For the Birds Radio Program: Nevermore and other poems

Original Air Date: Oct. 20, 1999

Poet Robert Stulo shares a poem that is about as big a contrast from Poe’s The Raven as a poem can be.

Audio missing


Common Raven

(Recording of a Common Raven)

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

Just about everyone is familiar with Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, though not everyone has read the whole thing. In eighth grade I memorized a goodly part of it, and I’ve always enjoyed how Poe manages to make such a noble and wise bird seem sinister—I once wrote a parody of it about a malevolent chickadee, his eyes cloaked in black, constantly droning his menacing whistle, “Damnation.”

“Nevermore” has a resonance that has made the poem endure, and I’ve often wondered how Poe came upon exactly that word. That is, I wondered about it until one day when I was cueing up the raven call on my bird record. When I ran the record backward, I heard the announcer distinctly say, “nevar,” which suddenly made me realize that raven spelled backward is “n-e-v-a-r”–not at all far from n-e-v-e-r, especially considering that ravens themselves probably can’t spell any better than that. So that’s my newest theory—the true origin of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous “nevermore”—is just raven, misspelled backward.

And speaking of nevermore and the never never land that is my desk, I recently came across a cool piece of mail that arrived at my house sometime in the 1980s. Listener Robert Stulo of Greenwood, Wisconsin, sent me a poem which makes a pleasant contrast to Poe’s raven. This poem is set in March or April, a more hopeful time than Poe’s bleak December. Like Poe, Mr. Stulo observes the natural world through his ears, but the sounds in his poem are much cheerier than the tapping and the rapping at Poe’s chamber door and the croaking of the raven’s ominous words. Mr. Stulo titles his poem, “A Walk in the Spring”:

I walk through the woods in early spring
Listening to a chickadee sing.
He sings out his song, “chicka-dee-dee-dee.”
He sings to his mate, “look at me me me.”
I follow the creek through a patch of snow,
That was up to my knees a few weeks ago.
The melting snow, like the tinkle of a bell;
Runs into the creek, Old Man Winter’s Death knell.
And high in the top of my favorite white oak,
A squirrel’s getting scolded, ‘cause his mate he awoke.
A woodpecker taps on his signaling post,
To attract the mate that he favors most.
And very soon now, still half full of sleep,
A spring peeper will muster his first little peep.
These sounds all togerther, though each very small;
Will echo like thunder, God’s morning wake up call.

(Recording of a Common Raven)

Now that the leaves are almost gone and frost has been thick in the mornings, it’s pleasant to remember that those cheerful spring days will return in a matter of months.

That poem was by Robert Stulo, this is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”