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The Power of The Raven

The Power of The Raven

What is the secret to the power of “The Raven”? The question may be unanswerable, but at least four key elements contribute to the poem’s strange authority –compelling narrative structure, darkly evocative atmosphere, hypnotic verbal music, and archetypal symbolism. Although none of these elements was original to “The Raven,” their masterful combination created a strikingly original and singularly arresting poem.

The key to understanding “The Raven” is to read it as a narrative poem. It is a narrative of haunting lyricality, to be sure, but its central impulse is to tell a memorable story. The hypnotic swing of the trochaic meter, the insistent chime of the internal rhymes, and its unforgettable refrain of “Nevermore” provide each stanza with a song-like intensity, but the poem’s structure remains undeviatingly narrative. Stanza by stanza, “The Raven” moves sequentially through the situation it describes. Any reader familiar with short stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Fall of the House of Usher” will recognize Poe’s innovative narrative method. By imbuing a simple, linear story with brooding atmosphere of intricately arranged details, Poe perfected a style that allowed every moment to reinforce the tale’s ultimate effect.

The time and setting of “The Raven” are as much a part of the story as the actions that take place. (In Poe’s work the physical setting often reflects the inner personality or emotion of the central character.) The poem begins at midnight in December–the last moment of a spent day in the final month of the year. Internally and externally, it is a time of death and decay. Even the “dying” fireplace embers reflect the moribund atmosphere. The setting is contained an…

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…struggling against his fate, neither does he try to escape it. He steadfastly faces his tormentor, a demonic emblem (to quote Poe’s own italicized description from “The Philosophy of Composition”) of “Mournful and Neverending Remembrance.” Trapped and doomed, the protagonist nonetheless articulates what it is like to endure the limits of psychological suffering. Whether Poe himself fully shared those agonies we cannot say, but however rational the composition of “The Raven” truly was, the well-springs of human pain and loss feeding it were vastly deep and authentic. As Walt Whitman wrote of his own work, “Who touches this touches a man.” Few poems have touched so many readers so deeply as “The Raven.”

Works Cited:

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The American Tradition in Literature. Eds.

George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.

Writing Against Death in The Floating Opera

Writing Against Death in The Floating Opera

In the opening chapter of The Floating Opera, Todd Andrews makes an observation that storytelling is not his cup of tea, because digressions are impossible to contain, and that makes it hard for him to concentrate on a particular line of narration; every image he creates breeds other images, words bring about other words, there being no end to “new figures and new chases” (Barth 2). This remark suggests that Todd’s existence is, indeed, confined to the reality he forges by telling his tale; this fictitious reality regenerates itself. The tone of the passage also implies that Todd enjoys not a little the unprecedented freedom this realm allows to digress at will, chasing the figures and implications of his sentences to their dens; this image reminds of modern day hypertext.

The relationship between Todd’s fiction and reality is as problematic as is the authenticity of events of his Floating Opera. Charles Harris points out that the novel is largely lies posing as autobiography (44): e.g., referring to the chronology of the writing of his novel, Todd Andrews mentions having spent three years reading books on medicine, boatbuilding, philosophy, minstrelsy, marine biology, jurisprudence, pharmacology, Maryland history, and the chemistry of gases in order to make sure he understood what happened. But if we look closer we will find out that these are exactly the books the narrator would have to read to actually compose the story, not understand it. An objection, of course, could be raised that extensive reading is quite consistent with the character’s thoroughness. But Todd Andrews, “perhaps the best lawyer on the Eastern Shore,” as he claims to be later in the novel, would…

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…h’s avant-guardiste Schecherazade, escapes death.

Works cited:

Barth, John. The Floating Opera. Garden City, NY: Doubleway

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