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.”
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!”
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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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