The Raven and The Simpsons

The Raven flying in open window - Manet

By Judy Berman

“Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.”

Those lines are from Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale of horror, “The Raven.” In it, the narrator mourns the death of his lovely Lenore.

“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terror never felt before.”

The poem’s tone is somber and eerie. There is a sense of foreboding.

My students love this poem even though the language is initially foreign to them. What helps them is viewing this poem told by Lisa Simpson. Yes, THE Lisa Simpson. This first aired in The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror on Oct. 24, 1990.

Bart and Lisa are telling scary stories in the treehouse, unaware that Homer is just outside listening in. Lisa reads “The Raven.” As she reads, Homer morphs into the narrator.

The fire is casting strange shadows on the floor. The narrator (Homer) is interrupted by “someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” At first, he tries to dismiss his fears by saying, “Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door. This it is, and nothing more.”

The grief-stricken narrator had been “dreaming dreams, no mortal ever dared to dream.” He is torn between wanting to remember and trying to forget his lovely Lenore.

“But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token. And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore.”

The Raven flying - Manet

Homer, responding to the loud tapping at the window, flings open the shutter. A stately raven steps in. The raven is Bart, and Marge becomes Lenore.

Then, the raven perches above the chamber door.

It might seem a sacrilege to have a cartoon character read these lines. But it’s easy to see how the raven (Bart) taunted and tormented the grieving narrator.

Each time, the narrator tries to find an answer, the raven only answers, “Nevermore.”

Unfortunately, the Simpsons’ version leaves out some great lines. In the original poem, the raven’s one-word response angers the narrator. He presses the raven for more information, asking: “Is there balm in Gilead?” (This is an Old Testament reference to divine deliverance, God. What the narrator is asking is whether there is a heaven.)

“Tell me – tell me, I implore!”

“Quote the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

Homer’s quite infuriated by now. He shrieks at the bird, telling Bart to get back to the Night’s Plutonium Shore. (Pluto was the god of the Underworld. Poe’s reference is to the world of the dead, where the narrator suspects the Raven came from.)

The raven is warned to go and not leave any of his black feathers behind.

“Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take the form from off my door!”

“Quote the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”The Raven's shadow over the narrator - Manet

The raven stares down at the desolate Homer who lies in the raven’s shadow on the floor. “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

By the tale’s conclusion, the kids have trotted off to bed and fall right to sleep. Homer, however, will sleep fitfully – if at all – with the lights on.

Video: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” read by Vincent Price http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGZ_wp_i9w  

Uploaded on Oct 28, 2010

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: link to The Simpsons/Bart The Raven on Teacher Tube  http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=251203

Main Photo:The Raven flying in the open window. Illustration by Édouard Manet for a French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” (1875)  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ed/Raven_Manet_C1.tif/lossy-page1-456px-Raven_Manet_C1.tif.jpg

Photo: The Raven flying, “Le Corbeau, The Raven, poeme by Edgar Poe. The Raven,” illustration by Édouard Manet (1875)  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Le_Corbeau_-_Manet%2C_Ex_Libris.jpg

Photo:The Raven’s shadow over the narrator. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c9/Raven_Manet_D1.tif/lossy-page1-398px-Raven_Manet_D1.tif.jpg

A link to the poem at PoeStories.com, “The Raven,” published in 1845 – http://poestories.com/read/raven

Definitions of terms in “The Raven:” https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/34221#view=notes

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26 thoughts on “The Raven and The Simpsons

  1. I love the way you tell a story, And no one can tell a story better of someone telling a story better than you!
    Love Vincent Price. He is one of my all time favorites!
    Have a nice afternoon, Judy! 🙂

    1. My grandson and I are chuckling over your comment. Thank you, Deb. Glad you enjoyed my post. I love Vincent Price, too – excellent voice and drama. Hope you’re having a great weekend. 🙂

  2. The timbre and tone of Vincent Price’s voice is perfect in The Raven. I don’t watch The Simpsons but I was impressed with what I read above. You’re such a super storyteller, Judy.

  3. I love The Raven. I love to read it aloud–it’s so over-the-top that makes me laugh. And I wonder; did it make Poe laugh at his own cleverness?

    But after Vincent Price, I’ll probably never be able to read it aloud again. Who can measure up to that rendition?

    I think it’s great that you found a way to bring young people to the poem, through the Simpsons. You’re as clever a teacher as Poe was a writer, in my opinion.

    1. I heard someone reading “The Raven” on the radio on Friday. It was a major disappointment when compared to Vincent Price and I had to turn it off.

      Like all teachers, I’m a goniff (thief). I stole the idea for using The Simpsons telling “The Raven” from another teacher. But I do appreciate your vote of confidence, Tracy. 🙂

      1. You’re not a thief. You’re a great pirate. Yarr-harr-harr!

        (And I’m a spin-master!)

        comment from earthrider to Tracy Lee Karner:
        And, you’re a masterful one at that, Tracy. 🙂

  4. Judy, we would have made GREAT team teachers! I did the same thing with my sophomore English classes, and I also showed the Simpson scene on our classroom TV AND played recordings of famous readers of “The Raven” regaling us with their wonderful voices.
    I miss those days, I really do. I don’t miss grading all the essays, attending all the staff meetings or listening to parents complain that their children deserved A grades in spirt of cutting class and failing exams. Nope, don’t miss any of that at all. 30 years was enough!

    1. I would have loved that experience of team teaching with you, Marilyn. I love the creativity and brainstorming that can make a good lesson great. That’s the fun part of the job.

      I can’t imagine teaching 30 years. This is my 10th year teaching. This past two years it seems there’s even more demands for paperwork and attending meetings. That’s draining and stressful.

  5. I remember my older brother memorizing and reciting “The Raven,” probably for school. It was amazing to hear those rhythmic and eloquent lines coming out of his mouth. I still know a large part of the poem, all these years later, just from having listened to him practice. Thanks for a great post, Judy. Now I have to watch that video.

    1. The only poems I remember memorizing that’s stuck with me all these years are Longfellow’s, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” That was in the 5th grade …and, much later, Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd.”

      Poe’s poem is wonderfully dark. Charles, I can see how your older brother got into it. The poem continues to fascinate me. Glad you liked the post. Hope you watch both videos for a compare and contrast. 🙂

      1. I know it is supposed to be “lowbrow” because it is on TV but it did give me a new reason to look at the poem again. I liked the poem before The Simpson’s but I liked it more after.

        comment from earthrider to Photography Journal:
        I confess, Amy. I love The Simpsons (the first 10 years) and I really enjoyed their take on “The Raven.” I’m glad I’m not the only one. 🙂

  6. The Raven is one of those poems that as a teenager I would have found difficult to understand. And yet strangely I was a big fan of Kate Bush at that age and loved reading her complex printed lyrics on her albums. They were often a little bit of a mystery as to what they were really about, especially some the tracks that were not released as a single – and yet I loved them. It’s odd how one person can get their mind engaged in one direction and not in another!

    And it’s interesting to see that poem read in a episode of the Simpson’s, I’m amazed that would be enough to draw young peoples interest – just shows the power of television, and animation too! But there is one thing for sure, it’s quite scary, especially when read by Vincent Price. How much more scary can you get than that – he does it so well!! 😯

    1. Vincent Price, the incomparable voice of Michael Jackson’s “The Thriller,” is unparalleled. Very convincing.

      I think the animation of “The Simpsons” and Bart’s asides do make “The Raven” more memorable. As Bart and Lisa points out, the poem – by today’s standards – is pretty tame. Maybe so, but it still gives me the shivers.

      You have me curious, Suzy. I hadn’t heard of Kate Bush before. I’ll try to check her out.

  7. That is exactly why there’s a big No Ravens Allowed sign on my birdfeeder. I hate it when they say creepy stuff like that, especially when they do their Vincent Price impression… : (

    Great stuff, Judy. Your posts would make even Mr. Poe smile. Well… maybe. : )

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