The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most famous poems within the English language. Since it was first written over 150 years ago, the meanings and motivation behind The Raven has been debated. The symbolism is so important in understanding the poem and its lasting appeal as so much is touched upon in this masterful work of Edgar Allen Poe. It is labor of love for the works of Poe that this analysis is written as well.
The poem opens with a lonely man, who tries to ease his sorrow for the lost Lenore by distracting himself with books and tales of forgotten lore. This solitude is interrupted when a raven comes to tap on his door or at least what he thinks to be a bird of some sort. But when he looks, he finds nothing but darkness. He checks again and finds a raven, perched on top of the statue of Pallas, the Greek god of wisdom. The man asks the curious bird for its name to which the only reply that he will receive, despite countless requests, is the name: “nevermore.” The man is afraid of the raven but more afraid that the raven will leave him as he has become a very lonely individual. The man takes this opportunity, not yet is aware of the fact that this fowl will only reply with the same word in order to in turn, ask him a number of curious questions. The man, who has been pining for his lost love Lenore, asks the raven if he knows of where she may have disappeared to. To which the raven’s reply is a quizzical: nevermore. Only when the man realizes that these efforts are fruitless does the man stop the inquiry. The man knows that the raven does not hold the answer to the whereabouts of Lenore, nor can the raven give the man any respite against his deep inner pain.
It is the use of symbolism that helps to make this poem as successful and intriguing as it is. Poe uses several symbols to take the poem to a different level of greatness. The raven serves as the most obvious symbol within the poem. The raven represents the self induced torture of the man. If the raven had been replaced by a person who would be able to conduct a normal conversation and be able to answer in detail, some or all of the questions of the man, there would be no reason to continue the poem in a similar fashion. Also, if there had been a man there instead of a raven, it would have told the owner of the home that the questions that he was asking and that they were questions that he already knew the answer to. Lenore, as was the case with Poe’s wife, had died. Possibly from consumption as was the case with Poe’s real life child bride. The raven does not give consideration to the way in which the man is lying to himself. Instead, the raven serves to add to his self torture as well as give him comfort in a way. The man knows that Lenore is dead and perhaps so too does the raven. But for another human to be there and possibly force the man to come to the realization that his wife will never be coming back, it gives comfort to the man that there is still hope in his warped sense of loss, that she might still be alive and looking for him to rescue her. However, by not validating that hope by telling him that his warped hopes will come to fruition, the raven does not serve the purpose that the man was looking for in within bleak existence. In this way, the raven is a symbol for the confusion and irony that the man is dealing with in his lonely state of denial.
Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas, the Greek god of wisdom. It was not from coincidence that the raven fell below to perch on the head of Pallas. Poe is saying that the bird, like Pallas, speaks from wisdom and that the wisdom of the raven needs to be taken more seriously than what may first be believed. The man believes that the bird does not speak from wisdom but that he has been taught by a previous owner of which the word “nevermore” is the only word which consists in his vocabulary. It seems that the raven serves a useful purpose in the life of the man and that the raven is really speaking wisdom in ways that were just mentioned. The poem does not go into a great deal of background concerning the man’s life and the only source may be from the real life of pain, alcoholism and loneliness that Poe experienced himself. The man in the poem leads a very bleak, secluded and lonely life, full of frustrations and despair. It is also the setting of the poem that leads to the bleakness of the story and it symbolism.
The narrator in The Raven, comes with a great deal of complexity and mystery. The raven, the wintry weather, the contrast between the lifeless chamber and the busy climate as well at the time of the year that the poem takes place, all speak to the despair and quiet frustration that the man has about life. Poe’s use of nature, dread, superstition and legend, he is able to create an imagination in the mind that would not be present if it were not for his heavy use of symbolism. However, that quiet reserve is let loose when the narrator, who might not have had a visitor since Lenore last resided in the house, comes upon the raven and does not find the answers that he seeks. It makes the reader believe that the narrator will never find the answers to the questions that he so desperately searches for, at least not in this life anyways.
Poe, Edgar Allen. The Complete Short Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1987.