It was late, I noted. I had arrived as the sun had set and could not allow myself the futile respite sleep would grant me. The clock told me it was midnight, and the thunder outside told me that the sky was about to reciprocate my sorrows.
I had been unable to sleep or write and so had settled in the large ornate chair of my grandfathers in the library. The fire had already been lit when I came in and as I opened a volume of Byron’s, I found myself dozing in and out of sleep while the shadows wrought their ghosts upon the floor.
The grandfather chimed midnight and shook me awake- or perhaps it was the sudden tapping. I stiffened and the cogs in my mind began to twist rather curiously. I sat quietly and waited, pondering for a short time if it was a tap in this world or the world that spans the gap between the physical and mere dreams of meager mortals…
Yes, yes! There it was! Tapping again at the door to my chamber! Who could it be? I threw the whiskey to the back of my throat where it burned ever sweetly and muttered, ”Tis some visitor.’ I took another swig, this time from the bottle as my glass was empty and my other hand was preoccupied with the Byron, ‘Tapping at my chamber door.’ A memory appeared in my mind of another visitor who had once tapped at my chamber door, late on a stormy night much like this one. ‘Only this and nothing more..’ I had to reassure myself. Nothing would ever be her anymore. She was gone. Oh, she was gone and not even my memories could truly be of her anymore. She was a ghost, haunting my mind and my life in equal measure- never again would she touch the physical world as deeply as she had touched me.
My mind was temporarily released from its sanity and into the loving arms of her, in memory. No. Not her- the ghost. The her of even my memory was not her. She was truly gone.
The chill of a December memory struck through me as the fire burned in my eyes and the whiskey burned again in my throat. I spared a glance at the window and saw the moon glaring back at me- I wished sunlight would hurry up and save me from the darkness, though looking back I suppose it wouldn’t have helped. My right hand lost its grip on the Byron and the book slid from my grip to the floor. The book wasn’t helping. Why wasn’t the book helping? Words were supposed to make the emotions go away, not intensify them to this kind of point. The sorrow still weighed in my heart and my heart still weighed down so heavily in my chest it fell to my feet and caused me to fall to my knees, the whiskey finding a place on the floor, staining the priceless family carpet. The sorrow peaked and mutated into a kind of numbness not unlike that of the drugs a surgeon provides before he cuts into you while still awake. I could feel the sorrow writhing within me and yet it no longer burned- it was simply there. Why?
Lenore. I had lost Lenore that December. I haven’t been able to speak a word of it to anyone, for I was not supposed to be in love with her, nor her with me. But I had loved her with a love that was more than love, in that kingdom by the sea. She smiled with such rarity that it was hard to believe at times she was real- her radiance shaming the stars and the heavens. This is probably why the heavens decided to prematurely claim her for their own. My fingers trailed across the soaked carpet. It was cold and soft- just as her- no, the shell of her- had been. The shell that was nameless, as anything that was her had fled to the heavens that had birthed her.
A cold gust of wind caressed my cheek and ruffled my hair and drew my attention to the silken, sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain. Had I left the window open? I recalled no such thing. Then my mind came to a horrifying conclusion that I will never be certain of…Oh god, was Lenore here? Had she not found her intended peace and rest and had instead stayed to rid me of all my own stress and societal behests? The thought of her caught in such a permanent agony, torn between this world and the next filled me with a terror that could never be put to rest. My head and my heart fluttered in tandem with the curtains as the cold air slapped me across the face again. I stood and repeated to myself in some vain attempt to calm my fears, ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.’ Yes. That is what it was. ‘Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.’ My heart and my head did not still. ‘This it is and nothing more.’ More repetitions died in my throat and blocked any chance of air, nevermind words.
Something inside of me steeled and two pieces of my shattered soul flew back together at my remembrances of Lenore. The tears of fear that had gathered in my eyes flew from them in anger- how dare this incessant tapping at my door not cease at this late hour? How dare the wind touch me as gently as she had? How dare my words fail me? I would not let them.
‘Sir?’ I gulped again and found the necessary word there; ‘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 that I scarce was sure I heard you!’ My fingers found the cold of the door handle and I twisted, opening the door quite wide.
Darkness greeted me, and nothing more.
I simply stood there and stared into it for a long time. I soon found that attempting to stare darkness into submission often has more effect on you than the darkness. I listened carefully; no. No tapping sounded. Had there truly been a tapping? Had that simply been a product of my imagination; a sad and simple side effect of the memories of my lost Lenore?
But what if it truly was her? My mind pondered without much help from me. I imagined her dark eyes staring back at me from the darkness. Her pale hands grasping for me and only me. The blood suddenly rising back to her lips as they brushed against mine…
Alas, such dreams are not meant to be had by mortals. The silence remained unbroken as ever and the stillness of the air taunted me with its warmth- the only thing to break the silence was the same thing that had broken me- the whispered word, ‘Lenore!’-
Merely this, and nothing more.
A great nothing is almost always worse than a bad something. My heart had begun beating its way back into my throat and the two so recently reunited pieces of my soul flew apart with disgust and burned with anger at my own naivety- How could I dare to dream such things after all that had been seen and done with My Lenore? All the rarity and radiance dashed with my childish fantasies of her returning for me. It demeaned her- everything she was. I closed shut my eyes and turned back into my chamber, securing the door behind me.
I had scarcely sat down when I heard it again- tapping! Tapping! This was louder, more fervent and anxious for an answer than before, I sensed. I shook myself as I saw the purple silk fluttering from the corner of my eye. Yes- that would probably be just the cause. I had to once again voice this reassurance to myself:
‘Surely… Surely that is something at my window lattice; let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-‘ I had to swallow once again my heart, creeping ever more back up my throat- ‘Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore… ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’
Any other explanation would surely be folly- yes, wind… The good explanation of a sensible, scientific man…
I strode quickly to the window and flung it as open as it would go. The blood rose to my cheeks at the piercing cold and I stared again into the darkness, my hubris not allowing me to do anything but attempt to regain control of the situation.
I was unprepared for the darkness to float onto my windowsill, and then present itself in the form of a rather sleek black Raven, with ancient eyes that stared me into a sudden interest of my shoes. He seemed to accept this, and, with mein of lord or lady, glided over to my chamber door. Now perched above my chamber door, he closed his dark eyes. He then decided the ebony uncomfortable and perched upon the pale marble bust of Pallas perched just above my chamber door. There he perched, and sat, and nothing more.
This ebony bird appeared all at once to sleep so peacefully that in observing it I could not help but to smile as I quietly closed the window to spare us both the cold. When again I turned it regarded me with a frosted frown and stern, sharp beak that seemed twisted into a scowl. I tried to make some light with my new companion, addressing him thus:
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ The scowl did not twitch, ‘Art sure no craven, ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore- Tell me, tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’ He regarded me with the same stern countenance as before and quietly replied,
I marveled at his unforeseen verbal ability, sparing a glance to the spilt whiskey on the floor, and closing my eyes as the blood itself seemed to be rushing around at such a rate as to escape my own fate. Yet when again I opened my eyes there he still sat upon the bust of Pallas.
I allowed the quiet to sink into the space between us as I thought. Yes, a talking Raven- unorthodox, yet clearly possible. However, a sentient Raven? Perhaps not- this line of thinking was further supported by the little meaning, the little relevancy of his answer. Still, it was quite a sight to grace me on such an otherwise foul night- what other man could say that a bird or beast would come to perch upon the sculptured bust upon his chamber door, with such a name as ‘Nevermore’?
However, he did not admire my discourse as I did his, and spoke only that one word in reply. Only that one word… as though it carried with it his soul and his reason, his God and his Satan. He spoke nothing more than that singular reply and did not so much as flutter a feather in self-expression in such a way that my mind began to wander back to the last time I had seen such stillness on a vessel of something so truly and unduly unusual..
‘Other friends have flown before…’ I muttered, admitting my bitter fears to the Raven- ‘On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.’ The bird was silent for a moment before he again replied,
Silence bit at the heels of his swift reply and struck me, startling me into blankly staring at the bird in a way uncharacteristic of a dignified Southern gentleman such as myself. I quickly regained a synthetic countenance and rebuttled, half to myself,
‘Doubtless, 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.’ The continued stillness of the Raven was unnerving, yet convinced me that my explanation was the correct one. I continued to my conclusion, slightly more confident, ”Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore of ‘Never-nevermore’.’
Yes, of course. Lenore was gone- with almighty God and good Lady Hope, leaving me to battle disaster ever more. Even as I thought of the case of this avians invasion I remained certain that though the night was cold and wet and though my love I had yet to forget, there was to be no supernatural intervention between me and the Raven- the Raven! A simple bird and nothing more.
The simplicity of the thing which stared back into me was so beguiling in comparison to the complexities of my other nightly ponderings, that I could not help but smile once again. I found my place back on the cushioned velvet seat in front of the fire and overlooking the door, the bust and by extension the bird. I sank into the deep purple and kept eye contact with the Raven and betook myself to linking fancy unto fancy, what would, what could this ominous Raven of yore represent, were it a message from my lost Lenore?
What could this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore possibly mean to tell me in croaking, ‘Nevermore’?
I sat there for a long time, surveying the bird throughout the midnight hours. Lenore… Lenore send a Raven? What would my love truly be trying to express? A cold and clammy emotion I cannot describe fully came over me as I delved deeper into my mind and my imagination- yes, it had to be my imagination- projected all that is best of dark and light onto this Saintly and darkened dove known as Nevermore. The fiery eyes of the fowl burned into my bosom’s core, as though waiting for me to speak again. I sat and returned the gaze, trying to see this Raven as he saw me and trying to see what Lenore was therefore seeing of me. My head sat relaxed and my shoulders slouched at this memory itself, at the thoughts that perhaps she had not left me completely just yet- though some part of me was unhappy at the notion she had been unable to find peace at my expense. The fire and the lamplight mingled together and cast a glow over the daringly peaceful scene, the velvet-violet forever burning itself into my memory as Lenore’s favourite colour. As Lenore’s remnants stayed with me, was I not the curator of her? And if I were so bold, had I not then failed her? She pressed into my mind the longer the Raven bored into me, until the dull burning had once again begun at the front of my skull, and behind my eyes.
My heart was not in my throat, and yet the air grew heavier, denser, as if perfumed by an unseen censer swung by Seraphim, whose footsteps I could swear sounded like gentle bells upon the tufted floor. The scene before me almost instantly changed from peaceful to taunting- peace is something that should not be had. Not without her. My rage boiled all too quickly to my surface; ‘Wretch!’ I screamed, quite sure that this creature before me was no more a message from my Love than I was a sane and functioning man without her. ‘Thy god hath lent thee-by these angels he hath sent thee respite- respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;’ His gaze sharpened at my words and an unspeakable evil seemed to darken the room- ‘Quaff, of quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!’ The Raven’s gaze hardened at my hostility as it spat back, ‘Nevermore!’
I screeched, ‘Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ His eyes seemed to have a spark of hellfire dancing around in their centre as the glare of this evil creature intensified on me- ‘Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-‘ My voice rose to an almost comical level of hysteria at this point as Lenore swirled before my mind and ever out of my grasp once again, ‘On this home by Horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore- Is there- is there balm in Gilead?-Tell me- tell me, I implore!’
I was shaking with fear and anger as the cold numbness of before melted away- nothing could shallow the depths of my emotions triggered by the memories of the lost Lenore- oh, Lenore…
The Raven perched above me, gaunt and merciless as ever squawked down, ‘Nevermore.’
I considered again the number of reasons my innocent Lenore would never consult a messenger of the night to bring me tidings of her peace and comfort. I thought again of the last time I had seen a creature so dressed in black- the last stormy night of the last bleak December-
‘Prophet!’ I croaked weakly, my soul trying to escape this time, my heart having no more energy to sponsor continued attempts, ‘Thing of evil!- Prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore- tell this 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.’ I was so hopeful, despite myself. Had I not learned yet that to hope was to be naïve- more naïve than I ever could hope to be, ever again? Never again.
The Raven, apparently, agreed with me.
The word tore into my soul, my exhausted heart and the mind that was no longer protected by either. The only energy I had now was fueled by my anger that burned incurably deep within me. ‘Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked, tears springing to my eyes as though I were a spoiled child whose parents were refusing its wishes for the first time. ‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Lenore will not come back. Lenore is gone. There is no more Lenore. There is no Lenore.
‘Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!’
Her hand will never clasp mine. I will never see her wearing white. My Lenore shall be an unseen maiden here and forevermore. No black messengers of hers would grace my chamber door, for where she is there is no black. There is only her among her angelic kin and she is beautiful.
‘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!’
The Raven was still unshaken by my increasing aggression, and replied as calmly as ever,
I wanted the thing gone. I wanted its form to flit like the fly it was, far, far away from me and certainly far away from my chamber door as I trembled and it surveyed me, as far away at least as she had been. And yet, there he stood, and there he stays. Never flitting, always sitting, always sitting on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door. His eyes still study me whenever I enter with all the glow of a demon as he dreams. It seems that he wants to destroy and siphon out my soul from where it still sits trapped inside of my shell, and into his shadow as it dances upon the floor- but my soul shall be lifted- Nevermore!