The Raven Few American authors have obtained the level of popularity that Edgar Allen Poe has risen to. This popularity and his trademark macabre writing style have made some of his literary works such as The Raven a long-time classic in literature. This work in particular, exhibits some characteristics of folklore. Folklore has long been associated with oral passage, custom-related themes and unknown authors; however, I believe that there are exceptions to the typical definition and that almost all literary works, old and new, have at least a trace element of folklore contained within them. The Raven is a poem that, which at first glance depicts a man reading a book (about forgotten lore) in his bedroom late at night that seems to be on the edge of sanity. After a series of tappings at his bedroom door he later finds a bird perched above his door.
He asks the bird several questions, all of which are answered with, nevermore. After reading the poem carefully it is apparent that the man is mourning over his beloved Lenore. The man believes the raven will end his sorrow, respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore. (Nepenthe is a reference from The Odyssey of a drug that prevents grief) In the end the bird ends up robbing the man of his hope, And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted nevermore! There are several superstitious references throughout the poem, the first and most obvious is the raven. The raven can also be classified as a myth or legend – the taker of souls and deliverer of death.
The raven has long been associated with both evil and death. Why would Poe choose a raven as the messenger of nevermore? I believe the bird was chosen because of its ability to fly and ascend into the heavens and its legendary status as a soul taker. Poe writes, And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul out of that shadow that lies floating on the floor; Shall be lifted – nevermore. There is an old superstition that anyone who falls under a raven’s shadow will have his soul taken from him. It is that superstition which Poe uses to doom the man in his bedroom.
The man will forever dwell in misery and lost hope. The raven is not the only mythological reference throughout the poem. Poe makes a reference to Pallas, which is another name for the Greek goddess of warfare Athena. Poe writes, Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door – perched, and sat, and nothing more. The image of the raven perched on the goddess of war fills the mind with images of violence, loss of hope, doom, and insanity, which seems to be part of the theme in the poem.
There is another reference made to a mythological character, Pluto. Pluto, according to legend, is the god of the underworld or Hell. The man believes that the raven wanders from the Plutonian night’s shore. This further perpetuates the underling theme of darkness and doom. Color is a symbolic part of the poem.
There are several references made to the color black, which is tied customarily to funeral attire, evil, death, and the over-all fear of the night. There is one particular reference made to a dirge, which implants dark images in the readers mind. The black raven, which is part of the evil and dark motif in the poem, robs the man of his soul on a late bleak December night. Late bleak December is synonymous with frigid cold, pain, depression, and an overall lack of color. This (late bleak December) is a description of the inhospitable climate in which the misery associated with the raven thrives.
The use of color is powerful throughout the poem and could lead to a tremendous amount of interpretation. The Raven incorporates myths, legends, superstitions, and a motif making it one of Poe’s most interesting pieces. The poem is written in a way that leaves the ending up to the interpretation of the reader. Does the man die or does he go insane? My personal interpretation is that the man will dwell in constant state of morning for Lenore. Had Poe not incorporated the myths, superstitions, legends, and the symbolic motif of the raven the poem would not have had the same impact.
It is those ingredients that give the poem flavor, set the mood, and provide titillating imagery. Poetry and Poets.