Monday, January 13, 2014

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven

By Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Rediscovering the Dark Splendor of Gustave Doré with Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré (all images via the Library of Congress)
An image from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” illustrated by Gustave Doré (all public domain images via the Library of Congress)
Next month the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is opening Gustave Doré (1832-1883): The Power of the Imagination, and it’s likely there will be a renewed focus on the dark romanticism of the 19th-century French artist. However, Gustave Doré’s illustrations have hardly disappeared, remaining popular interpretations of classics ranging from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Little Red Riding HoodBut some of his most haunting work was with Edgar Allan Poe.
The cover of Dore's illustrated editor of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"
The cover of Doré’s illustrated editor of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Completed in 1883, the 26 plates Doré illustrated for Poe’s poem “The Raven” were actually not published until after his death on January 23 of that year. Doré had been illustrating since he was 15-years-old, and while he also worked with painting and watercolors, he was most prolific with books. At one point, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists, he was so productive that he was employing 40 wood engravers at once to translate his images into printable works. From his otherworldly landscapes for the world of King Arthur in the Idylls of the King, to the unsettling vistas of hell for Dante’s Inferno, to vivid visions for the Bible, each illustration had a sharp detail to it that was ecstatic and fantastic while rooted very much in the real.

Yet his work for Poe is a little different. There’s still that density of imagery and the roaming shadows, but it’s more somber than other works. According to Fantasy and Faith: The Art of Gustave Doré by Eric Zafran, Edmund C. Stedman wrote in the introduction to the edition that ”Doré proffers a series of variations upon the theme as he conceived it: ‘the enigma of death and the hallucinations of an inconsolable soul … ’ Plainly there was something in common between the working moods of Poe and Doré. Both resorted often to the elf-land of fantasy and romance.”

Below are some of the illustrations from “The Raven” from the 1884 edition published by Harper & Brothers, where skeletons lurk around poor Lenore and the shadow of the raven grows until it consumes the tortured narrator. You can view the whole book at the Library of Congress which has digitized the work, as brought to our attention by Boing Boing.

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" illustrated by Gustave Doré
Gustave Doré (1832-1883): The Power of Imagination will be at the Musée d’Orsay (1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Paris) from February 18 to May 11.