Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Toad's Favo(u)rite: The Raven

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I have a confession.  When I was young, I thought that Edgar Allan Poe was waaaay too corny for my coolness.  No, really, it's true.  The Tell-Tale Heart and Lenore left me completely unimpressed.  Annabel Lee?  Meh.  And, memorizing The Raven?  I hated every minute of that exercise.

But, you know what?  Thirty years later, I can still drop lines from The Raven.  And, that's certainly not due to my fabulous memory.

No, the credit for The Raven's stranglehold on my brain must go entirely to Mr. Poe.  His use of rhyme makes the lines flow and follow as naturally as night follows day.  The flawless meter gives the piece a beat so strong that you can practically dance to it.  And, the best alliteration EVER adds to the feel of rushing movement that sweeps the reader along.  Plus, hey, it's creepy!  The Raven is a poetic earworm, and you can't help but remember it.

So, yeah, I hated The Raven when I was kid.  Now, I just hate that I'll never write anything that compares to it.

The Raven

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.
"'T is some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;         5
    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,  10
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name 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  15
"'T is 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;  20
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,  25
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness 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.  30
  
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:  35
    'T is 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,  40
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,  45
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;  50
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
    With such name as "Nevermore."
  
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only  55
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."  60
  
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  65
    Of 'Never—nevermore.'
  
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy 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,  70
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, 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  75
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight 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.  80
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath 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!  85
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."  90
  
"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 name Lenore:
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!"  95
    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! 100
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, 105
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!


16 comments:

Fireblossom said...

It's amazing how, sometimes, a thing that will be meaningful for us arrives as something we dismiss at first, or actually dislike. I have to say, though, that I am really surprised that young you couldn't wrap the Poe around her coolness. He seems to me to be the perfect poet for you. Then again, I only know you now, and here you are, with the Poe to be lifted Nevermore!

It was a joy to read this classic poem again. Because of the perfection of the language, it never gets old. This time, I particularly noticed how his reaction to the bird changes as lines go on. Also, all these years, I never bothered to look up "Pallas". I assumed it must be some boring emperor or something, and it turns out that "Pallas" is an alternate name for my girl Athena!

Marvelous choice, Favorite.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Yes, some poetry does take time to really make its impact on the discerning reader, especially when written in a classical style which may sound weird or 'corny' to a young person's ears. Luckily these poems are not going anywhere and we can find them again, and name them among our favourites.

Marian said...

is it only me who is getting comment errors? literally, "whoops, that's an error?" for the past couple of days?
Susie... thank you for sharing. i did enjoy Poe (and especially this poem) when i was very young, but then cast him aside for a number of years. good thing i got over whatever that was. :)

hedgewitch said...

'The Raven'--other than 'The Bells,' which is just annoying-- is probably my least favorite Poe poem, but that isn't actually because of the poem, it's because it has come to be the sole definition of Poe to most people, and I feel that, while excellent and representative, and definitely memorable as you say, MZ, to the point of inserting itself into your brain and refusing to leave, there is a lot more to Poe than 'Nevermore.' It is however, one of his most accessible poems, and has some truly great lines, like the entire stanza about 'Balm in Gilead,' as well as that the great hypnotizing meter and never-flagging internal rhyme you mention. Thanks for dusting this one off for us MZ. I enjoyed the re-read.

Susan said...

I cannot argue: He's the best and this poem of his is worthy of its fame. But you are just as good, and were Poe asked to write about anything in 20 words or less, he would fail miserably!

Marcoantonio Arellano said...

I enjoy 'The Raven' very much but also Tell Tale Heart, equally. I agree with hedgewitch in that we as a consumer of anything have a tendency to identify one by a limited reference. This has a tendency to limit the true expansive wonderful complexity of human art.

I enjoy even the simplist of expression that stimulates my emotions or my whole self.

Thanks for reiterating this wonderfully classic piece

Marian said...

why did i think Susie posted this? Sorry, Mama Z. xo

grapeling said...

Poe for me is most closely tied to "A Cask of Amontillado", which my 5th grade teacher in Catholic school assigned. It was dark and spooky and was the first evidence that terror was loose in the world.

Of course we imagined the nuns had caught a few miscreants and punished them that way somewhere in the deep heart of the old school. We always wondered what happened to Jimmy...

Kay L. Davies said...

I agree with Susan, Poe couldn't have attained your amazing succinctness. (a) it would never have occurred to him to try, and (b) his addiction to alliteration would have taken over.
Having suffered from the same addiction, I used to wish Poe had laid off alliterating so that I could, somehow, learn how to do the same.
Sigh.
When I was very young, this poem was very scary, but later I found myself reading Poe and loving his internal rhyming and his wonderful use of words.
An excellent choice. (But don't ask me to watch the movie "The Fall of the House of Usher" ever again. Too scary for a teenager, too scary for an old lady.)
K

Maggie Grace said...

Raven has special meaning to me but didn't know that when I came to be mesmerized by Poe's The Raven. I do love Annabelle Lee too (probably just spelled that wrong). He did have creepy mind. lol. Thanks for sharing this!

Mama Zen said...

At the age that I studied Poe in school, I would have argued with you if you had told me that the sun would rise in the morning. So, when all of my teachers insisted that Poe was brilliant, I just had to disagree!

Susie Clevenger said...

Poe, my poetic hero. This was the first poem of his I fell in love with at age 15. I couldn't touch his skill with my writing then and I still can't come close now, but he still inspires me with his words and depth. Mama Zen, you have such a unique style of your own. I always know when I read your work I will walk away impressed and seek to work my pen even harder. :)

Grace said...

Goodness what a marvel to read and thank you Mama Zen ~ I too dismissed such writing when I was young and now see and appreciate the complexity and nuances of his writing ~ Terrific choice ~

Ella said...

I love Poe! Thank you Mama Z for sharing this gifted soul~

I made Poe art, inspired by the Raven. I read that he wrote beautiful poems that his source would not publish. They liked publishing his unique voice, instead.

Other Mary said...

Thanks for the Poe--try. C'mon...someone had to do it! ;-)

Misky said...

Thanks for the reminder of this brilliant poet's work.