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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more."
This (above) is the first verse of Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem "The Raven". An unnamed narrator sits poring over "fogotten lore" when there comes a "rapping at my chamber door".
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"
— Merely this and nothing more.
Lenore is the man's dead lover whom he mourns. Then there comes a rapping at his window, and upon opening it a raven flies inside and sits upon his bust of Pallas Athena (the Greek goddess of wisdom, which indicates the man is a scholar or student.) The man begins talking to the raven, who replies only "Nevermore", causing the man's increasing agitation and frustration. It's a rather ominous picture, a raven showing up in the middle of the night and croaking "Nevermore" at a grief-stricken, bookish and lonely man.
After several repetitions of "Nevermore", the man can bear it no longer and cries:
"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."
The bird is a stubborn creature and at the end of the poem the narrator tells the reader that it is still sitting in his chamber:
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!
Traditionally, the raven is a messenger and sometimes a harbinger of evil. In several stories, ravens were white, but turned black as punishment for not delivering a message on time, or delivering an unhappy one. It's perhaps a personification of the Grim Reaper in this poem. I haven't found an interpretation that satisfies me, however.
"The Raven" is one of the most famous poems ever written, even being parodied in a Simpsons Halloween special. (When you've been immortalised on The Simpsons you've totally made it as an artist.)
Now to the music portion of my post. Several years ago MC Lars released "Mr Raven", a parody of Poe's poem:
Kick it! Once upon a midnight dreary, while I kicked it weak and weary,
Dark and cold just like Lake Eerie, Brand New sample, someone clear me.
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
Up like, "What?", this thunder clapping in my brain like graphic Halflings.
Staffing me, I put down Milton. Cell phone mute like Paris Hilton.
Open window, halfway built-in. Times a changing like Bob Dylan.
Twenty-pound bird black as could be, cold feet cold eyes aimed straight at me.
Grim face, grim stare, death carnivore, quoth that raven "Nevermore."
Kick it! indeed. MC Lars likes his literature, two more of his songs being inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet.
It doesn't seem like a film clip was ever made for "Mr Raven" but here's a good quality version to listen to. I defy you not to dance where you sit.
"Who's house? Raven's house!"