More Than Just A Bird

“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 desert land enchanted. On this home by Horror – tell me truly, I implore. Is there- is there balm in Gilead? Tell me-tell me, I implore!” Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore” (Poe 945).

Stanza 15 from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is what I consider to be the most important part of this masterpiece. With relevance to the story, the passage I chose is a powerful emotional climax to the story, indicated by Poe’s use of exclamation points, dashes and apocalyptic imagery. The narrator has been somewhat perplexed by the presence of the raven up to this point, as shown by his statement in stanza 11 “doubtless….what it utters is its only stock and store” (Poe 944). But the narrator’s conclusion that the bird’s words are a learned habit fade away as he gets more frustrated and fearful, resulting in his pleading to the bird for answers in the passage I selected. The narrator shows indifference to the origin of the bird, no matter how malicious it may be. This is shown in stanza 15 by his statement “whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed the here ashore” (Poe 945).

Poe’s repetition of both the narrator’s constant pleading and the raven’s cold response of “nevermore” is the main force driving the conflict in the poem (Poe 945). This is not only seen in the passage I chose, but also in stanza 16 when the narrator says “by that God we both adore-tell this soul with sorrow laden…whom the angels name Lenore” (Poe 945). For me, this makes “The Raven” appear to be a cautionary statement by Poe to not attempt to find meaning in everyday occurrences, because you could drive yourself mad. Be careful when you are beset with grief, or you may interpret an ordinary bird as a sign or gateway to know the fate of your lost loved ones.

There is also a noticeable rhythmic pattern throughout the poem. When read with the right emphasis, it conveys a feeling of melancholy – many words rhyme with “Lenore” the narrator’s lost beloved – “nevermore”, “implore”, “evermore”, “your”, “door”, “wore”, “shore”, “bore”, etc. Poe’s choice of a raven is also very interesting to me because it ties into the theme of sadness, death and depression.  Ravens are black, a color that is generally associated with death, darkness and the bird itself is considered a bad omen and deliverer of bad news in many cultures.

This passage is not only important for the progression of the story, it also contains the central philosophical point that I believe Poe is trying to convey in this poem. That for human beings, one of greatest fears and sources of pain stems from death, and we seek answers to drive that fear and pain away. With the narrator’s exclamation, “Prophet! Thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or devil!…..is there balm in Gilead?”(Poe 945), Poe is suggesting that it’s human nature to want to believe that anyone or anything might have a remedy for the intense pain of losing a loved one to death.

Poe’s use of the phrases “desert land” on two occasions and “home by Horror” in the passage I selected reinforces his nihilistic view of the world, one that is filled with despair, anxiety, and uncertainty (Poe 945). This may seem rather depressing, but the inevitable human experience of losing a loved one to death almost always results in some form of depression. The grief can intensify if you worry about what has become of them in the afterlife, if there is one.  So the raven is not only a gateway to Lenore or vessel of God, but also metaphor for how much we understand death. We see it, as the narrator sees the bird perched upon his doorframe, but we have difficulty comprehending it. We have ideas and theories about what death entails and means, but ultimately it comes without warning and leaves those left behind with more questions and answers, just like the raven.

One more thing that came to mind as I read this passage is the relationship “The Raven” has with previous works we’ve examined in class.  In both “The Oval Portrait” and “The Birth Mark”, the male characters lost their loves to their obsession with work. “The Raven” almost seems like the next chapter for these men, describing the anguish they felt after not cherishing their wives when they had the chance. When read with this in mind, the raven’s statement is the catalyst for the narrator’s realization that his wife is not in heaven, but rather her existence is  “nevermore”(Poe 945).