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How Poe Shows Woe
11 May 2004
Edgar Allan Poe’s renowned poem “The Raven” shows the turbulent thoughts and feelings racing through the mind of a person who has lost a loved one. The narrator of the poem has recently lost his lover to death’s unyielding grasp. As a result, he is struck by the grief that accompanies such a death. Poe delineates the miserable, defeated state of the narrator’s mind through diction, a proper setting, and symbolism.
One tool that Poe uses in order to show how the narrator’s mind dwells on the death of his lover is his masterful use of select words and phrases to construct a mood of death and darkness. Near the very beginning of the poem, an early example of this word choice lies in line 8: “And each dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” This is a clear example of how the narrator is immersed completely in his lover’s death—he sees death in many of the inanimate objects in his environment. However, Poe does not stop here. Another excellent example of Poe’s skillful application of diction appears in line 16: “’\'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door/Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door….’” Following these lines, the narrator of the poem opens the door and cries out “Lenore,” his lover’s name. The word “late” has a double meaning in this context: it can be interpreted to mean either “late at night” or “deceased.” In this case, the narrator half-expects Lenore to be the one knocking at the door, and thus she is the “late,” or “deceased,” visitor. And finally, perhaps the most prominent and intriguing example of diction in “The Raven” is, surprisingly, not in English. Poe gave the name “Lenore” to the narrator’s lover for a clear reason—the name is a near-perfect homophone of the words “le noir” in French, which means “black.” Using this repeated reference to darkness, Poe creates a sense of gloom throughout the poem. Overall, the words and phrases Poe employs send constant messages to the readers’ minds, setting up an overall tone of darkness and despair that serves as an underlying foundation for the bleak storyline of and the history behind the poem.
Also essential to the gloomy atmosphere of the poem is its setting, which symbolizes death, and further shows the turbulence in the narrator’s mind and heart. Poe sets up his poem in the dreariness of some midnight in December, as is shown by the lines “Once upon a midnight dreary…” and “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December” (lines 1 and 6, respectively). The timeframe in which the poem takes its course represents the end of a regular, recurring cycle. Just as midnight suggests the end of one day, the month of December marks the end of a year. Similarly, Lenore’s death occurs at the end of yet another repeating cycle—the cycle of life. Poe also uses the narrator’s location in conjunction with the stormy weather to create an effect that matches the narrator’s emotions. In “The Raven,” the narrator lives in a well-furnished, comfortable home submersed in a violent rainstorm. The room signifies the place in the narrator’s heart to which he retreats for shelter from the tempestuous reality of Lenore’s death. The storm can be labeled as pathetic fallacy, which, despite its unflattering name, is used exceptionally well in “The Raven.” In this instance of pathetic fallacy, the stormy weather indicates that the narrator of the poem is experiencing equally violent emotions. The time and place of the poem reveal how the narrator attempts to escape the reality of his lover’s death by locking himself up in the past, but also how he is tormented by the hostile truth.
But by far the most powerful linguistic device that Poe employs is symbolism. In this poem, symbolism plays an extensive role in placing the readers in the narrator’s mind in order to allow them to experience his overwhelming feelings and share his emotions. The most obvious example of symbolism in “The Raven” is, of course, the raven itself. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, ravens “consume much carrion, especially in winter.” This description of ravens is surprisingly fitting in the poem, since the raven represents death, and
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Poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, English-language films, The Raven, Lenore, Edgar Allan Poe, Cultural depictions of ravens, The Raven in popular culture, The Philosophy of Composition
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