"The Raven" Review
Let me start by explaining why the poem is in the Short Story Review section of my website. You could say that I’m lazy and don’t feel like making a poetry sub-section (that, and because I likely won’t ever review another poem). However, the real reason is more analytical. “The Raven” is a narrative poem, and for that reason, it operates under the guidelines of a short story. Anyone who has read “The Raven” knows that it’s more of a concrete story than an abstract poem.
But enough of that; let’s jump into why “The Raven” works.
Poe’s tale deals with an unnamed narrator sitting in his study, distracting himself with outdated literature. As the poem sets up the character, we learn that he has recently lost his love, Lenore. He is haunted by her image, and is trying to cope with a life without love. In effect, “The Raven” is a tale about the complexities of love and loss - the ways in which grief can consume and overtake an individual.
This is the strength of the poem. Rather than focus on the creepy plot of a black raven appearing to an individual at night, the poem is about the internal struggle of misery rooted in loss. Poe expertly weaves the crescendo of grief, as the narrator flip-flops back and forth between hope and despair.
When the raven enters the study, our narrator is thrilled by the comical bird and asks the raven his name. The bird replies, “Nevermore.” The raven says no other word, yet with each passing stanza, “nevermore” takes on new, darker tones and connotations. Most notably, the narrator’s shift from belief in an afterlife (perhaps this raven is a sign from Lenore, after all) to the sentiments that he will never see Lenore again (not even in death) is compelling. This roller coaster of emotion is believable and leads to a dark place for the narrator.
“The Raven” is typically associated with spooky stories and often told around Halloween. While the poem is dark and frightening, it doesn’t rely on the typical conventions of horror to scare us. There is no external force compelling the narrator to his own emotional demise. Rather, the narrator’s inner demons are realized as he willingly surrenders to the feelings of misery and desolation. The story is frightening because we’ve all been there one time or another.
I tried to keep this review a bit vague, hoping that you check this one out. Have a listen above, read by the great James Earl Jones, or read it your on your own here. If you haven’t read this poem yet, you really owe it to yourself.