Midnight Dreary



I love the pure imagery of words perfectly chosen and the mysterious levels to which poetry can speak. Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven uniquely places his meaning clearly before his audience: a heartbroken man disturbed by his own agony as he projects it into a conversation with a visiting bird that parrots back one word: “Nevermore.”

An 1849 column in the Richmond Weekly Examiner proudly boasts of receiving permission from Mr. Poe to furnish their readers with “the only correct copy ever published.” Poe revised the original purchased in bookstores but which had been long out of print. Interestingly, Poe frequently gave a performance of reading The Raven after he lectured on the “Poetic Principle.” If only I was alive in 1849 to attend his lecture I might have learned and cherished his instruction on poetry. Alas, you my 21st century reader, are left to the musings of a devout literature lover but a novice in poetic forms.

The Raven is a clear work of art but it was not always revered highly by critics. They were irritated with the impression the poem left on them but couldn’t quite pinpoint or explain it. They poured over it to find some allegory, some moral hidden meaning, and were disgusted to find no value on which to expound beyond the story it told, a narrative of simple events. Thankfully today poetry is valued not only for fine construction, but for fact that it “ministers to the sense of beautiful in human minds.” The greatness of The Raven is its fantastic, yet strange, imagery and its troubling repetition. It is a classic because of its grave, supernatural tone, a tune that haunts the ear long after reading. I speculate that this line did not help the disturbed sense a person had after hearing the poem:

“Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quote the Raven “Nevermore.”

The reader I am sure was jolted that a writer would dare speak of a beak inserted into one’s heart. I remember reading this poem as a youth and since I was quite concrete in thinking, I thought the bird did indeed attack this man. Having been terrorized by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie The Birds didn’t help any in my ability to see this as a literal possibility. I can well imagine the gasp of the dignified ladies in the audience displaying a ghastly reaction to such a horrible image. It was probably Poe’s intention to taunt this social disingenuous response. He understood that within us is the ability to “enjoy” horror no matter how much we deny it. We like the thrill of horror, as long as it is not real.

You can see from these few quotes the haunting words building a gloomy picture before the young man, nursing his broken heart and missing Lenore, has an emotionally distraught conversation with a Raven that only says “Nevermore.”

In the second half, the young man is tormented by his words as he becomes emotionally unglued. “Nevermore” reinforces his own madness at losing his love. It’s a fact that we’re often tormented by our own thoughts and words that we don’t take captive to Christ Jesus. (As we’re told to do in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”) We, as Poe’s character, talk to ourselves and mull over and over (in repetition) our deepest regrets and fears. We haunt ourselves.

This poem is a classic because a broken heart is a universal experience and the dark drama that follows is equally shared. If one wants to know love one must be willing to feel the pain of loss. But we can find a safe place in the everlasting unconditional love of our Father who will even walk with us in the depths of our aching. One can only wish that Poe had found solace but like all mortals, it is during our brief life on earth that we must answer God’s call or forever enter into an eternity of “Nevermore.” ♥



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