Tag Archives: raven

“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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“Lenore” by Edgar Allan Poe

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Ah, broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll! -a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river –
And, Guy De Vere, hast thou no tear? -weep now or never more!
See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
Come! let the burial rite be read -the funeral song be sung! –
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young –
A dirge for her, the doubly dead in that she died so young.

“Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her -that she died!
How shall the ritual, then, be read? -the requiem how be sung
By you -by yours, the evil eye, -by yours, the slanderous tongue
That did to death the innocence that died, and died so young?”

Peccavimus; but rave not thus! and let a Sabbath song
Go up to God so solemnly the dead may feel no wrong!
The sweet Lenore hath “gone before,” with Hope, that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride –
For her, the fair and debonnaire, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes –
The life still there, upon her hair -the death upon her eyes.

Avaunt! tonight my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight with a paean of old days!
Let no bell toll! -lest her sweet soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
Should catch the note, as it doth float up from the damned Earth.
To friends above, from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven –
From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven –
From grief and groan to a golden throne beside the King of Heaven.”

When I read this poem, I immediately sensed a connection with “The Raven,” Lenore being mentioned in that poem and “never more” appearing in the first stanza in this poem. As I started reading it, I felt the heavy sadness often associated with Poe’s works, but by the time I reached the end, I felt oddly uplifted and hopeful.

The first thing I did after reading the poem was looked up who Guy de Vere was and learned he was Lenore’s fiancé.

Lenore’s fiancé, Guy de Vere, finds it inappropriate to “mourn” the dead; rather, one should celebrate their ascension to a new world.

(Wikipedia)

I completely agree with this sentiment. When we die, I believe that the spirit moves on to the next level of existence, that we are freed from our worldly suffering and progress to the next phase of our spiritual evolution. The pain and suffering that accompanies death is felt the ones who are left behind.

I recall seeing my father’s body after he passed away. He had suffered from a long illness and was wracked with pain and atrophy toward the end. The difference in the way he looked during his last days and after he passed was dramatic. All I could think of was that he was now free from his suffering and I felt grateful for that.

I suspect that after I die, people will mourn me. I would like to say that they should not, that like de Vere, they should celebrate my ascension into the great divine mystery. But that is probably unrealistic. I know I would be devastated to lose any one of the people who are close to me, even though I truly believe they would be moving on to a better place. Death is such an emotional experience, it’s hard to be logical when the bell tolls.

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“The Human Abstract” by William Blake

HumanAbstract

 Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpillar and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain

This is definitely one of the more mystical poems in the Songs of Experience. In Blake’s illustration for this poem, we see Urizen, the supreme god in Blake’s mythological pantheon, struggling to free himself from the bonds that hold him to the earth. I see this as symbolic for the personal struggle that we all face, trying to free ourselves from worldly trappings so we can elevate our consciousness and actualize the divine spirit within us all.

In the first two stanzas, Blake asserts that nothing can exist without its opposite. There can be no good without evil. There must always be a balance in order for things to exist in this universe.

In the third stanza, we see Urizen shedding tears which become the seeds from which grows the Tree of Mystery. Urizen, being the creator of all existence, understands that everything must have its opposite and mourns the lot of humanity, which will eternally grapple with fear, cruelty, and hatred. From Urizen’s tears the roots of the Tree of Mystery grow. The Tree of Mystery is Blake’s equivalent to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The tree bears fruits which are both good and evil, and as we see in the fifth stanza, the fruits of evil are certainly the most tempting.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas, Blake mentions three creatures: catterpillar, fly, and raven. These are symbols for the church and its priests, who feed on the leaves of the Tree of Mystery, who nest and hide within its branches, but have no understanding of the roots, or the hidden aspects. Blake is asserting that following church dogma will ultimately prevent you from discovering the secret to the divinity within you and the mystery of all creation.

I personally find the final stanza in the poem to be the most fascinating. Just like the biblical Tree of Knowledge, Blake’s Tree of Mystery is also hidden. “The Gods of the earth and sea” which he mentions I interpret to be humans, who have dominion over the earth. We have a tendency to seek outside ourselves for the truth, believing that the answers to the ultimate mystery must exist somewhere else. But this is not the case. The Tree of Mystery grows and is hidden within the human subconscious. It is the one place where too many of us fail to look, and hence the search for truth is often in vain.

This poem is a great introduction to Blake’s more complex metaphysical poetry. I encourage you to read it a few times and contemplate it. I’ll definitely be covering Blake’s deeper metaphysical poems once I complete all of the Songs of Experience.

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The X-Files: Year Zero – Issue #3 (Trickster Archetype)

XFiles_YearZero_03

This mini-series is getting very good. I was enjoying it from the beginning, but now it is really fleshing out and becoming a complex and engaging tale, complete with all the supernatural mystery that I love about the X-Files.

This issue continues the parallel storyline with agents Mulder and Scully investigating Mr. Zero in the present and Special Agent Bing Ellinson and Special Employee Millie Ohio investigating Mr. Xero in 1946. Both pairs of agents discover something about this mysterious being—that he appears to be an incarnation of the trickster. Upon overhearing Ellinson and Ohio’s conversation regarding Xero, Ish, a Native American youth, says: “He sounds like the one my people call Raven—a trickster who is helpful at times, hurtful at others.”

The trickster is an archetypal deity that appears throughout mythology.

The trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously (for example, Loki) but usually with ultimately positive effects (though the trickster’s initial intentions may have been either positive or negative). Often, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks (e.g. Eris) or thievery. Tricksters can be cunning or foolish or both; they are often funny even when considered sacred or performing important cultural tasks. An example of this is the sacred Iktomi, whose role is to play tricks and games and by doing so raises awareness and acts as an equalizer.

In many cultures, (as may be seen in Greek, Norse, or Slavic folktales, along with Native American/First Nations lore), the trickster and the culture hero are often combined. To illustrate: Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give to humans. He is more of a culture hero than a trickster. In many Native American and First Nations mythologies, the coyote (Southwestern United States) or raven (Pacific Northwest and Russian Far East) stole fire from the gods (stars, moon, and/or sun) and are more tricksters than culture heroes. This is primarily because of other stories involving these spirits: Prometheus was a titan, whereas the Coyote spirit and Raven spirit are usually seen as jokesters and pranksters. Examples of Tricksters in the world mythologies are given by Hansen (2001), who lists Mercurius in Roman mythology, Hermes in Greek mythology, Eshu in Yoruba mythology and Wakdjunga in Winnebago mythology as examples of the Trickster archetype. Hansen makes the observation that the Trickster is nearly always a male figure.

(Source: Wikipedia)

As Mulder and Scully begin to figure out that the mysterious Xero/Zero is the trickster, they have a great discussion about the nature of the trickster and why he appears at the times he does, and also about the manner in which he manifests.

Scully: It seems in each instance Xero made an unexpected appearance that helped the agents… excuse me—agent and special employee… solve the case. He was training them. But why?

Mulder: The world was changing, Scully. Even the phenomena were changing. Suddenly there were rumors of aliens and atomic mutations in addition to ghosts and goblins. But no matter how real the consequences, to Xero it was all just a game.

Scully: And he wanted to make sure there was someone else who could play.

Mulder: I think Ish was right—we’re dealing with a trickster. Xero presented himself in terms that people from the 40s would understand—a being from another world… but there are patterns and peculiarities to his appearances that have shown up throughout human history. Two hundred years ago he would have been considered a mischievous or maleficent faerie or elf like Rumpelstiltskin. Two thousand years ago he would have been called a demon.

The trickster is one of my favorite mythological archetypes. I was enjoying this comic before, but now I am really psyched about it. I cannot wait to see how the two stories play out. Check back for my review on the next issue once it is released.

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“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A Hidden Anagram?

RavenLast night I volunteered to work at the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughter’s school. While I was there, I had a discussion with Laura, the school librarian, about why it’s important to re-read books and poems that you have not read in a while, how your perspective changes and you notice nuances that you missed previously. After that discussion, I knew it was high time for me to read “The Raven” again, even though I had read it so many times before. It was no surprise that I discovered things about the poem I had never noticed before.

This is the quintessential work by Poe. Whenever someone mentions Edgar Allan Poe, the image that usually is conjured is that of the raven. In fact, I would argue that “The Raven” is probably the most recognizable American poem ever written.

The first thing that struck me on this reading is the fact that the protagonist suffers from insomnia. He is up at midnight, deep in thought, and he does not mention that he almost falls asleep. He clearly says that he nearly napped, implying that he no longer sleeps at night, but only catches brief moments of napping during his long nights of obsession.

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.

The long, sleepless nights and the obsessive thoughts begin to take their toll on the person’s mind. Fantasy and imagination begin to flood the psyche and affect his sense of reality. At first, it is exciting. One almost gets a sense of an adrenaline rush as the speaker succumbs to his imagination.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before:
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating;
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

He then becomes trapped within his own mind. In the fifth stanza, he describes staring into the darkness. This darkness represents the shadow part of his consciousness, where his dark thoughts lie hidden from himself.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared dream before;

By this point in the poem, Poe has already begun using alliteration in conjunction with his rhyming, which works very well. But as the poem begins to climax near the end, the alliteration becomes more pronounced, adding to the frenzy that the protagonist is experiencing as he loses himself in the fear and obsession which he creates within his own mind.

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted, —tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead? —tell me—tell me—I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

So this seems like the appropriate place to unveil what I think is the coolest discovery I made regarding this poem. As I was looking at images of covers and trying to pick one for the post, something about the word “Raven” was gnawing at me, and I kept looking at the word, trying to figure out what it was. Then it struck me—Raven spelled backwards (nevar) is phonetic for “never.” It is not a perfect anagram, but I would consider it a phonetic anagram. I have no idea whether this was intentional on the part of Poe, but it does seem more than a coincidence to me. It is like the Raven is the physical manifestation of the word Never. I feel like I have stumbled upon an aspect of this poem that has gone unnoticed. I for one have never heard a mention of this before, even when we studied this poem in my American Literature class in college.

I admit feeling ambivalent about covering this poem on my blog, since I feel it has been analyzed to death, but I am glad that I did. I feel like my understanding of this poem has reached a new level. So to conclude, I will once again quote the Raven, “Nevarmore.”

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