Life can be lonely after a loss. This has been clear in literature, mythology, and folktales as heroes and heroines have faced numerous battles but the one that cannot be overcome alone, is loneliness. From the stories of the earliest civilizations to modern internet dating cites, the audience is made aware that companionship is essential to existence. Of course, unlike modern times when widows or widowers or late life divorcees are accepted into the dating world again, the loss of a spouse was once considered to be the end of companionship and the beginning of becoming a social burden. If companionship was considered the same as existence, then one could easily state that a person did not exist without companionship. Granted, people do continue to exist and Poe explains, through the use of mythology, how companionship can come in many different contexts in his most famous poem, The Raven.
The reader is first told that the narrator is lonely as he describes the setting around him and refers to the Lenore. The setting is bleak and dreary. In fact, all of the adjectives are gloomy by nature including “the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain” (Poe 13). The narrator is obviously lonely and the only happy wording is contradicted with loss as he explains his sadness “For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore” (Poe 11). Yet, the narrator begins to fill an excitement in his heart at the presence of the raven who is tapping. According to researchers, Kulakov and Markovets, this is because there is a mythological between Odin and ravens whereas the ravens were considered to be the companions and envoys rather than mere forms of transportation as other birds in mythology were. This clearly shows that Poe carefully selected the raven to be the bird in the poem for its characteristic of companionship.
As the poem progresses, the narrator finds himself conversing with the raven. Simply knowing that there was someone or something there, following his long period of loneliness, the narrator noted that he felt his “soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer” (Poe 19). It was only natural that the one who would be tapping at his window would be intended to bring him companionship. The fact that the raven could utter a word let the narrator know that the raven was prepared to be a companion. The fact that the raven responded correctly to each of the narrator’s questions, despite the fact that this was understood to be a limitation of knowledge rather than a claim of understanding, points back to “Odin’s ravens, companions, informers and envoys, Hugin and Munin” (Kulakov and Markovets 179). The raven, regardless of what the narrator wanted to hear, informed him of the truth and, as a true companion, “the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting; On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door” (Poe 103-104).
Poe used references to the mythological raven to show that companionship may not always come in the form that a person may recognize and information may not be the answer that a person wants to hear, but companionship continues to be important even after the loss of a loved one. The use of any other bird, as in mythology, would have indicated a completely different message to the reader. However, the selection of the raven shows that this was a well thought out path towards encouraging those who had lost to continue and those others to accept that this would happen or the person would remain “Nameless here for evermore” (Poe 12).
- Kulakov, V. and Markovets, Yu. “Birds as companions of Germanic Gods and heroes.” Acta archaeologica 75 (2004): 179-188. Web 30 Nov. 2016. Available at: http://www.zin.ru/Rybachy/markovets-pdf/2004.pdf
- Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48860