Monday, January 11, 2010

Rapping at my chamber door: Edgar Allan Poe and MC Lars

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!"


  1. Well, obviously I know this poem well ;)

  2. Haha I did think of you when I first read this!

  3. OMG that is awesome I can't believe I have never heard it before! WIN!

  4. Have you ever read "American Gods"? There's this hilarious scene where the main character, Shadow, sees a talking Raven and says, "Say 'nevermore'" and the Ravens says, "fuck you". Good stuff, man.

  5. Rory--so FTW!

    Dannie--Ahaha! That's hilarious! I must read it.

  6. Don't get me started. I'm from Baltimore, MD (Edgar's hometown) so we are spoon fed Poe from the time we enter kindergarten. Well, okay, maybe more like 5th grade. Not to mention I love my Ravens football team (also named after Poe). Who, coincidentally, beat the Patriot today in the playoffs. So, GO RAVENS! Perfect time for your post. ;)
    My blog

  7. Rock the Raven! Great post and video.

  8. MC Lars is awesome! They came to my college last year and performed a concert. Unfortunately I didn't go, but I heard they were completely rockin'.

    Good to see them get love here! I also like their song about Captain Ahab from Moby Dick and they have another cool song called Generic Crunk Rap which is super funny!

  9. That is hilarious. And awesome. "Who's that rapping," too funny.

  10. Karen--*shakes pom poms* Goooooooooo RAVENS!

    April--Ah, spewing, he'd be so much fun to see.

    Tricia/Natalie--Glad you like it as much as me!

  11. Hip hop of the Raven? too awesome.

  12. that's awesome. thanks for sharing. :)

  13. Edgar Allen Poe is one crazp guy. But I love his work. :)

  14. Oh, gosh! That song! XD

    I have been eying a collection of Poe's work that is currently in the bookstores. It's very tempting.

    On another note, I stumbled across this video today and thought of you:

  15. Awesome. Great one this week (and I love when The Simpsons take on literature!)

  16. OMG! That totally just made my day awesome. Thank you for posting!! :)

  17. I am so bad I have not been by your blog for forever... what a great post.

    Love your new sunny picture!