Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" - Poetry and Music
If Edgar Allan Poe had been a musician, what would "The Raven" sound like?
Most of us have had to write an essay in English class what of a poem means -- and having no clue to what the author wanted to get across. I hope that using my musical setting to look at Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in a different way will help you to understand the FEELING of the poem. (You may click on the link to take you to my webpage for the music and free teaching pdfs.)
Poe's famous poem is noted for its "lingering rhythms, sonorous rhymes, and gothic themes." Rhythm and rhyme. Sounds musical, doesn't it? But these are some of the literary devices that were used in creating the mood in his poem.
To help you better understand "The Raven," I listed some literary devices so you could compare them to techniques a musician might use. I think that Poe would have liked this.
I put out to you the question: If Edgar Allan Poe had been a musician, what would "The Raven" sound like?
As an organist, I would think that Poe might have used the King of Instruments to convey the Gothic feel to his composition, as I have. Just as music is used to accompany movies to create the emotion of the scene, I hope that you find my musical setting of "The Raven" helpful in understanding the famous poem.
" Music...is so vitally important an adjunct, that he is simply silly who declines its assistance..." - Edgar Allan Poe,"The Poetic Principle"
Words + Music = Understanding
Suggestions for Teachers
A basic lesson plan has been written for you to use in your classrooms utilizing music to help your students understand what Poe was trying to convey. You can use as much or little of it to fit your students' grade level. Holding a "Raven Sing-Along" might be a fun tradition for your school or community to start for Poe's birthday on January 19.
My musical setting of "The Raven" has been used in conjunction with THE BIG READ: The Poetry and Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts to encourage communities to read literature. I have also written an essay, "A Musical Setting of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven,'" which details the music theory verse-by-verse behind the composition. This can be found at my HalloweenCarols.com website.
I have organized the sections so that you can easily choose what information you want to use to teach your class. Since learning is enhanced through using both auditory and visual modes of presentation, I have posted a YouTube video using illustrations by Gustave Dore from an early edition of "The Raven" to accompany the music. Since there are several variations of the words to the poem, I have also included the version used as the lyrics for you to follow along.
Poe declared in his essay, "The Poetic Principle": "It is in Music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment,.. the creation of supernal Beauty."
I have strived to help create something of Beauty that will help students appreciate the emotions and brilliance of Poe's "The Raven." I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
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Grades: 5 - 12, College
1. READ - "The Raven," discussing the literary devices used in the poem.
2. LISTEN - to the musical setting
3. COMPARE - literary and musical devices used to create the mood and rhythm of the poem and song.
4. SING-ALONG - sing the words of the poem to Kristen Lawrence's "The Raven." (NOTE how much easier it is to memorize lyrics when paired with music!)
Compare Literary Devices With Musical Terms
Edgar Allan Poe was a master of creating a mood with his writing. Just as he deliberately crafted the literary rhyme and rhythm used in "The Raven" to draw the reader more completely into the macabre world of his poem, music can also be used as a vehicle to convey mood and themes.
The following is a partial list of the literary terms Poe used. Some of these literary devices he used to create his masterpieces may also apply to a musical composition.
CLIMAX - The climax represents the point of greatest tension in the work. The16th verse is the turning point of the action of "The Raven."
MOTIF - A recurrent, dominant thematic element in an artistic or literary work. Poe chose Beauty to be the theme of the poem. The Raven is established as a symbol for the narrator's "Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance."
MOOD or TONE - The emotional attitude the author takes toward the subject. The mood in "The Raven" is that of melancholy.
RHYTHM - The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables of words in a line of verse. The melancholy tone of "The Raven" relies as much on its musical sound and rhythmic pattern as on the meaning of the words.
RHYME SCHEME - The pattern of rhymes used in a poem, usually marked by letters to symbolize the pattern of rhyming words. Poe used the pattern ABCBBB in "The Raven."
THEME - The central and dominating idea in a literary work is the theme. Poe chose Beauty to be the theme of "The Raven," and then considered sadness or melancholy to be the tone of the highest manifestation of beauty. Of all the melancholy topics, Poe wanted to use the one that was universally understood - Death.
Poe believed that the death of a beautiful woman was the "most poetical topic, especially when narrated by the lips of a bereaved lover."
A Musical Setting of Poe's "The Raven" - Kristen Lawrence
Classically trained organist and composer Kristen Lawrence brings the Gothic classic to life with her musical setting of all 18 verses, scored for organ and full strings. The Album includes vocal as well as instrumental-only versions.
Her music follows the emotions of the narrator as he falls progressively deeper into the maelstrom of despair over his lost love, Lenore. Each verse was composed as a musical vignette to illustrate the growing madness as Poe's character is tormented by the presence of the raven.
"The Raven" album by Kristen Lawrence can be purchased both for audio CD as well as digital MP3 at Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes.
Format: Digital MP3
The album includes vocal as well as instrumental-only tracks.
Poem: "The Raven"
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
1 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.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."
2 Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.
3 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,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;
This it is, and nothing more."
4 Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you." Here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.
5 Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals 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.
6 Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
"Surely," said I, "surely, that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore;
'Tis the wind, and nothing more."
7 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 mien 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
8 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."
9 Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
10 But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
11 Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,-
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
12 But the raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore,
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking, "Nevermore."
13 Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
14 Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee-by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite-respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"
15 "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."
16 "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."
17 "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."
18 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 lamplight o'er him streaming throws the shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted-nevermore!
YouTube Video: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" - Musical Setting by Kristen Lawrence
Illustrations by Gustave Dore
I have also listed some other Halloween YouTube videos from Kristen Lawrence.
This is a playlist of Part 1 and Part 2 of Poe's The Raven - a musical setting by Kristen Lawrence
Vampire Empire by Kristen Lawrence. A saucy invitation to join the undead.
Ghost of John - Bare Bones Version -by Kristen Lawrence's arrangement of an American folk song.
Based on an old British Isles song - people praying for souls was beginning of trick or treat tradition.
A Samhain version of Souling Song.
Background Reading and Teacher Resources - Edgar Allan Poe
- HalloweenCarols.com - Teacher Resources for "The Raven"
- "A Musical Setting of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'" by Kristen Lawrence - Poem: "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe - Teacher Lesson Plan - Using Music To Better Understand "The Raven"
- House of Usher
- "A decade and a half being the web's 'premiere' Edgar Allan Poe fan site"
- Edgar Allan Poe and Music
- Wikipedia Article on musicians who have created Poe-based works
- Knowing Poe
- Explanation of "The Raven" rhyme schemes
- The Poe Decorder
- One of the first pages available to provide factual information on Poe's life. - A gathering point for Poe enthusiasts on the Internet,
- Poe Stories
- Short stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe. - Story summaries, quotes, and linked vocabulary words and definitions for educational reading. - It also includes a short biography, a timeline of Poe's life, and links to other Poe sites.
- Schmoop - Edgar Allan Poe
- Explanation of Literary Terms
- "The Poetic Principle" by Edgar Allan Poe
- Essay by Poe on how he believes poetry should be written
- "The Philosophy of Composition" by Edgar Allan Poe
- Poe's explanation behind his writing of "The Raven"
Vote For Your Favorite Poe Book
There are many books containing the poems and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Which is your favorite edition? You may also add your favorite to the list.
Kristen Lawrence Albums - Digital MP3 - Audio CD also Available
Music is also available at CDbaby.com and iTunes.
"The Raven" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"The Ghost of John - Bare Bones Version" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"The Ghost of John - Dead Composers Version - Instrumental Version
"Mostly Ghostly" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"A Broom With A View" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"Cats In The Catecombs" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"Vampire Empire" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"Souling Songs" - All Hallows and Samhain Versions
"Sleeping Dust - Death Lullaby" - Vocal
"Dark Glass" - Vocal
"Arachnitect" - Vocal
"Blood Waltz" - Vocal and Instrumental Versions
"The Ghost of John - Bare Bones Version" - Vocal
"The Ghost of John - Dead Composers Version" - Vocal
Radio Edits of Halloween Carols -
from Arachnitect and A Broom With A View
Dark Glass - Instrumental Version