Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven… Any college student (or fan of The Simpsons) knows the story of this classic horror poem: A lonely hermit, reading old books in his solitary castle, is visited by a bird he believes was sent to taunt him about the death of his beloved Lenore. Staring from a high perch, refusing to leave and repeatedly uttering the cryptic phrase “Nevermore,” the bird slowly drives the man to the depths of despair and insanity.
Or, at least, that’s how scholars have always interpreted it, based on the man’s first-person narrative in the poem. The raven himself, however, has quite a different version to tell…
Once upon a midnight dreary, while my wings were getting weary
From a flight that brought me wandering over hills and trees and more,
Up ahead I saw a tower, and since I was low on power,
And I needed, at that hour, power to my flight restore,
I descended toward a window right above a chamber door—
Only this, no reason more.
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
For the worms found in September now were safe beneath the floor.
Eagerly I wished for summer, when the worms were so much dumber
And each avian newcomer could find fifty worms or more.
Yes, a raven could at lunchtime gobble fifty worms or more…
But in weeks, I’d found just four.
So I landed, fairly certain that behind the purple curtain
I’d find food to ease my hurtin’, then continue on my tour.
As I settled down, the beating of my wings foretold a meeting
‘Tween myself and someone reading volumes of forgotten lore.
Still, I only thought of feeding since my abdomen was sore—
Only this, no reason more.
Now reminded of my hunger, hesitating then no longer,
I prepared to take to flying—for some morsels I’d explore.
But some human started yapping, saying how he had been napping,
Before I could start the flapping of my wings to go explore—
And the look upon his muzzle was as though he’d witnessed gore.
Curious, I flew no more.
Though I knew no one was nearing, still the human stood there, peering,
Gazing, staring at the darkness like he’d seen it not before.
Then I thought he must be chokin’ as he made the silence broken
With an utterance he’d spoken—as he croaked the name “Lenore.”
And the wind produced an echo of that single word, “Lenore.”
Though he thought ’twas me, I’m sure.
Back into the chamber turning, he retreated as if learning
That the sound he thought was tapping came from branches on the door.
So, considering my status undiscovered near the lattice,
It seemed safe to linger—that is, safe to perch above the door.
But I noticed that he faltered when he tried to reassure:
“‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”
As he opened up the shutter, not a whisper did he utter.
This I naturally assumed an invitation to explore.
And since nothing had forbade me, and still curious ’bout the lady,
I descended to a statue perched above the chamber door.
Food forgotten, I decided I would learn about Lenore—
Only this, no reason more.
Then I noticed he was smiling up at me, perched near the tiling,
Though sincerely or in anger I could scarcely tell for sure.
But in any case, a raven couldn’t smile if you paid him
‘Cause, you see, our beaks would cave in from the pressure they’d endure.
So I gave up hope of smiling as my name he did implore,
And I told him “Nevermore.”
Often I have fancied vainly that the name my parents gave me
Had a strong and hidden meaning which they wished to underscore.
But the truth, as now I’m seeing (with which you’re, no doubt, agreeing)
Is that no one merits being named a name like “Nevermore.”
Even though they never knew what Fate for me would have in store,
Still their choice for names was poor!
I could tell that he was lonely, for I spoke that one word only,
Yet his gaze continued stonily, begging me to utter more.
But the fact that I had muttered just the one word I had uttered
Stunned me such it made me shudder from my feathers to my core,
For I’d never spoken English when I’d said my name before—
Only “bird talk” heretofore!
While I wondered how I’d spoken, I could see that he had no kin,
For nobody else’s clutter mixed with his upon the floor.
He inquired if my master had encountered some disaster,
And his speech kept getting faster as his questions did outpour.
But, alas, my name, it was the only word that I could roar…
Just my name, and nothing more.
Once again he started smiling, as some pillows he was piling,
And he sat upon them, silent as a mussel on the shore.
As the silence in was creeping, I returned my thoughts to heaping
Mounds of food (which, you’ll remember, is what drew me here before).
Since the human seemed as though from there on in he’d me ignore,
I again prepared to soar.
For some food would be a blessing, and I had no way of guessing
When another opportunity to eat would be in store.
As my thoughts returned to dining (he still silently reclining),
I discovered then that my wing wasn’t working anymore!
Damaged landing, it could not support my weight to let me soar—
I was stuck atop that door!
Oh, his brow did crease much denser and the mood grew much intenser,
As he started shouting curses I had never heard before.
For no reason I could fathom, his whole body shook in spasm,
And his eyes were like a chasm gone aflame on all sides four,
As he many times accused me of descending near his door
Just to taunt him ’bout Lenore!
“Prophet,” yelled he, “thing of evil!—Prophet still, if bird or devil!”
And I wished to God my species had developed vocal chords,
For the questions he then ranted as he prattled on and panted
Had me so confused—how did we enter such a bad rapport?
I’d done nothing so offensive as to spark a verbal war—
Only roosted, nothing more!
But he’d called me “thing of evil,” though I knew I was no devil—
I’d done nothing on the level of an evil devil, sure!
‘Tis the truth I now am statin’—I knew nothing of his maiden!
I was just a bird, sweet Circumstance’s victim, to be sure,
Wishing desperately my wings would work so I could leave his door.
So I cried my name once more!
Then this raving looney started to demand I be departed,
Which was pointless, for if I could leave, would not I have before?
How I wished I could have spoken, just to say my wings were broken,
And I really wasn’t jokin’ with him ’bout his lost Lenore!
Ah, the horror that I felt, eternally trapped above that door,
As I hollered, “Nevermore!”
So for days have I been sitting—weak and famished, never flitting—
While that crazy human stares at me from pillows on the floor.
Though he’s finally stopped his screaming, still I sense that he is scheming
How to write a poem deeming me a demon to abhor
So that scholars ever after shall delight to tell the lore
Of the evil “Nevermore!”