The Power of The Raven

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The Power of The Raven What is the secret to the power of "The Raven"? The question may be unanswerable, but at least four key elements contribute to the poem's strange authority –compelling narrative structure, darkly evocative atmosphere, hypnotic verbal music, and archetypal symbolism. Although none of these elements was original to "The Raven," their masterful combination created a strikingly original and singularly arresting poem. The key to understanding "The Raven" is to read it as a narrative poem. It is a narrative of haunting lyricality, to be sure, but its central impulse is to tell a memorable story. The hypnotic swing of the trochaic meter, the insistent chime of the internal rhymes, and its unforgettable refrain of "Nevermore" provide each stanza with a song-like intensity, but the poem's structure remains undeviatingly narrative. Stanza by stanza, "The Raven" moves sequentially through the situation it describes. Any reader familiar with short stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Fall of the House of Usher" will recognize Poe's innovative narrative method. By imbuing a simple, linear story with brooding atmosphere of intricately arranged details, Poe perfected a style that allowed every moment to reinforce the tale's ultimate effect. The time and setting of "The Raven" are as much a part of the story as the actions that take place. (In Poe's work the physical setting often reflects the inner personality or emotion of the central character.) The poem begins at midnight in December–the last moment of a spent day in the final month of the year. Internally and externally, it is a time of death and decay. Even the "dying" fireplace embers reflect the moribund atmosphere. The setting is contained an... ... middle of paper ... ...struggling against his fate, neither does he try to escape it. He steadfastly faces his tormentor, a demonic emblem (to quote Poe's own italicized description from "The Philosophy of Composition") of "Mournful and Neverending Remembrance." Trapped and doomed, the protagonist nonetheless articulates what it is like to endure the limits of psychological suffering. Whether Poe himself fully shared those agonies we cannot say, but however rational the composition of "The Raven" truly was, the well-springs of human pain and loss feeding it were vastly deep and authentic. As Walt Whitman wrote of his own work, "Who touches this touches a man." Few poems have touched so many readers so deeply as "The Raven." Works Cited: Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The American Tradition in Literature. Eds. George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.
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