Reviewed by: Ekaterina Mamyshev Date: 20 July 2003
I would like to comment on Poe's well-known poem "The Raven". Most people see it of value only in terms of its literary techniques (alliteration, assonance, etc.). Just recently my English teacher sincerely asked the class the following question, and I quote, "What is so special about this poem? I mean, if the Simpsons (what a source of authority to an English teacher!) included it in their episode, that means something about it still interests people today. Is it the literary techniques?" Sadly enough, all of our Honors English class (not to mention the teacher) agreed that the poem was of interest today only for its techniques and not by any means for its content. I have to say quite the opposite: the content is exactly why The Raven has remained a masterpiece for so long. Poe has described with frightening precision and detail THROUGH the techniques that everyone admires so much the mentality and thoughts of an obsessed person that is moreover driven to despair. It is a very deep poem with many layers to it. There is no doubt: there are some amateurs that will toss this poem away along with Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, having the same argument against both of these works. "Big deal," they'll say, "A guy starts talking to a raven and gets extremely angry at it. So what? Where's the savory plot? Where's the suspense? After all, literature's only purpose is to entertain!" It is a pity that many Americans today do not appreciate this work. I recently was in Russia, and one of my friends eagerly came up to me, showing me a whole book (some 500 pages) of Russian translations of The Raven. He told me it was outside the school curriculum, but he heard it once and liked it so much that he bought the book. I looked at the translations. From extensive personal experience I know that it is impossible to translate prose into any language, no matter how well you know it, and suicide to translate poetry. Nevertheless, the translations were amazingly good, showing with how much love and toil they were made. I automatically thought of our Honors English class and felt ashamed comparing it to the Russian boy with the book of Russian translations and a smile on his face. As for me, I have to say that The Raven is the reason why Poe is on my (mind you, very short) list of wonderful American authors.
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