April 25, 2023

#08-304: The Raven

Illustration by John Tenniel (Wikipedia)

Note: This is by far Poe's most famous poem, and one of his most famous works in any genre. It is much reprinted--and much parodied.

Get Ready: How might grief over a lost loved one affect a person's imagination?

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
  Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--"

So begins one of American author Edgar Allan Poe's most famous works. It's not the usual short story, like his famously macabre "Tell-Tale Heart," "Cask of Amontillado," or "Pit and the Pendulum." Instead, it's a poem of 18 stanzas, each with six lines. Many of the lines end with words that rhyme with "lore," including "door," "floor," "before," and the two most important ones: "Lenore," the name of the narrator's lost love, and "Nevermore," the only word spoken by the titular raven.

The story is simple enough: a scholar (elsewhere Poe tells us he's "young") was studying books--perhaps on the occult--on a night in the "bleak December." Midnight, December, memories of a dead lover, a room lit by firelight: the poem is incredibly atmospheric.

As he studied, nearly falling asleep over his books, there "came a tapping, / As of some one gently rapping, rapping at [his] chamber door." He "opened wide the door," but there was no one there. He then realized the sound was coming from his window lattice, and, assuming it was just the wind, was surprised when he opened the window and a large black bird--a raven--stepped in!

It immediately flew in and landed on a bust of Athena, goddess of wisdom, over the door of the room. Sad though the narrator was from thinking about his "lost Lenore," the bird's grave demeanor caused him to smile and, in a bit of whimsy, he asked its name. It replied with the poem's most famous line (repeated five times):

Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

He was surprised at the bird's ability to speak, but quickly learned that that one word was its entire vocabulary. This bird will leave me like all my friends have, he thought. The bird said, "Nevermore." Will he forget Lenore? "Nevermore." Is there hope? "Nevermore."

The bird's repeated answer drove the narrator mad. He shrieked at it and tried to drive it out, but as the end of the poem was told the bird was still sitting over the door, and the narrator realized that his "soul... Shall be lifted--nevermore!"


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. atmospheric
  2. bust
  3. demeanor
  4. lattice
  5. lore
  6. macabre
  7. occult
  8. quaint
  9. quoth
  10. whimsy

  1. said; spoke
  2. a grill; mesh
  3. ghastly; horrible
  4. knowledge of a particular subject
  5. behavior
  6. the supernatural
  7. silliness; playfulness
  8. of an environment that produces emotions
  9. charming in an old-fashioned way
  10. a statue of the head and shoulders only

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 25, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. j; 3. e; 4. b; 5. d; 6. c; 7. f; 8. i; 9. a; 10. g