Saturday, April 12, 2008

As my friend and fellow Vixen Maggie Robinson has already discussed this week on her blog, April is National Poetry Month. And so I felt inspired to share with you my favourite poem.

It won’t be everyone’s favourite, for it is way too popular and overused for the critics and literary minds of our day. I doubt there’s a school-age child over the age of seven who isn’t already familiar with its rhythm and cadence as repeated in the pinched and nasal tones of Bart Simpson as he echoes “nevermore” to a growingly tormented Homer.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.’

Whether for good or ill, with its first publication in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe created with The Raven one of the most famous American poems ever written. I think that he would have been quite happy with Bart Simpson’s rendition, and the many other interpretations of his poem over the years, because it was important to him that it be universally appreciable to all—the public and critics alike.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

In the beginning of this dreary evening, this poor guy mourns the death of his beloved Lenore, but he doesn’t really understand death. As the poem progresses though, he starts to question both life and death. The appearance of the ugly bird reflects his inner self trying to reason out his grief, and the raven’s non-answers come from his own subconscious mind. The raven itself was used by Poe probably because of its reputation. For example, in the bible the raven was considered to be an omen of ill fortune, and in Norse mythology, Odin possessed two ravens named Hugin and Munin, representing thought and memory.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

By miscellaneous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love poetry, but sometimes I’ll read something and it’s more of a chore than a joy to experience. I’m as much for symbolism as the next person, but the lengths that some poets can go to couch their prose in hidden innuendo and barely discernable meaning can be more annoying than engaging. Poe himself wrote an essay on the creation of The Raven, entitled “The Philosophy of Composition”, where he likens its composition to a mathematical problem. It starts with a question, begins with ignorance and then develops, revealing answers through discussion and inquiry until the truth can be revealed—whether or not you can accept it.

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is for me, a most beautiful poem, based on the tragedy of sorrow which comes on the death of love. It embodies the basic dichotomy of death—the desire to forget versus the desire to remember. Of course, there’s more to it than that. The Raven raises questions about the nature of reality compared to our flawed perceptions of it, and is about the evolution of self-knowledge. It is about the relationship that exists—however morbid it may sound—between death and beauty. Poe chose the one topic that was universally understood. Death.

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Poe builds the tension up higher and higher, but after the climaxing stanza he tears the whole thing back down, letting us know there is no meaning, no moral in the raven’s “nevermore”. It is just the natural, common drive of the human mind toward understanding what is not given to us to understand.

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

So do you find yourself being drawn to poetry or not? How do you feel about Poe's The Raven? What is your favourite poem and why does it call to you?


Maggie Robinson said...

LOL, J.K., could we have used Poe as a Historically Accurate Hottie on Vauxhall Vixens? He sure was intense enough. I've read several Poe biographies...what a life. EAP is one of the most frequently checked-out poets in my high school library, so I think his words resonate through the ages. There is something very driven about the Raven---you can't help but be sucked in. Thanks for the plug, and Happy Poetry Month!

J.K. Coi said...

Maggie, I goes he does do that whole brooding poet thing the best, doesn't he?

Tiffany Kenzie said...

My husband even likes Poe, and my husband doesn't read anything unless it's an instructional manual. lol!

My favourite poem.... hmmmm... I don't have a fav poem, well I have many, but I don't recall what they are called by title... just fav poets.

Kelly Krysten said...

I'm not too big on poetry. I do like Tennyson and Shakespeare though. The Raven is one of my favorites also. But I couldn't write poetry to save my soul.
Oh, and, Happy Poetry Month to Maggie and everyone else!lol.

Maria Zannini said...

I don't write poetry, nor do I read it on a regular basis, but I cherish it for what it's taught me as a novelist.

There is something very pure about poetry that you won't find in other literary work. It taught me rhythm, brevity and writing with emotion.

J.K. Coi said...

Thanks for coming by everyone. I'll check in again later.

Amy Ruttan said...

That's my favorite! :D

J.K. Coi said...

LOL, Amy. See everyone knows the Raven!