Posted in History & Literature

The Raven

Edgar Allan Poe is quite possibly the father of horror literature, well-known for his macabre works such as mystery novels, poetry and critiques. His stories are uncanny and gripping at the same time, and it can only be described as “mad genius”. Among his most famous works is a poem called The Raven.

It is a story about a young scholar whose lover has passed on, and his eerie, dream-like conversation with a raven on a winter night. The poem repeats the word nevermore extensively, creating a powerful effect as its meaning varies for every stanza. The narrator constantly cries out to the raven, expressing pain and torment, to which the raven replies – cold and succinctly – “Nevermore”, depriving him of hope.

Here, the raven is a metaphor of the man’s anguish and his eternal devotion and love. Furthermore, as a raven is often a symbol of logical thought and darkness, it sets the atmosphere of the poem very nicely. Lastly, as the reader is left pondering whether the bird actually converses with the narrator, or simply repeating the same word meaninglessly, it brings upon a chill down the reader’s spine, as the man is placed in a perverse conflict between desire to forget and desire to remember. The raven leads him through his descent from weakness and frailty to confusion, and from confusion to madness.

However, the reason The Raven is so famous is not just because of its sinister mood, the metaphor of the young man’s sorrow and anguish or the powerful repetition of the word nevermore, but also because of the actual structure. Poe wrote the poem in the meter of trochaic octameter, where stressed syllables and unstressed syllables alternate to produce beautiful fluidity. The meter together with the rhyming scheme (including internal rhymes and alliterations) allows the poem to be read in a dreamy way, reinforcing the question of whether the raven comes to the man in reality or in his dream.

(Original poem after the break)

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Posted in History & Literature

The Raven And The Writing Desk

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

 This riddle was first posed by Lewis Carroll in his famous work, Alice in Wonderland, asked by the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter asks this riddle in his nonsensical character, stating that he does not know the answer either. In fact, the book never reveals what the answer to the riddle is.

Perplexed, many readers wrote to Carroll as to the answer of this puzzle. After receiving so many enquiries, Carroll wrote in the preface of his next book that the riddle was thought of without the answer in mind, meaning that he did not know the commonality between the two either. However, he did suggest an answer that: 

“Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (note that “nevar” is “raven” “put with the wrong end in front”)

Knowing that this riddle was never created with an answer, scholars have attempted to solve this riddle themselves ever since. There have been many proposed answers, such as “they both stand on sticks”, “they both come with inky quills” and the most famous “because Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both” (see The Raven). There have also been nonsensical answers (thus answering to the nonsensical nature of the riddle) such as “because there is a B in both and an N in neither”.

However, perhaps the best answer, as with all works by both Carroll and Poe, is that “you can baffle billions with both”.