Hallowe’en 1… The Raven

Trick or Treat

Hallowe’en is not a holiday I enjoy. The garish displays of costumes, makeup, home decor items, and candies make me want to stay out of the stores until it is over. In the dollar stores there are realistically gruesome replicas of severed limbs… adult or child size. You can buy plastic glasses shaped like skulls, stage makeup for fake wounds, wigs and rubber masks. I passed an apartment building yesterday that had a Christmas tree in the lobby entrance… decorated for Hallowe’en. Now THAT is scary!

I never have liked Hallowe’en, especially as a child who went to Catholic school.

Hallowe’en was all hallow’s eve, the day before a “holy day” and therefore a day of fasting and abstinence. The following day was a holy day of obligation…not a holiday… a special day with a particularly nasty twist. We had to attend mass, of course, and were supposed to spend the day praying for the dead… all our dead ancestors who were languishing in purgatory and for whom we could buy a bit of time off for good behaviour… our good behaviour praying for them.

The responsibility was just too much! My father was a convert to Catholicism… so the whole family on his side was doomed to purgatory, if not hell. My mother was the only child of a “mixed” marriage, so most of the relatives on her side of the family were doomed as well. From what I heard of family stories, some of them were surely in hell and could be crossed off the list of those to be helped… but the others? What could my humble prayers ever accomplish in the face of so much suffering?

We did go trick or treating… carrying grocery store paper sacks, we were allowed to go along both sides of the street for a block in each direction. I always had to take my brother and sister with me. Our costumes were old clothes… tramps were a particular favourite. One lady on the block made taffy apples and gave them to the children of her friends. We, however, got Hallowe’en kisses… hard as a rock taffy in twists of wax paper or tiny apples. Hardly worth the effort.

I really dislike opening the door to strangers in ghoulish disguise. There are always a few knocks that come late, after the porch lights are turned off, after the treats are all gone. The immanent threat of danger and vandalism is always there… the dark side of this dark “festivity”.

The emphasis on horror and terror has its roots in time-honoured superstitions and pagan rituals that can be traced back through the centuries. But now it is just a secular excuse to thumb one’s nose at conventional good taste, good manners and common sense, to overspend on non-essentials, to raise a little hell.

Last night on television I had the choice of watching a documentary marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis or a selection of Hallowe’en themed material. One was the 1963 film version of Edgar Allen Poe’s dramatic monologue The Raven. This B movie horror-comedy  stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a trio of rival sorcerers. Here is Part One from You Tube… the rest is available on-line.

The complete reading by James Earl Jones includes the entire text and Chopin’s Moonlight Sonata as background music.

The Raven has even been dramatised by The Simpsons!  Do you recognize the narrative voice?  Yes, it is James Earl Jones again.

The Raven
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 visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.”Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “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, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals 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.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “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-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never- nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with 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.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked,
“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
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

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 lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted-  nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe

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