Deconstructing The Raven

thOne hundred and seventy years ago today, a moody writer published an iconic work. That writer was Edgar Allan Poe and the famous bit he crafted was The Raven. What I like about Edgar Allan Poe is his use of symbolism and metaphor. If you’ve been to my blog before, you know I just love that stuff.

It’s interesting to note that Poe was pretty much rejected by the literary circles of his time. Even critics who object to his subject matter admit he was a master of wordcraft. As a literary critic himself, he explained of his writing something he called the “unity of effect”, meaning every element of a story should help create a single emotional impact. Poe once explained the melancholy mood he imbued in The Raven. He designed it to “invariably excite the sensitive soul to tears.” It’s curious just how he did that. 

First off, he used the saddest subject in the world — the thdeath of a love one. And who might be deeply affected by this death? A lover whose heart was broken by the loss. Every description he uses conveys this dark and sad lost love. For example, there are a lot of references to endings — midnight, December, and dying embers all refer to something coming to an end — one day to the next, the end of a year, the extinguishing fire. In one stanza he says a “…sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain…” Aside from the fact purple is a color of mourning, he intends for us to know the rustling curtains share the misery of the mourner. In other words, the sadness is so great, even the non-living things around him feel it. This is also conveyed in the storm howling outside.

An even more curious thing about his writing is the odd associations he makes. For example he once explained how he felt the “o” sound in nevermore was an extremely sad sound. So with exciting souls to tears as his goal, he repeated that “o” sound at the end of each stanza to drive home the sadness. Even nothing more and Lenore share that “o”.

On the creepier side of things, he put a single word into the mouth of a creature who doesn’t know the meaning of it. Quote the raven, “Nevermore”.  Creepy. But then he adds this touch– he puts the raven on top of the bust of Pallus — a goddess associated with wisdom.  The instant implication: that the repeated nevermore was actually spoken from wisdom. So all the while we read this poem and assume the raven knows something. In the end we discover the raven was just a mimicking bird.

It wasn’t until 1845 when The Raven was published that Edgar Allan Poe became a household name. In addition to writing some dark and macabre things, he championed the cause of higher wages for writers and pushed for an international copyright law. Way to go, Poe!

What a marvelous voice James Earl Jones has. I went to youtube to find someone reading The Raven to post here. (I was hoping to find Tom Hiddleston. I love that man’s voice.) I listened to Vincent Price, Christopher Walken, and Christopher Lee. All creepy in their own right. The Raven narrated in those iconic voices adds a whole other layer to Poe.

This version of The Raven is generally accepted as the final version authorized by the author. And here’s a surprising number of variations to compare it with.


I often wonder where certain words and sayings come from. For the next few weeks this word collector will be examining some familiar phrases to get at their heart.
I think you’ll be surprised.

The phrase for today is ~A little bird told me

We recognize this phrase today as meaning I was told by a secret source. Shakespeare and various writers through the centuries have referenced birds as messengers. The origin is most likely Biblical. In Ecclesiastes 10-20 of the King James Bible, there’s a passage that says, Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

I don’t know…Carrier pigeons deliver messages too.


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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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1 Response to Deconstructing The Raven

  1. treknray says:

    The last two times I heard The Raven read aloud was by Garrison Keillor on the Prarie Home Companion. I think I like the sounds, even when I only hear it in my mind. I like The Pit and the Pendulum and the Telltale Heart. There is even rhythm in the titles.

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