Poe: Criticism of a Weay Life (Focusing on the Raven)

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Roger Campbell

Oct. 19, 2009

Poe and the criticism of a weary life

While reading the dark, mysterious, and exceptional poem entitled, The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, there are many layers of interest throughout this well known poem. On the outside, after skimming the mere edges of this literary piece, the poem begins with a man at sitting in a chair at home, speaking with an odd placed raven that has come into his residence. The speaker brings to attention the name of Lenore, and this name is repeated over and over again. The poem explains that the raven answering all of the man’s questions with the answer “nevermore.” While many students throughout their years in school, well before college, read this poem, few ever seem to understand the material that it actually consists of, and may even find the poem to be too simple and lacking in sophisticated lyrical ballads, as well as dramatic events, and excitement. This can be a mistake, for as I had delved into the background of Poe, I found that even I was a victim of poor judgment of what I had considered to be one of my favorite poems of all time.

This poem is a perfect example of Poe’s pain he had suffered throughout his life, and even gives the first time reader a basis into some of his other famous works. By analyzing the information I was able to draw from Poe and his life, as well as this poem, I found biographical criticism to be my favorite method over new criticism, and to be very useful in analyzing a literary text.

The two methods that I have used thus far, can both be extremely useful, because as I had explained in my opening paragraph, these types of criticism allows the viewer to take their own ideas into consideration in future viewing of the literature at hand. Both methods allow the reader to gain a whole new perspective and possibly even more enjoyment in the author’s works, instead of looking at them as if they were simply a reading assignment for school, or a plain poem about a man speaking about his lost love with a raven.

When I used biographical criticism and researched the life of Poe, I found details to become important later on when I reread the poem. The stage and mood is given to us in the first stanza and first line of the poem with words like “dreary” and “midnight”. Also the speaker says he is weak and sickly as well, which gives the impression of depression, as further into the poem darker words are used such as “Bleak December.”

The speaker becomes excited as he hears the raven tapping at his door. While the speaker is felling this new energy, “he starts to show an almost morbid excitement for the memories which flow to him in the next stanza about his lost love and the use of books to keep his mind busy” (Appendix A). Another important detail which can easily go unnoticed is the fact that the raven, a bird of ill-omen, is perched on a statue of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom. New criticism requires the reader to take a look at a piece of literature from a strictly aesthetic point of view, as if it is a work of art, which can be extremely difficult to do while avoiding the importance of word play, and trying to analyze the poem on a deep level. I found this to be extremely appealing and difficult at the same time, as I have always studied fine art alongside my literature. What I found to be the most pleasing about new criticism, is also the exact thing which I just discussed that makes it also the most difficult, the fact that you must view it without adding your own opinions. Another one of my favorite aspects of new criticism is finding the conflicts which reside in the literature itself.

“The last line of that stanza of The Raven shows a conflict in this poem which deals with the speaker vs. himself and his conflict with death as well, since Lenore passed away. Even though death itself is not represented in human form, you can consider it to be an antagonist of its own right in this poem. We see the speaker begin...
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