For the Birds Radio Program: Poe's Raven
Laura reads an abridged version of Poe’s The Raven.
(Recording of a Common Raven)
From earliest times, ravens have conjured up images of death and desolation. These most intelligent of all birds are black, the color symbolic of death, and their voices sound savage and wild–at least to human ears. Their European relative, the jackdaw, is mentioned often in Shakespeare, in contexts like Othello’s “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/ For daws to peck at.” The most fearsome of all the scenes in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is when the ravens sit silent, ominously waiting, on the schoolhouse steps. And Hitchcock gave Norman Bates’s stuffed raven a prominent role in foreshadowing the gruesome climax in “Psycho”.
Although ravens are high on my list of favorite birds, it seems fitting to consider their evil image on this day before Halloween. Ravens have been flying along the Lake Superior shore in big numbers for the past few weeks–many in flocks of thirteen. Edgar Allan Poe managed to conjure up despair with only one raven in one of the most well-known of all American poems:
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 someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘T is some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door–
Only this 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 mein 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.’
‘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!
(Recording of a Raven) This is Laura Erickson, and this three-minute version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ten-minute poem has been “For the Birds.”