend. Now you say as much, "Other friends have flown before. On the morrow he will leave me. It has happened to me before. Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Now, being startled at the bird saying something again, (be it only a dream that the bird said anything in the first place, and now the guy learns, 'that aint no dream', or that you doupted it would say anything. (Now start pittying this bird. It is your friend.) (Another thing that confused me about what the narator says in this stanza is that he seems to be talking about two things. First the Master of the bird, and then this master of the bird is the bird itself, only how can that be? Parhaps the bird learned it from some unhappy guy like the narator, and he was a master of a house, or something like that. I doubt it.)

That is as far as I have memorized. Try to visualize it on some restless night. I freaked myself out with half of it, and then my younger brother who I share the room with started snoring. It is intersting trying to go through the whole thing and put everying into its proper place. Critisizim?

-- Anonymous, May 19, 2000

I believe that the Raven is sent as a messanger from a god or devil. The narrator asks the bird if he will "within the distant Aidenn, clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore." He wonders if in a heaven he will ever be with Lenore. The Raven answers,"Nevermore." Since he believes that Lenore is in heaven, the fact that he will never be with her again could mean the the narrator's soul will be condemned to hell. So, not only will he be without Lenore, but he will be eternally tortured in the underworld.

-- Anonymous, April 25, 2001

The Raven “The Raven” was arguably Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest Poem, but why? What makes this ballad so bold and powerful? How did this poem get its global recognition? “The Raven” is a ballad of eighteen six-line stanzas with decidedly emphatic meter and rhymes. The ballad is a nightmarish narrative of a young man who, bereaved by the death of the woman he loved, compulsively constructs self-destructive meaning around a raven’s repetition of the word “Nevermore,” until he finally despairs of being reunited with his beloved Lenore in another world. Although some consider Edgar Allen Poe to be a madman he was a mastermind at work. Not only does Poe use a trochaic rhyme scheme to set the mode or tone of the work but he also uses the literary device of symbolism throughout the poem. What is symbolism? Symbolism is the use of something that’s stands for or represents something else, especially an idea, quality or condition. The one fundamental problem with all symbolism is the symbolic connections even when naturally written, are not necessarily easily identifiable. Where the symbols are “artificial” the problem gets even more complicated. So the use of a symbol that is to abstract can be misinterpreted or even overlooked completely. Because of this flaw symbolism is an art few have mastered. The best is which it is subtle and profound without losing its meaning. In his poetry, Poe believed in creating “… beauty by indirection, by being suggestive and symbolical, by choosing his words so that their associations and sounds may carry overtones beyond their dictionary meaning” (Buranelli). When Poe came to the most celebrated of his poems, he chose to explain his method of operation. His “Philosophy of Composition” deals not only with the genesis of “The Raven” but also with the meaning of its symbols. The poem of course, has a melancholy atmosphere which derives from what Poe’s theory considers to be the most poetic of subjects, the death of a beautiful women. The poem turns on the questioning of the raven by the bereaved lover, and the answer to every question is “Nevermore.” The climax of the poem comes when the raven responds to the question of whether the lover and his mistress may ever, in some future life, be reunited. This meaning is on the surface. There is a second meaning that has to be interpreted through the symbols of the poem, through suggestive signs standing for ideas hidden below the surface. The Raven is the principal symbol. “Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven” (Nilsson). By the common consent of mankind, the raven, with its jet black feathers and harsh croak, represents fate: It is, as Poe says, a “bird of I’ll omen.” Therefore he found it pertinent to his poem. There is more to the story of this bird than just a bird of ill omen. Poe decided to add a symbolic interpretation of his own. He tells us that the bird is “’emblematical of Mournful and Neverending Remembrance,’ which means that the bereaved lover, who is trying ‘to borrow…from my books surcease of sorrow-sorrow for the lost Lenore,’ will now have his sorrow brought home to him in the most acute way by this creature that precisely stands for memory” (Baudelaire). The “bust of Pallas” is itself a symbol. Representing the Greek goddess of wisdom, it also represents the life of learning into which the narrator of the poem has plunged in order to drown his sorrow. At the same time, the sculpture contrasts with the raven perched on it; the one white and the other black, the one silent and the other croaking a single dismal word, the one symbolizing serene wisdom and the other crushing fate. Why, it will be asked, did Poe introduce a raven instead of an owl, the traditional bird of Pallas? Originally Poe had planned a short poem in which Lenore’s lover was seated by her bier and was visited by an owl. A bier is simply a movable stand or framework on which a coffin or dead body is placed before burial. It now seems purposeful and a very ironic twist indeed. The word “Nevermore” is also a symbol. As the poem progresses, the word sounds more and more like a booming gong; it begins to take on overtones of universal tragedy, reminding the reader that the tramp of death can be heard by us all, and not just by one individual asking about one dead woman. The symbolism reveals itself “in the last stanza, which Poe wrote first since it is the culmination of the effect he wants to achieve” (Clark). “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!” Others may argue that the bird recites “Nevermore” not as an answer to the speaker’s question but more as a refusal to answer or supply any information. The first question is directed towards the birds name: “Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore tell me what thy lordly name is on the night’s Plutonian shore! Quoth the raven “Nevermore” So Poe leaves this sort of open-ended statement from the raven. Is it an answer? Or simply is it the refusal to answer. “The other two questions are similar, though for information not about the raven but, casting the bird as seer or oracle, about the student himself” (Freeman). Despite all that Poe has said about his selection of “Nevermore” and the method by which he qualified its meaning in successive stanzas, he failed to mention that “Nevermore” has a complement in “nothing more” in the early part of the poem. All of the patterns of repetition worked into the poem, only these refrain words and their interrelations constitute more than an attempt at rhetorical emphasis and poetic lushness. Enough has been said already by Poe and others about the qualification of “Nevermore” in the last seven stanzas of the poem. It should, however, be noted that “Nevermore” functions primarily to qualify “nothing more.” “The first seven stanzas create the atmosphere of desolation, and desolation which is primarily spiritual, but which also vaguely includes everything beyond the door past which the speaker cannot see” (poets corner). This sense of desolation centers the refrain word in these stanzas, “nothing more.” The raven introduces “Nevermore” at the end of stanza eight; and thereafter “Nevermore” serves as a reply to the bereaved questioner, finally becoming emblematic of his subjective state. As the sign of his pessimistic melancholy it is an explanation of “nothing more.” Only after the raven has become symbolic, after the full extent of the questioner’s loss and the degree of his self- pity are apparent, do the questioner’s isolation and self-limitation to “nothing more” become meaningful. A less obvious symbol, might be the use of "midnight" in the first verse, and "December" in the second verse. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-“ (1-2) “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December” (7) Both midnight and December symbolize an end of something, and also the anticipation of something new, a change, to happen. Poe follows “midnight” with the term dreary and uses bleak to describe “December” both of which help set the beginning atmosphere of the poem. The midnight in December, might very well be New Year’s eve, a date most of us connect with change. The chamber in which the narrator is positioned, is used to signify the loneliness of the man, and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is richly furnished, and reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem. The tempest outside is used to even more signify the isolation of this man, to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night. The furniture itself is a minor symbol in the poem. The “velvet-violet lining” of the cushion symbolizes death and respect. In this case the death of his long lost Lenore. Hospitals use a purple velvet cloth to shroud the dead bodies with as a sign of respect as they are transported to the morgue. Given the context clues it was also Lenore’s favorite place to sit and “she shall press, ah, nevermore. Poe also tries to personify the “lamp-light” to shine on the cushion. He uses the term “gloated” which means, “to glance” to give the “lamp-light” a human quality. The window is a symbol that is commonly and easily overlooked: “And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain… ‘Surely,’ said I ‘surely that is something at my window lattice… Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,” (13,33,37). It seems excessive to equip the window with both a lattice and a shudder. The window also bears a pair of “purple” curtains. The color purple here is the key ingredient, which has been previously discussed.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

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