The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
“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.”
In this painting, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s famously gloomy narrative poem “The Raven” (1845), we see a striking resemblance to the artist himself in the role of Poe’s protagonist.
Poe’s story begins, on a bleak December evening with a young student attempting to bury his sorrows in the pages of an old book after the death of his girlfriend, Lenore. As he begins to nod off, he is startled awake by a late night tapping at his chamber door. Believing it to be a visitor and nothing more who has awaked him, he goes to the door but finds no one.
Troubled by the silence and once again longing for his lost Lenore, he whispers her name into the shadows only to be answered by the echo of his voice. This puzzling occurrence makes him increasingly fearful, but he tells himself it is probably the wind and nothing more.
As he returns to his chamber, he hears yet another tap, this time at the window, and louder than before.
With his heart racing, he runs to the window, opens the shutters, and watches as an ebony bird with a grave and stern demeanor flies in and perches above his chamber door.
“Tell me what thy lordly name is?” The student asks.
“NEVERMORE,” the bird responds.
“ No, really, what’s your name?
“NEVERMORE,” the bird says again.
“Will I meet Lenore in Paradise?”
” All right then, when will you be leaving?”
“ I mean how long will your shadow be thrown upon the floor?”
“NEVERMORE, NEVERMORE, NEVERMORE!”
Poe himself said the raven was meant to symbolize “mournful and never-ending remembrance.” Still, when you’re feeling downhearted and looking for an intelligent response to life’s questions, you might do better than to ask a bird.
Some time ago in Greek mythology, Athenians Icarus and his clever father Daedalus were imprisoned by the mean King Minos on the island of Crete.
Minos had commissioned Daedalus who was a skilled inventor, puzzle-solver, and master craftsman, to build a labyrinth to house his Minotaur. The Minotaur was a mythical monster who was kept alive to feed upon the king’s enemies.
Without going into it here, let’s just say Daedalus betrayed the King by conspiring to have one of those enemies escape. Naturally that upset the king, and Daedalus and his son too, were incarcerated.
Frightened by the Kings wrath and not wishing to remain imprisoned, Daedalus devised an ingenious plan to get himself and his son off the island.
With a little bit of wax and a few hundred discarded gull feathers, he fashioned for Icarus and himself some wings as an imaginative mode of transportation. Before undertaking their escape, Daedalus expounded a piece of cautionary advice to his teenage son:
“Alright Icarus, I know you’re not going to like hearing this, but when we take flight, whatever you do, don’t have fun. That means no flying too close to the sun with your waxy wings, or flying too close to the sea where they might get soggy. Are you listening? Icarus? It’s really important that you pay attention here because bad things can happen if….”
Unfortunately, for Icarus, he was not listening and bad things did happen. After strapping on his wings and jumping out the window, he did just what his father asked him not to do: he had fun.
He had fun flapping his feathers over the sea, and fun flying as high, and as close to the sun as he could. He had fun, fun, and more fun until he realized the wax on his wings had melted, his feathers had fallen, and he was plunging to his death in the cool blue water.
What a lesson!
What a fun way to go!
What a way to have the Icarian sea named after you!
In Christian mythology, God has a scroll. A certain “lamb” opens the scroll, which contains seven symbolic seals. Upon opening each seal, the lamb releases the wrath of God in the form of four symbolically attired beasts who arrive atop four symbolically colored horses. The myth is an instructive affair foretelling the Last Judgment by way of an apocalypse (Greek for “lifting the veil” on something hidden from the rest of mankind).
The first horse is white, and his rider holds a bow and wears a victor’s crown. He is associated with, among other things, military conquest.
The second horse is fiery red, his rider holds a large sword and he’s all about violence and war.
The third horse is black, and his rider holds a pair of scales which represents the way bread would have been weighed back in the day and he symbolizes famine.
The fourth and final horse is pale green. His rider isn’t carrying anything, but he’s followed by Hades and is named “Death”.
In this legend, these nasty creatures in their symbolic form foretell the havoc that is to be wrecked upon mankind. While it has been the daunting task of Christian scholars to speculate and debate their return, we may consider ourselves lucky that these galloping meanies have chosen an antiquated, and relatively slow mode of transportation.
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