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Poor Soul. (Poe In “The Raven”) Essay, Research Paper

“Hoaxter, liar, impostor, and plagiarizer” (45) are words Kaplan used to describe Edgar Allan Poe. Poe as he claimed to be, was the best when it came to deception and perversion.

In living his life and even in his manner of negotiating death, Poe was a captive of the imp of perversity. But with art as his shield, the realms of perversity became a haven for his troubled soul. . . Perversion is a complex strategy of mind, with its unique principles for regulating the negotiations between desire and authority. To achieve its aims, the perverse strategy employs mechanisms of mystification, concealment and illusion, devices characteristic of the tales of Edgar Allen Poe. The perverse strategy is, as Poe might have put it, a faculty of human soul. (46)

Even though a good number of critics despise Edgar Allen Poe with a passion, almost all who read his creations gave him credit for being a genius. He was the first to write a detective story and tales that dealt with split personality or divided consciousness way before the matter was well known by the common people. He managed to capture the imagination of the public by exploring the mysterious psychological world of the individual – madness, despair, pain, inner chaos, etc. His works, which lack a sense of right or wrong, had great influence upon some types of popular fiction, with a detective story on the lead. Ranging from French symbolists, like Rimbrad and Mallarme, to American writers, such as Bierce, Melville, and Faulkner, were influenced by Poe’s writings. He even inspired well-known Philosophers like Frederick Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw. Just to mention a few, gothic architecture, psychological abnormalities, hidden meanings, nightmarish activities, mystery, and inner turmoil were the focus of Poe’s tales, and “The Raven,” in particular.

In some ways, “The Raven” shows Poe at his greatest image-making power, in which part of his life serves as a blueprint. His perfect illustration of the prison-like environment, on top of the inner turmoil of the narrator, creates a detailed, terrifying picture for the reader. At first glance, it is easy to see that Poe wrote this poem in reference to someone he truly loved. The problem is to know exactly who that person, Lenore, is, because without having that information, it would be impossible to understand the four points Poe is trying to make.

By looking at the obvious, anybody can decide that Lenore was no longer part of the real-human-world. And if we accept that fact, we could rule out Virginia Poe, Edgar’s wife, and Elmira Royster, to whom Poe was engaged in 1826, because they were both alive when “The Raven” was being composed in 1844. Since that leaves us with Poe’s mother and foster mother whom he dearly loved, it would seem appropriate to say that Lenore was a nickname Edgar used to represent one of his dead mothers. But there are more problems to this equation. First of all, Poe’s real mother died when he was only two years old and for him to feel that much pain because of her death seems ridiculous. Second, his foster mother died in 1829; why would he wait fifteen years to express his feelings? And third, in a poem titled “Lenore,” which Edgar wrote around the same time as “The Raven,” he made it clear that Lenore was young when she passed away or when she was about to pass away: “That did to death the innocence that died and died so young” (Poe 12). The fact that neither his mother, nor his foster mother was young when she gave up the soul, forces one to go back to Poe’s biography and try to find the missing piece of the puzzle. By doing so, one will learn that “in 1842 Virginia burst a blood vessel while singing, and hovered on the verge of death. She entered a terrible spiral of recovery and illness, and Poe despaired of her life” (Bloom 14).

How shall the ritual then be read – the requiem how be sung

By you – by yours, the evil eye – by yours the slanderous tongue

That did to death the innocence that died and died so young?

(Poe, “Lenore” 10-12)

Armed with the new discovery about his life and with the help of the stanza quoted above, it will be safe to conclude that Lenore was meant to represent Virginia. With that in mind, it is possible to move to the next step of understanding the points in “The Raven.” As Bloom explained with a single word, despair, Edgar was convinced that his wife was going to die and leave him, like the other women he loved (his mother and foster mother). In the poem “The Raven,” Poe carefully placed verses, like: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary”(1), “Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before” (14), and “long I stood there wondering, fearing / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” (25 – 26), to express how much the possibility of losing his wife terrified him. To Poe, his wife’s death not only marks the end of his marriage but also his happiness and short lived successful life. Approximately a year before Virginia’s accident, Edgar’s luck seemed on the verge of taking the golden road.

[1841] was in many ways the high point of Poe’s life, and may be seem as the only happy period in his adult life. He was hired as editor of Graham’s Literary Magazine at the affluent salary of $800 per year, and during his tenure the circulation of the magazine improved tremendously. His writing also went well, and he wrote some of his most famous stories, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mask of the Red Death,” and “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” He and Virginia lived with her mother in a comfortable house in Philadelphia, and he seemed to have completely controlled his drinking. (Bloom 13).

But his own happiness ranked last when compared to problems he was facing. Despite their social class, all “accounts report that the Poes were a happy, loving couple” (Bloom 13). And watching his wife that he loved so much, suffer everyday, subsequently drove Poe to the point where he wished for her to be painless forever – Die. Even though formatted in a hard to understand manner, Poe did not make his dark wish a secret when he wrote “The Raven.” Line 59 with the backing of lines 78 and 101 could serve as a good example. The first half of line 59, “On the marrow he will leave me,” was used in order to describe Poe’s fear. It is true “he” refers to the Raven, to who the narrator was talking. But symbolically speaking, the raven is a ship and Virginia the passenger. The Raven is here to end it all by taking her soul to Plutonian, the land of the dead, which means that when the raven departs, she will too. For Poe to ask the raven to “take [its] beak from out [of his] heart, and take [its] form from off [his] door”(101), is the same thing as ordering Virginia to give up and die. On top of the order, he added line 78, “she shall press, ah, nevermore,” to demonstrate her death will bring him some form of closure or relief; no more worries, no more wondering, no more choices, nothing – as the raven claims “nevermore.”

On the other hand, the second part of line 59, “as my hopes have flown before,” shows the hopelessness that he feels because whether she lives or dies, his problem will not be solved. If she dies, he will not see her suffer anymore, but he will return to his lonely, miserable life. At this stage it is crucial to know why Poe chose to marry his own thirteen-year-old cousin in the first place. According to Bloom, “ever since the deaths of his mother and foster mother, Poe had felt an overwhelming need to have supportive, loving women near him, and the marriage to Virginia ensured that he would be able to maintain his close relationship with her and her mother” (13). But if she does not die, he has to see her tormented soul everyday.

His dilemma brings about the third point in the poem. The only way life could return to normal for him is if she recovers fully. The failure of the doctors who attempted to heal her made him wonder if there was anybody able to do the job. By asking if there was “balm in Gilead,” Poe expresses his hope of finding that one person with a magic touch. To understand the point he is trying to make by asking about balm, one has to use the bible as a reference; book of Jeremiah to be precise – “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jeremiah 8:22). By the tone of Poe’s words, when he asked the question, his frustration becomes undeniably clear. But the question by itself is a crossroad. On one side, the severity of her illness may have crippled the doctors from curing her. On the other hand, it is possible that there were physicians who could have helped her but lack of money prevented him from acquiring their services. Both points are valid, open for discussion. But the lack of detailed information about the matter in Poe’s somewhat corrupted biography, prevents one from taking a side.

The question about Gilead also establishes a link to Poe’s fourth point. By looking at the verse that led to Jeremiah 8:22, the reason why the daughter of God’s people came-down with a sickness becomes evident: “. . . Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities” (Jeremiah 8:19). Anyone who has some knowledge of the Jewish or Christian faith knows worshiping a graven image is a sin that most likely “force” God to administer some form of punishment on the transgressor. Poe’s question about balm combined with the word “Peccavimus,” found in “Lenore”—which means we have sinned in Latin, suggests the possibility of him believing that his wife’s sickness is a punishment from God for their sins. But it will be wrong to say “their sin” since he used, in “Lenore,” the word “evil eye” and “slanderous” just before “tongue,” as if to say blaming Virginia for her sickness would be wrong or false. Although slanderous was placed just before tongue to put emphasis on it, “evil eye” stands out more. Poe used the same expression in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the narrator kills the old man believing that the old man had an evil eye. As Robinson explains, “the ‘Evil Eye’ represents that is so aroused the madman we do not know, but since he sees himself in his companion the result is self-knowledge. Vision becomes insight, the ‘Evil Eye’ and evil ‘I,’ and the murdered man a victim sacrificed to a self-constituted deity” (47). If the same interpretation of the evil eye is applied to “Lenore,” it would make Poe the evil one or the sinner who is responsible for Virginia’s chastisement. In short, he blamed himself for her sickness, which made him to be even more depressed.

Near the end of the poem, the narrator becomes eager to end the drama. The raven had answered none of the questions he asked. In real life, Poe was not able to find a solution to his problem. The raven just sites on the door, starring at the narrator, as if he is planing some evil. Poe’s wife lingers day after day, without getting better or worst and Poe wonders what the outcome would be. To show that Virginia has not died yet when he completed the poem, Poe would not allow the raven to flay away. The scenario is like a timeless nightmare to Poe. The same is portrayed in the poem through the narrator. Once the raven appeared, it seems that time just stopped to the narrator the same way Poe must have felt when he heard about his wife’s accident. As the poem closes, the narrator will not be able to free himself from his grief. And in real life, Poe “began drinking heavily, and left Graham’s Magazine” (Bloom 14), returning to his old ways, as well as poverty. Ironically, in 1847, Virginia died of tuberculosis, the same disease responsible for his mother’s death.


Bloom, Harold. “Biography of Edgar Allan Poe.” Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers.

Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. 46 – 53.

Kaplan, Louise. “The Perverse strategy in The Fall of The House of Usher.” New

Essays on Poe’s Major Tales. Ed. Kenneth Silverman. Newyork:

Cambridge, 1993. 45 – 64.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Lenore.” The Raven and Other Poems. 1845

——, ed. “The Raven.” The Raven and Other Poems. 1845.

Robinson, Arthur. “Critical Views on The Tell – Tale Heart.” Bloom’s Major Short

Story Writers. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

46 – 53

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