Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven is fraught with themes of the tortured soul, the deranged mind and representations of mourning and melancholy that are brought upon by the death of his beloved lady, becoming one of the greatest poems of the Dark Romanticism. In the 19th century Romanticism not only cantered its idea on nature but drew attention to the human nature as well. The movement made man’s association with nature one of the most important aspects, Romantics incorporating the duality of nature in their works. The duality of nature not only allowed the ordinary perceivable nature to be greatly admired, but allowed writers to conceive poems based on psychological implications and development. While Romanticism glorifies the grandeur of nature and human intentions, Dark Romanticism tends to be preoccupied with complex emotions as those dominant in The Raven: fear, melancholy, mourning, grief and their highly variable appearances. Thus Dark Romanticism explores “the darker side of awareness… guilt, fear and madness… the uncomfortable sense of being in a fantasy world which is about to reveal secrets of the human personality” (Howells 5).
The narrative poem tells of an unnamed narrator on a dreary night in “the bleak December” (Poe 2) who sits reading by the dying fire as a way to overcome his beloved Lenore’s death. The setting introduces the despairing and lonely tone of the poem; one can nearly feel the bleakness and misery caused by loss the narrator is completely sunk in with barely a fire left to light up the darkness around him. Another element that represents the quintessence of Dark Romanticism is the usage of rather simple natural subjects, captured in the poem both in the raven that is a rather ordinary bird, and in the themes of loss and melancholy the poem explores. The seemingly prophetic bird knocks at the narrator’s chamber twice and he is mesmerized by his presence as the bird is inquiring about his lost lover. The anguish and melancholy cause the narrator to feel tormented by his lost love, Lenore, of whom she now thinks has come back in the form of a raven. Among the characteristics of Romanticism there can be identified a predilection for the remote, the mysterious and the diseased. In The Raven, Lenore is the mysterious; although she is being referred to as “rare and radiant” (Poe 2), there is little to no description regarding her looks, which not only makes her a likely symbol of heaven, but offers the possibility of interpretation: she may represent a better world, idealized love and truth or hope. Thus, the narrator can’t help thinking of her and longing for her as her omnipresent nature haunts the entire narrative.
Throughout the poem the most obvious symbol is the raven that holds dominion over the narrator. When the tormentor continuously taps upon the door the reader is filled with the sense of a disaster about to take place, which, together with the “cushion’s velvet lining” (Poe 5) contrasted with the lamplight, stands as proof of Poe’s love for the mysterious and for the picturesque. The rational order of the world disrupted by the appearance of the raven serves as a symbol of a fate that cannot be escaped, regardless of one’s attempt to reason, sanity or wisdom. However, not only the reader is disturbed by the scene but the narrator as well as he is forced by the terrifying suspense to call to his beloved Lenora thorough the empty and dark halls. As the raven enters the room disturbing the night’s peace at first the narrator feels relieved, but soon after he concludes that he must be a messenger for the afterlife coming to torture him over his lady’s death. Ultimately, he proceeds into asking questions that either remain unanswered, or don’t receive the answer he had hoped for, and he is left whispering the name of the one he loves. Aggravated by the bird’s answers to his own thought, the narrator nearly loses his reason and his imagination is slowly straining to breaking points. Thus, the black raven, a talking bird that is all but ordinary and natural, crushing the faint hope of seeing his lover once more by saying “Nevermore” (Poe 4), becomes the symbol of “loneliness, sadness, and the feeling of going insane coupled with a sense of uncertainty even about one’s own self”( Abdel-Rahman 161).
Emphasizing upon imagination as a mean to transcend spiritual truth, he portrays a man tormented by loss who seeks comfort in books. The mourning man in a gothic, grotesque setting, with dim light, wood-burning fireplace, find himself in a room heavy with melancholy. As Poe “takes a keen interest in supernatural aspects and brood upon death and decay of beauty” (Kennedy 36), to him the death of a young lover is rather a wonderful and poetic thing. Moreover, the poetical use of death can be associated with elegance, for the writer the sadness following death being one of the highest manifestations of beauty. For Romantics even death is romantic, a beautiful land where one could escape from the sorrows of reality, but Dark Romantics focus on the ones left behind once someone passes, living in a world where there seems to be nothing else but pain that can deteriorate one’s state of mind. Hence, the poem, viewed from a spiritual level, represents the narrator’s internal battles, struggles to keep possession of his human self. However, at the end, he enters a final stage of mourning that could be considered the acceptance of grief; he acknowledges that he will never be free from his everlasting suffering. More than that, he seems to finally accept the loss of his humanity and succumbs to insanity; the raven succeeds in shattering his hope.
The reader is offered a hauntingly beautiful poem of one man’s descent into madness caused by the loss of a loved one. Poe depicts a painful condition of mind without any struggle as well as the narrator’s struggle to maintain at least parts of his humanity. Through the poem, encompassing numerous Romantic characteristics that are progressively revealed, the writer becomes one of the founders of Romantic writing and The Raven becomes the representation of one man’s soul shattered by mourning and his descent into an abyss of melancholy that “shall be lifted – nevermore” (Poe 12).
Abu-Melhim, Abdel-Rahman, Explicating Poe’s Raven From a Psycho-Linguistic Perspective, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2013, Studies in Literature and Language DOI:10.3968/j.sll.1923156320130703.3016, Accessed 15 December 2020.
Howells, Coral Ann, Love, Mystery, and Misery: Feeling in Gothic Fiction, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, London.
Kennedy, Barbara Ann, The Romanticism of Edgar Allan Poe, Boston University, 1942, Boston;
Poe, Edgar Allan, The Raven and Other Poems, Berkley Publishing, 1990, New York.