Poe’s The Raven

Many students read The Raven and wonder what it means.

I never got tired of reading and talking to students about Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. The rhythm sells the poem and even if students didn’t understand it, they enjoyed hearing it read. To understand it, one has to understand the time period. The Raven was published in 1845.

The question asked of many writers is what was your inspiration? Some have tried to answer that on Poe’s behalf and some attribute it to the loss of his wife, Virginia, but she died two years after The Raven was published. However, Virginia died of tuberculosis and she would have been suffering from it at the time the poem was written and published. Poe could have been looking ahead to his life without his beloved wife. There was no cure for tuberculosis and one suffered an average of three years before passing.

Poe clearly believed in an afterlife and the suffering man in the poem questioned the raven about being reunited with Lenore when he passed. The raven was thought to be a messenger between the living and the dead, so this conversation was appropriate. The bird was merciless in answering Nevermore when asked if he’d “clasp a sainted maiden name Lenore” in Aidenn which is heaven.

The man asked if angels sent the bird, and if there is balm in Gilead which means relief in heaven. The raven is shouted at and called a prophet and a thing of evil, but anger did not change the raven’s answer from Nevermore.

The ending is painful because the prophetic bird’s words have been realized. Hell is spending eternity in that room with the demonic bird and never being reunited with Lenore. That is Halloween horror!

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