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Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” creates the image of lonely, disconsolate gentleman sitting alone in his well-apportioned study. It is a cold, damp winter night (“Once upon a midnight dreary”; “. . . it was in the bleak December”). The gentleman in question, the narrator, laments the end of a romantic relationship with “the lost Lenore” while trying to lose himself in his books (“a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”). Sitting in his study, endless shelves of books adorning the walls and decorated with a bust of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom from Greek mythology, the narrator describes a scene both cozy and discomfiting, into which wanders a large black raven. As the raven perches atop the aforementioned bust, the narrator tries in vain to contemplate the meaning of the bird’s arrival and its refusal to utter any words other than “Nevermore.”
The scene as described by Poe through his narrator is clear: A recently jilted lover pining over his misfortune and hoping against hope that the mysterious knock on his door symbols the return of Lenore. Convinced that the bird is connected to his emotional travails, he laments aloud,
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe [one of the leading anti-depressants of ancient Greece] from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, of quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!
Quote the raven, “Nevermore.”
Poe’s narrator is tormented by the introduction of the raven into his study. The description of a cold, dreary winter night has established the atmosphere and the poem’s opening stanza suggests a certain tranquility, albeit tinged with sadness, rudely interrupted.
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