Creating the Melancholic Tone in “The Raven” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” representing Poe’s own introverted crisis of hell, is unusually moving and attractive to the reader. In his essay entitled “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe reveals his purpose in writing “The Raven” and also describes the work of composing the poem as being carefully calculated in all aspects. Of all melancholy topics, Poe wished to use the one that was universally understood, death; specifically death involving a beautiful woman.
The apparent tone in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” seemingly represents a very painful condition of mind, an intellect sensitive to madness and the abyss of melancholy brought upon by the death of a beloved lady. The parallelism of Poe’s own personal problems, with those of the narrator in “The Raven,” his calculated use of symbolism, and the articulation of language through the use of the raven’s refrain, the reader becomes aware of Poe’s prominent tone of melancholy. A strong device for the melancholic tone in “The Raven” is Poe’s use of the first person. Poe used the first person by virtue of the situations in “The Raven” taking direct influence from Poe’s life experiences. Among many other misfortunes, including living a life of poverty and being orphaned at a young age, Poe’s beloved wife Virginnia, died after a long illness.
The narrator’s sorrow for the lost Lenore is paralleled with Poe’s own grief regarding the death of his wife. Confined in the chamber are memories of her who had frequented it. These ghostly recollections cultivate an enormous motive in the reader to know and be relieved of the bewilderment that plagues the narrator and consequently Poe himself; the narrator ponders whether he will see his wife in the afterlife. After Virginnia’s lingering death, Poe tried to relieve his grief by drinking. A parallelism is formed in “The Raven” between the condescending actions of the raven towards the narrator and the taunting of alcohol towards Poe. The raven condescends that Poe will never see his lost love again when uttering “forget this lost Lenore” (83). Alcohol taunts Poe into ceaseless depression and caused Poe to have a life-long problem with alcoholism, which eventually led to his death. In a similar manner to which the alcohol explored Poe’s inner devastation, the raven delves into exploration of the narrator’s innermost fears that he will never see his Lenore again. Lenore, a source for conjuring up the imaginative domain in the persona, is a compulsion that excites the narrator’s mind into mundane questioning. In the first stanza, questioning from what direction the “tapping” came, he throws open the door, the narrators’ nemesis not to be found. Some other realm must be explored if he is to ascertain something about his lost love and the noise which is driving him insane. The narrator then opens the shutter, opening his soul to the outside world. To his surprise, he discovers a raven, a “beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door” (53). The raven directs all further action in the poem, it ridicules and patronizes the narrator throughout the composition and its evil force permeates the air and induces suffering and anguish within the character.
Emotions culminate with the attainment of a climax as the narrator faces his confused and disordered world. The narrator, in his madness, shrieks, “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!” (98). Poe’s calculated use of symbolism was influential in establishing the literary reputation of “The Raven”. The raven is established as a symbol for the narrator’s mournful and ceaseless remembrance of his lost love. The raven is of significant importance to the melancholic theme because it is often seen as being a harbinger of death. Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas, the Goddess of Wisdom. This use is symbolic as it leads the narrator to believe that the raven speaks from wisdom. When Poe writes, “…distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December…”, he is illustrating a less obvious (7). Both midnight and December symbolize closure, as midnight is the last hour of the day and December is the last month of the year. “Midnight” and “December” also represent the anticipation of something new, a change to happen. Symbolism can also be seen in the examination of the chamber. The chamber in which the narrator is positioned is used to signify the loneliness of the man, and the sorrow he feels from the loss of Lenore. The room is richly furnished, and reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem. The tempest outside is used to accentuate the isolation of the man, to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night. The articulation of language through the use of the raven and its refrain is also utilized to produce the melancholic tone in “The Raven.” In the poem it is important that the answers to the questions are already known, to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator endures.
Repetition of “Nevermore” impedes the speaker’s mindfulness in all actions, and baffles him into a victimized state of mind. The raven’s utterance of language, especially the sole phrase in the refrain is crucial, for the exchange of conversation would not advance without the persona having something to respond to. The poem has a series of consecutive stanzas ending with the line “Quoth the Raven Nevermore”, which serves to establish the unchangeable supremacy of the raven, and founds the melancholic condition of the man. Articulation of “Nevermore” also emphasizes the features of the word itself, specifically its meaning. Through focusing on the raven and its raspy “Nevermore”, an effect is developed that highlights a gloomy and depressed state of mind. A refrain is used throughout Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” to underscore the developing tone of melancholy.
The refrain accomplishes this accentuation through its creation of an awareness of the inevitable; realizing that the raven’s response to any questions posed will be “Nevermore,” the character inquires about his lost love, the “rare amd radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,” perhaps purposefully to experience further torture and anguish (95). Through “The Raven,” Poe makes a personal, introverted hell strangely mesmerizing and tasteful to all. The Gothic tone of “The Raven,” as explained by Poe in his essay entitled “The Philosophy of Composition,” has greatly influenced my own and presumably other readers understanding of literature with regards to probing of the realms of madness and melancholy. Poe’s haunting linguistic descriptions, unnerving parallelism between his life and the poem, and alarming yet purposeful exploration of symbolism and situation, draws the reader into spheres of insanity which at once explores the soul and pleases the reader.