(Repost from last year. What’s an October without at least one repeat of “nevermore?”)
by Edgar Allen PoeOnce 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.”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 borrowFrom my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—Nameless here for evermore.And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtainThrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating“’Tis 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;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,Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal 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.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;—’Tis 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—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,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;For we cannot help agreeing that no living human beingEver 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 onlyThat one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.Nothing farther 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.”Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and storeCaught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful DisasterFollowed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden boreOf ‘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 linkingFancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yoreMeant in croaking “Nevermore.”This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressingTo the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease recliningOn the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light 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 censerSwung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent theeRespite—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!—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.”“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.”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!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 sittingOn the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,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 floorShall be lifted—nevermore!
This is the first time I ever sat down and actually read the poem in its entirety. I’d heard it recited before, but sometimes seeing the words on the page is necessary to truly catch everything. For instance, I always thought this was about a crazy man tormented by a demon raven croaking “nevermore!” and that was it.
That’s giving Poe a rather short stick. Aside from the vivd image of the quoting raven, I think the lasting power of this poem is the portrayal of the man, one who is surprisingly relatable. Who hasn’t spent a sleepless night trying to distract oneself from some grief? Or, when distraction is finally achieved, how much it can hurt when the loss is remembered all over again? But looking at it deeper, the man’s troubles begin when he tries to use the raven as a fortune teller. Seeking to know the future through words or signs of a creature or object lead down a path best left untraveled. Rather than treating the raven as just a bird, like he did at first, he takes its words as truth, and instead of allowing himself to hope in one day seeing Lenore again, he chooses despair and loneliness.
It’s quite a sad piece, although there is hope. After all, it is told by the man sometime after this all happens, a time he refers to as “the bleak December.” Not “a” but “the.” If he was still in such a tragic state, I doubt he’d be referring to that December as “the bleak” one.
Still, all this is distraction from the most important question. The raven came through the window. So who was tapping at his chamber door?