Among the most melancholic works of the renowned and highly regarded English author and poet, Edgar Alan Poe, The Raven is a poem laden with sorrow, grief and misery. The use of the bird in itself is quite telling of the theme of the poem as ravens, ordinarily, are viewed as the harbingers of bad luck, misery and suffering. That Poe chooses to title his poem after this bird tells a lot about the general content and tone of the background story that informed the poem. In this essay, the focus shall be on the use of the bird as a metaphor, specifically a metaphor for grief in the poem The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe.
The Bird as a Metaphor
Laden with metaphors, in The Raven, author Alan Poe choses to rely mostly on the use of the raven; a bird that is considered among the less joyful ones. By its very appearance, the raven is considered a bad omen, a sort of precursor to bad tidings with its black coat of feathers which make it appear like part of the black night that it came out of. The bird itself is both scary and hard to read; making it a perfect metaphor for something deeper, in a less than pleasant kind of way. The raven that appears everywhere in the poem forms a good metaphor for whatever overarching concern that the poet wished to convey to the audience. With the sleeping demon eyes that burned the soul of the author, it is clear that the raven, through the author’s conveyance in the poem, represents more than just a bird. Giving the bird human qualities, the poet notes that the bird casts a shadow over the whole room, portraying a sense of entitlement of the bird. Further, through the presentation of the bird as possessing the ability to talk, the poet bestows upon it a supernatural trait that its kinds do not possess. The raven can also be seen as a representation of the fatigue of the poet, noting that the bird appeared to him in the midnight dreary, while he pondered, weak and weary. In the poem, the author also uses the bird as a metaphor for his melancholy which is further enhanced in the poem by the author’s note that “…each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor…”
Grief as Seen through the Bird
Throughout the poem, one cannot help but realize that the raven has been used as a metaphor for grief. For one, the raven comes into the picture just at the precise moment when the persona (Poe) was sitting (half reading, half asleep) trying to forget his lost love, Lenore. Clearly, in this instance, the bird is used a sign of grief, to depict the author’s reigning state of mind and emotion. The use of the bird’s name in the refrain also goes to depict its ever present state, just like the emotion of grief. The ubiquity of the raven in the poem serves to enhance the parallels that can be drawn with the emotion of grief which never really seems to go away.
Poe, in lines 38 through to 40, mentions that the bird carried itself with a stately manner with the mien of a lord/lady. Essentially, this goes to indicate the fact that the bird, just like grief, needed no invitation to appear in the poet’s life, and that it has to be recognized (just like lords or ladies in the old times of kings and queens and royalty). The entrance of the bird into the scene, just shortly past midnight, in the dark of the night, also goes to enhance the narrative that the bird is a harbinger of bad tidings for the author as it only comes at the darkest hour of the night (represented through the narrative of midnight). As at the time of the raven’s entrance into the fore, “…arriving in the night, with the silence still unbroken, and the stillness that has yet to give no token..,” the author had been preoccupied with the sorrow of thinking about Lenore, her lost love. In this manner, the use of the bird serves to indicate the grief that the raven represents to the author.
Much to the chagrin of the author, the bird says nothing but “nevermore,” a phrase that may mean something to the author or may be some sort of prophecy. This phrase alone seems to depict a sense of sorrow and grief, assuming that the author does not fully comprehend what it means. The poet also notes that “…all his soul within him was burning, when the tapping on the door occurred, having moved from the door to the window…” Evidently, the burning soul represents the grief that the author was facing while the shifting of the rapping from the door to the window (done by the raven) indicates the grief that gripped the author in the night, moving from one specific point of his psyche and awareness to another. This scenario however seems to be in contradiction with that in which the poet mentions that the raven was perched, and sat, nothing more, not moving even slightly; a possible portrayal of grief that has found a home in the author’s mind, and maybe soul due to the loss of his ever so loved lady Lenore.
Noting that the bird just perched there on his door, uttering nothing further and ruffling not a feather, the poet tries to convince himself that the bird will leave, as other friends (and his hopes) have flown away before, in testament to the grief; to which the bird only responds “Nevermore” Offering the greatest clue yet as to the relation of the bird to grief, the author claims that the utterance of the bird must be its only stock and store which it may have caught from some unhappy master who met some sort of unmerciful disaster and could only manage to sing the dirge “Nevermore” In continuation of the clear depiction of the raven as a bird of grief, the author points out that he tried to understand what the “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore meant in croaking “Nevermore.”…” Just like grief, which is never understood or relevant to the bearer, the author makes note of the fact that he listened to the bird’s discourse and that “…its answer little meaning–little relevancy bore…” In that phrase, he seems to be confirming the mocking of the bird and the grief that it represents for him.
For Edgar Alan Poe, the poem, with a melancholic tone and an overriding theme of sadness, the raven seems to represent nothing more than grief that creeps upon him in the dark of the night and refuses to go away, only mocking him through the shift of its rapping and knocking from the door to the window. Clearly, the bird is a metaphor for grief in the poet’s work.