Some people face more obstacles in their life than others. Edgar Allan Poe was a writer, who without a doubt had many obstacles to face. He was an essayist who was probably best known for being associated with the Romantic Movement. Poe was one of the few poets that converted the trials he faced in his life to the powerful words as "symbols" he put on paper. Many of the problems encountered in Poe's personal life can be correlated with the unwanted raven guest in poem of the same name. Some of the trials in Poe's life are symbolized in "The Raven" such as scholarly and career failure, alcoholism, and death. In Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven," the central image of the raven becomes symbolic of Poe's emotional and psychological trials and tribulations.
To achieve an understanding of Edgar Allan Poe's works of literature and poetry, one must first understand a bit about his life. Edgar Poe was born in Boston on January 19th 1809 to David and Elizabeth, both actors. (poemuseum.org) In August 1811, David abandoned his family which included Elizabeth, Leonard, Edgar and Rosalie. (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Later that same year, Elizabeth died at the age of 24 to tuberculosis; Edgar was only two years old. (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Unfortunately, the children were split into different foster homes. Edgar went to live with John and Frances Allan, but was never officially adopted by them. (poemuseum.org) Edgar fell in love with a girl who lived down the street from the Allan's named Elmira Royster. (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Her father opposed the marriage because Edgar had not completed his education and had no money of his own. (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Edgar attended various colleges, but had trouble paying for his tuition and received only limited financial help from the Allan's. Poe eventually found himself living in Baltimore with his Aunt Clemm. In 1836 Poe married his own cousin, Virginia Clemm who was only thirteen. (poemuseum.org) In 1845, Poe published "The Raven." By this time, Virginia had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. The following events happened after Edgar Allan Poe published "The Raven," but show how a tragic life only became more tragic. Virginia died in January of 1847. (poemuseum.org) The last few days of Poe's life are a mystery as is how he came to be in such poor health when he died. Poe's last words were allegedly "Lord Help my poor soul." These are more than fitting words to describe the end of a very tragic life for one of the most celebrated horror writer's of America's history. Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore following mysterious circumstances on October 7th 1849 at the age of 49 and was buried in a pauper's grave. (poemuseum.org) On October 11th 2009, Baltimore, Maryland celebrated the life and death of one of its own writers, Edgar Allan Poe.
At the time "The Raven" was published, Virginia had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. In the 1800's this diagnosis was a death sentence. Poe himself knew how soon Virginia's life would end. "The Raven'[s]" theme of death could easily be reflected in his own life with the death of his mother and the imminent death of his wife. "Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor." (Poe lines 7-8) The poem is set in December, which is notorious for an increase in morbidity and mortality. (CDC) At the time the poem was written December was a month associated with darkness. (Wikipedia.org) Edgar Allan Poe's mother Elizabeth died on December 8th 1811.
The narrator of the poem could easily be Poe himself. The narrator is believed to be a scholar based partially on Line 2 "Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore." Once the raven appears to the narrator, the raven decides to "Perch upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber doorPerched, and sat, and nothing more." (Poe lines 41-42) Pallas is a reference to Athena goddess of Wisdom. (Wikipedia.org) In Greek mythology Athena slays the giant Pallas, which is the son of Uranus, because he apparently tried to rape or violate her. ("Athena Gigantomachy." Krannert Art MuseumUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Krannert Art MuseumUniversity of Illin, Web. 9 Oct 2009.
The narrator progresses through many stages in the poem. The narrator starts out "weak and weary" (Poe line 1) and this may refer to Poe himself. While taking care of himself, Aunt Clemm, and Virginia while making very little money, Poe could very easily be weak and weary. The narrator progresses to "sorrow for the lost Lenore" (Poe line 10). This could be Poe's lost of childhood, loss of parents and then foster parents, loss of his first love and the impending loss of Virginia. Soon comes the first sounds of something at the narrator's chamber door. The narrator "stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming" (Poe lines 25-26) Poe himself had to be having these same emotions in the face of the life he was living. "dreaming, dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before" (Poe line 26) could be Poe's hope that something beyond him or his power would save the situation he was in, almost destitute with a dying wife. In the end of the poem, the narrator has been driven to madness by the raven. "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be liftednevermore." (Poe lines 107-108) This may be because the narrator keeps asking the raven questions knowing that there is only one answer "Nevermore" (Poe line 102). As the narrator progresses through all these phases, the reader fears that Poe is going through these same changes himself. The poem seems to be reflective of Poe's eternal passion and eternal pain. (Gutenberg.org) Though Poe's death occurred four years after the publication of "The Raven," there are many theories as to what caused his death. These theories include dipsomania which is an uncontrollable urge for alcohol (Wikipeida.org), epilepsy, and delirium tremens which is shaking madness. (poemuseum.org) In the last stanza the ravens shadow is used as a symbol for Poe's desperation, sadness and possible depression. The raven's shadow is holding the narrator prisoner in his own house and in his own mind. The narrator does not see how he will ever by happy again. The last stanza probably can give a reader clues as to where Poe was mentally in his life when he wrote the poem and where he might by going mentally. "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall by liftednevermore!" (Poe lines 107-108). The shadow on the floor is Poe in his anguish and pain regarding the impending death of Virginia. Poe might very well have seen his life at an end. What makes the poem even more resounding is that didactic poem, meaning its sole purpose was to not entertain, but to leave a message. (Wikipedia.org) Was Poe trying to give a message to his readers about his state of mind and a need for help?
The raven itself is an amazing symbol in the poem. Poe had originally intended to use a parrot, but decided on a raven after reading a Charles Dickens work. (Wikipedia.org) The raven is believed to be a devil bird or the devil's messenger. In most historical accounts, the raven was originally white, but after delivering bad news to the recipient, it was cursed to be black and eat from dead carcasses for eternity. This can be seen in two stories. The first is Noah sends a white raven to see if the flood waters have receded. The raven returns long after it has discovered the answer and is cursed for taking too long. (Wikipedia.org) In mythology, Apollo received a message that one of his lovers is cheating and he curses the raven for bringing him bad news. (Wikipeida.org) Poe, as the narrator, feels that he had been brought bad news as well, the diagnosis that his wife has tuberculosis, an incurable disease in the 1800s. The narrator then asks for comfort from the raven by asking if "Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the Angels name Lenore" (Poe lines 93-94). The only answer the raven can provide is "Nevermore" (Poe line 96). This answer causes madness in the narrator who "shrieked, upstarting"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!"" (Poe lines 97-98) The speaker at that point questions the birds intent and why is he there. In Greek mythology, Hades is another word for Pluto, which is also another word for hell. (James Hall, K. (. (2007). Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. Westview Press.) Here the raven is believed to be Pluto, or Hades, messenger. This translated to the devil's messenger in Christian literature. So this truly gives a great example on how Poe is questioning what will become of his life through the poem, for it still remains a mystery of how he died four years after publishing "The Raven."
Poe was known to be a heavy drinker whose imbibing increased after the death of Virginia. While the poem "The Raven" happens before Virginia's death, there are several references to alcohol in the poem that was also the bane of Poe's private life. As the narrator is moved to madness by the presence of the raven, the narrator shrieks "thy God hath lent thee-by these angels he hath sent thee Respiterespite and nepenthe, from the memories of Lenore!" (Poe lines 81-82) Nepenthe is a drug referred to in Homer's Odyssey that could cause forgetfulness. (Wikipedia.org) The narrator fears that the raven has been sent by the devil to ply him with spirits and steal his memoires of his lost love Lenore. Poe was only two years old when his mother died of tuberculosis, so therefore any memories of her would be easily stolen. Poe left Boston with only a miniature painting of his mother. (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Next the narrator speaks of "desert land enchantedOn this home by Horror hauntedtell me truly, I imploreIs thereis there balm in Gilead?tell metell me, I implore!" (Poe lines 87-89) The Balm of Gilead is a reference to the Bible's Book of Jeremiah and is a resin used for medicinal purposes. (Wikipedia.org) As the house where the death occurred, it is a desert land, a horror haunted and the narrator seems to want to use anything to take away the pain. Poe often used alcohol has his medicinal way of taking away the pain. Poe was deeply in debt with Charlottesville merchants for basic needs such as firewood and books (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 19. Print.). Trouble with alcohol can also be associated with troubles with money. Poe had struggles with both demons. In his struggles he was always gambling to try and get money which actually put him deeper into debt and deeper in the darkness. Poe was quite the drinker, near the end of life, and after Virginia's death, Poe would drink just to get drunk, hoping to enter a kind of dark oblivion (Lange, Karen. Nevermore A Photobiography of Edgar Allan Poe. National Geographic, 2009. Page 29. Print.) Poe kept moving closer and closer to the dark forces that can be seen in "The Raven." He moves away from the Heavenly side with the Garden of Eden and the Angels and more towards the "Plutonian Shore" (Poe line 47)
Edgar Allan Poe's life was filled many trials, tribulations and hardships including the loss of his family, his wife, and maybe his own mind. Most of his life seems to have been lived in "a midnight dreary" (Poe line 1). I honestly think Mr. Poe was born in the wrong time frame on earth. I believe his life would be so different if he were born in the renaissance in the time frame of Michaelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci when poetry as art form was respected much more highly. I believe his life would not have been so hard. But this begs the question would his works have been as well acclaimed? Poe's life is what influenced his works, without that same life experience could he have written these masterpieces at all? His lack of job skills in the time frame he was born him made him obsolete and the need for poetry was not there at all. But would we be able to enjoy his works, such as "The Raven" if he would have been born in that time period or would he even have written it at all?