Perhaps any short poem in the history of the western world has reached such fame as Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, first published in 1845. Many works of art are subsidiary of this piece of literature. Cites from it appear in many songs, and its verses are paraphrased in a number of literary works. Cinema has also explicitly borrowed parts of its stanzas and, recently, possibly the most famous cartoon all over the world, The Simpsons, dedicated one chapter to The Raven, in which a mournful Homer weeps his absent Lenore/Marge; that is, the eternal tragedy of love and absence.
Poe’s poem is, basically, a love story: a man misses his loved lady (Lenore) by death. He cannot face up to the fact that she would never be again with him. Then, a bleak December night while longing for Lenore, a strange raven appears at his window. It comes into his chamber and a sort of dialogue between the beast and the narrator takes place. He asks the bird for its name and the answer is “Nevermore”. In fact, this is the only word the raven can say. Then the narrator wants to know who sent it there and why; if it is a good or a bad soul; if he –the narrator– could see Lenore again after death, and some other things. The bird only answers “Nevermore.” At the end, he begs the raven to leave him alone, and the birth again replies “Nevermore” while decides to stay in there, in the narrator’s chamber for ever, with eyes “of a demon that is dreaming.” Finally, the narrator reveals that his soul will be staying by the raven’s shadow on the floor to be not lifted… nevermore. This is, in essence, all that must be known about the plot.
What way can this poem be interpreted? What does the raven represent? What is the meaning of the tragic ending? Certainly, there must be as many interpretations as interpreters there exist because, actually, nothing is clearly said; everything is barely suggested. Maybe it is a dream, maybe not, for example. And this issue is, for sure, one merit of the poem: the fact that you can interpret it the way you like most. Another merit has to do with the use of language throughout its eighteen stanzas, such as the use of alliteration and assonance in many of the verses; simultaneously, the eighth syllable of each line rhymes with the last one, and these last ones rhyme, in each second, fourth, fifth and the short sixth verse with the word “Lenore”. These linked devices contribute to build connection and provide a sound effect.
This is the merit of the piece? No doubt it constitutes a high merit. But regarding to these kind of devices (metric and rhyme while telling something interesting) we cannot help evoke José Hernández and his Martín Fierro and La Vuelta de Martín Fierro, first published in 1872 and 1879, respectively. Both works total 7.210 verses of eight syllables each, divided mostly in stanzas of six verses, having all these stanzas a rhyme structure of A, B, B, C, C, B (or A, B, B, C, B, C in some few cases). Moreover, it must be taken in mind that the whole of Hernandez’ work has a “consonant” system of rhyming, which in Spanish language means to rhyme every letter since the first vowel till the end of the last syllable of the word.
Whatever it be, perhaps the big merit of The Raven is that it concerns a love story. The absence of a beloved one is a topic which was, is and will be present in most people’s lives. This fact, plus good wording devices linked to a magic atmosphere and a surrealistic ending is certainly what has made of this Poe´s work a so famous one.