Neverending torment

The Neverending torment – Reviewing Poe’s Raven

There is no doubt that Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven is about a tormented night, as the poem itself expresses in its starting line.

In a first reading, my interpretation of it was the story of a deeply troubled man, lonely and sad over an important personal loss. I felt the night was also a metaphor, showing the abyss in which the writer’s soul persisted.

However, the poem can also be read (more accurately in my actual opinion) as expressing what it says literally: the endless muttering of a mind, troubled by the anguish of a recent loss that won’t let the soul rest.

A crest has fallen, which seems to never lift again, casting shadows over reason and, ultimately, turning it into a makeshift demon, independent of the thinker, torturing him and prepared to leave his side, nevermore.

The setting is completely described in the first two paragraphs of the poem, portraying a somewhat scholarly man unable to concentrate in his usual readings as he is remembering the loss of, we assume, his lover.

Anyone who has tried to concentrate in a cold night (“it was in the bleak December”), tortured by an unrelenting thought can sympathize with what would soon follow.

Deprived of sleep, the books could not grant relief from sorrow. Such relief is expected to come only with sunrise, even when we know the loneliness would not go away.

However, the poem doesn’t talk just about loneliness, as there is doubt (and skepticism, probably) in the mind of the narrator. His is a complex mind,

“wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before”.

As such, it starts playing tricks on him, hearing noises with no perceivable source and, even further, finding that “the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer”; both clear symptoms of an insomnia that surely must have lasted a few nights by now.

Then comes the time when his fears, loathing and anxieties cast a form for themselves, in the shape of that famous talking raven.

This raven, from my point of view, is nothing more than his conscience talking to him, chastising for unknown sins which he still suffers remorse from, at least more than was expected.

The fact that the raven seems to be smiling foretells the poem’s conclusion, as if he already knew how this was going to finish, without any apparent possibility of redemption.

The dialogue between the two characters, or, in this interpretation, the inner conversation, is one of the greatest displays of poetic language I have ever read. In fact, as the raven only speaks its refrain, its meaning changes, leading the path from sorrow to desperation, and finally, to rage and utter defeat at the hands of an unforgiving fate.

Thus the narrator ends up in the floor, immersed in the shadow displayed by his own conscience, and, in his mind, it would be impossible to save his soul from said shadow, a feat that cannot be accomplished even by the light of the morrow in this apparent endless night.

Fortunately for you, the reader, you can lift yourself from the shadow cast by the “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore”, and even after understanding the complete horror depicted in the poem, given enough time, you can come to take pleasure in reading it once again.

–Manuel Sandoval

Editor’s note: How about you read Allan Poe’s seminal poem? Click here to read it for free (courtesy of the amazing people from Project Gutenberg).

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