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Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetry Friday- Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven


I don't know what's more predictable: posting "The Raven" for Halloween or my looking for reader feedback. Who cares? "The Raven" for October is like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in December. I know both almost verbatim but I'd surely be disappointed not to encounter them each and every year.

Anyway, I realize that not everyone finds "The Raven" scary. Bart Simpson is quoted as saying, "that wasn't scary, not even for a poem." When asked to rank the poem from 1-10, 1 being not at all scary and 10 being terrifying, my wife asked to give it a negative. I, on the other hand, do find it scary. Maybe not 10, but I do find the set up pretty creepy: a man sitting all alone by a fire at midnight on a bleak December night, remembering his long lost love, and then interupted by a knock on the door...well, you know how it goes. Anyway, that and the fact that this ominous, pessimistic bird shows up without any explanation. Yes, it gives me goosebumps everytime. What do you you think? Reread the poem (if you're so inclined) and answer the survey at the end. Feel free to justify your response in the comments.
The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
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.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
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.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
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!


How scary is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"? 1 = not at all, 10 = terrifying
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10 comments:

Kelly Fineman said...

I had to give it a one for scariness, John, but it scores high for eeriness/creepiness.

John Mutford said...

Kelly: Well, if you're going to get all symantical. ;) In all seriousness though, it guess it does depend upon one's definition of scary.

TadMack said...

Definitely it's creepy -- there's the overwhelming question of WHY it all happens, and things that don't have reasons get to me. Plus, the thing is STILL sitting there on the bust. THAT's just wrong.

Not scary. Creepy. Disturbing. Plain freaky.

:) Satisfied?

Sara said...

I get creeped out at "silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" and it just gets worse from there. I think this poem is not "jump out and say BOO" scary, but "make you look twice at shadows" scary.

Tricia said...

I have always loved this poem, and you're right about it being fitting for October. I must disagree, however, about that December movie. For me it's A Christmas Story. I never tire of Ralphie.

Chris said...

Creepy, not scary. I'm not into poetry but love this one. I love the way the language clips along. And that "Nevermore" is goosebump inducing. The only thing is now I can't read it without hearing James Earl Jones in my head.

John Mutford said...

Tadmack: Yes, creepy will suffice.

Sara: Exactly. And to me the creepy kind is better. It seems to linger and doesn't make you feel like an idiot for jumping out of your shoes.

Tricia: That's another good one. Actually there's quite a few.

Chris: I guess to me creepy = scary, or at least as Sara suggested, one kind of scary.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'd likely give it a 2 or 3 - it certainly has atmosphere.

The first paragraph of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, though, that freaks me out each time I read it on Hallowe'en.

Allison said...

I gave it a three. I remember I memorized this poem in high school when I went through a phase, and also watched the film, which is quite creepy.

I'm with Barb on the atmosphere.

AdamSmithAcademy said...

There is an animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart at:
http://www.adamsmithacademy.org/The_Tell-Tale_Heart.html