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the sound of the poem

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Eva Bajnoková

The life of E. A. Poe

According to Robert
Giordano’s website dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, the best-known American writer
was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston. Both his mother Elizabeth Arnold and
father David Poe were wandering actors but their job was seen as shameful and
sinful at the time. His father left the family when Edgar was only a one-year-old
child and died a few months later. Unfortunately, his mother’s death
followed shortly afterwards and he was adopted by a prominent family of the Scottish
tobacco exporter, John Allan from Richmond. He had a difficult relationship
with John Allan due to several character differences and his love – poetry
which was an unacceptable issue as his father’s intention was for him to work
in the family business. The Allans travelled to England in 1815, where they
spent five years. Poe attended English schools and studied at the University of
Virginia since 1826 where he met a lot of hot-blooded people interested in
gambling and drinking alcohol. Young Poe became a member of the group and was
heavily in debt soon. (Giordano, 2006)

His foster father did not
feel responsible for his behavior and refused to help him. In 1831, Poe had to
stop studying. He left his family and went to Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia
and later New York, where he found a job as an editor and literary critic which
started his career as a writer. However, he had very few friends because he was
keen on drinking and spoke sharply and openly. Moreover, he was a mentally
unstable person and that was the reason why he created his own world and his
work revealed his dark thoughts and feelings. At the age of twenty-seven, Poe
married his fourteen-year-old cousin who died tragically of tuberculosis with
Poe at her side, freezing in their cottage. Her death had a terrible influence
on Poe; he drank more heavily and felt depressed. Two years later, he was found
unconscious on the street of Baltimore; the background of his death on October 7,
1849 is still mysterious. (Unknown,, 2017)

Although there were readers
who knew his works and he won a few prizes during his lifetime, he never really
became famous and was left in loneliness and despair. The first person, who
recognized him and appreciated his work, was a French writer Baudelaire.

However, he became widely popular
in the US after his death. Poe wrote innovative poems, short stories and is considered
to be the creator of the modern detective story in literature. Moreover, he is
a famous literary theoretic. He created his own aesthetic conception in such
essays as The Philosophy of Composition
(1846) and The Poetic Principle
(1850). (Giordano,

The purpose of this essay is to provide an analysis of Poe’s
most famous poem The Raven with emphasis on his play with sound and word. We
want to explain the connection of his life to this poem and a role of the
keyword ‘Nevermore’ which reflects the basic idea of the author’s work.


The Raven by E.A. Poe

As we mentioned above, the
author’s life was firstly marked by the family problems and later by the tragic
death of his loved one which resulted in his unhealthy lifestyle and death. His
unstable sensitive character was deeply hurt by the loss therefore his writings
are sad, pessimistic and they shock and impress the readers even nowadays. Poe
is a distinct writer because at the time of his life, other writers wrote
positive poems about the nation and saw a bright future. In this case, Poe
created 18 stanzas full of dark atmosphere containing a heartbreak and tragic
life. The poem was written shortly after his wife Virginia’s death so we could
assume he was very depressed trying to find escape in drugs and alcohol. He
knew only one way of expressing his feelings – through writing and that is how
this poem was written. A reader is able to feel the force of sorrow of a man
who lost a love of his life and sympathize with him.

The speaker of The Raven is
a writer or apprentice sitting in his chamber next to the fireplace in the
middle of a night in December. He is reading, almost dreaming and lamenting
about his lost love when he lets a raven in trough the window. The young man is
weak and weary first, but then frightened and curious at the same time to find
out the purpose of the raven’s visit. He leads a monologue deducing what the
raven’s sound “Nevermore” might mean. The raven’s function is mysterious, just
as is its silence: has it come to make him understand that he must live on
although his mistress Lenore is dead or tempt the young man to think about
death more deeply. 

The role of speaker is to
show the author’s depressed state of mind. The speaker is a psychologically perfectly
conducted. His hopelessness and sadness become surreal when he speaks to the
raven talking in a human language. The author and speaker have in common their
desire – the only thing they want is the woman they love but cannot have.

The poem is told in the
past tense but it shifts into the present tense in the final stanza to stress
that the raven’s shadow and its visit will stay in the room forever. The poem
relies heavily on symbols. The setting of a lonely chamber at midnight with the
darkness and the tempest outside symbolize death, as well as the ebony raven
does. The raven and its eternal shadow on the floor represent the past and the
dark, painful memory of a beloved person’s death that will never leave the
young man. The raven is a majestic almost grotesque animal which is a bearer of
bad news. The author could have chosen a dove as a typical animal given this
task but he decided for a dark big bird which associates with death and decay
whereas a dove is connected with love and beauty. The raven’s dark ruffled
feathers are a contrast to Lenore’s white young untouched innocent soul. It is
a symbol for death, hate to life of destiny, self-hatred, and death bearer. The
poem without the raven would not have the same effect because the bird brings
horror elements, suspense and mysticism.

On the other hand, the
raven could be only the speaker’s illusion. Perhaps, he is dreaming and asking
for answers. His desire (him) is talking to his rational part (raven). He longs
for Lenore but he knows that he cannot have her. He does not want to admit this
fact. He is hiding in front of the truth. 
Another option is that he is not dreaming but he is drunk and when the
raven comes, he thinks it is speaking to him so the whole thing is just a
figment of his intoxicated imagination.

is known to be a master of suggestion. In his work The Philosophy of Composition (1846) in which he explained the way
he proceeds while writing he explained that the creation of poem is a series of
intentional steps (like solving a mathematical problem) which aim is to
influence his readers. Professor McGann (2014) put the heart of Poe’s theory
well: “Poetry is fundamentally a musical event using language as the
instrument.” The Raven is a prototypical example
of his abilities to fulfill his purpose – generate a specific emotion into his
reader. It is a rational activity. He chose a perfect tool for creating the
suspense, a dark bird which repulses – the raven.


What is the meaning of “Nevermore”
repeated by the raven? Is it the sound of the poem?
            Everybody assumes the poem is
honest but it creates illusions as we mentioned. The Raven is meant to create a
certain set of (gloomy) emotions. It is about a battle between rationality and
irrationality, about complex psychology of a human existence. Poe examines the
reasons for the current state of mind of a speaker.  He exposes a dark side of human psyche. Dealing
with things which are hidden, suppressed or forgotten is also a very prominent
element of Poe’s writings.

The Raven is a lyrical poem with narration (epic) in which these two genres are
closely interwoven. The Raven symbolizes different processes in reader’s mind.
The product of its ‘speech’ is similar to human language. Poe uses specific
words with specific sounds. The name of speaker’s love – Lenore, is similarly
pronounced to word ‘love’ and words Lenore and Nevermore are similar when
pronounced weakly; one could be mistaken for another. The author uses a
technique called onomatopoeia very precisely in a way he sensitively chooses
English words. The onomatopoeia means that words correspond with emotion. The
setting is bleak – cold December night, dark weather, some noises are louder,
senses are heightened.  The onomatopoeia
is clearly visible in the first stanza, in which Poe intentionally used words
consisting of consonants which sound resembles the sound of knocking of a peak
on the glass:

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.”

the beginning, the speaker thinks he hear the name of his love – Lenore which
is a mental projection of his desire. We see what we want to see, we are not
objective. It is his subconscious interpretation. Later, the speaker asks more
and more questions and the raven’s answer changes when it surprisingly says ‘Nevermore’
and the speaker realizes that Lenore will never come back. Word Nevermore is
repeated in order to emphasize the hopeless truth to the speaker who is not
willing to admit what he refuses. The raven triggers a very specific emotion of
the loss and the repetition of this word at the end of stanzas is a core of
suspension. It becomes a very powerful word which raises the power of
desperation in the poem. This quotation of Professor McGann (2014) explains the
importance of ‘Nevermore’ in The Raven: “Poe’s oft-repeated
theme emphasizes the importance of memory, because life consists of continuous
loss. Poe uses “evermore” because loss will always be part of life;
“nevermore,” because we can never hold onto what we have or who we love.”

interrogation with the raven is the climax of the whole poem. Word ‘Nevermore’
creates suspense in a way the speaker awaits a different answer but it is still
the same. He realizes the only word the raven was taught is ‘Nevermore’. At the
beginning, it tells him the raven will never leave him, not as his Lenore did
but later he finds out, the raven says there is no hope for him, he will never
run away from his sorrow and becomes desperate. It is as if it was just a game
shortly after the bird came but the situation has changed and the raven is a
prophet carrying the worst message possible.

my opinion, the word ‘Nevermore’ is a more important word of the poem than its
name – The Raven because it expresses the idea of the poem, its play with the sound
and dark atmosphere whereas the name The Raven sums up the narrative thread of
the poem – the arrival of the bird.

conclusion, Poe’s unhappy life led his writing style to unconventional themes
of desperation and dread. Although he tried to find a family in an attempt to live
a happy life with his cousin, this impossible goal ended his unhealthy way of
life which became a source of innovative methods and themes that made him
famous after his death. His poem The Raven is a poetic masterpiece of all the
time also due to his sensitive character because the poem was his way of
reconciliation with his hopeless future. Perhaps he predicted his early death
in the time of writing this work. This significant poem shows his precise work
with diction, rhythmic scheme and rhyme. The word ‘Nevermore’ was definitely
carefully chosen and appropriate in order to achieve a desired effect of the
author. In the essay, we provided a summary of the biography of E.A. Poe. Then,
we focused on the sound effect evoked in the poem and the key position of the word




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(1809-1849).” Online,
2018-01-01 Available at:

ROY, V. 1918. Úvod ku prekladu Poeovho Havrana. In
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SLOBODNÍK, D. 1981. Poeove básne v Sloven?ine, In.
Romboid.  without ISBN, 1981. ro?. 16, ?


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