Comparing Two Classic Works of the Age of Romanticism: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe and Walden by Thoreau

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American Literature has changed much throughout the ages, creating a vast amount of poets and writers over the years, many of which have been in the Romantic Era of literature. These stories include works in many different forms and viewpoints, including the transcendentalist and the anti-transcendentalist, which have awakened the reader’s imagination to new ideas and ways of life.

Edgar Allan Poe was an anti-transcendentalist writer responsible for writing the “The Raven”. He published his poem and became an overnight celebrity but still lived poor with his cousin for a wife.

Henry David Thoreau, on the other hand, was a transcendentalist writer and wrote Walden, a story about his life in the woods away from society. “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden share Romantic characteristics but offer different perspectives to their expression in their concern for individual freedom, interest in the supernatural, and their of the five senses. In the passages, Poe and Thoreau both write about their concern for their individual freedom and how they believe they have it or not. They both share quite similar topics, namely that they both would like a relief from the life that they are currently living.

In “The Raven” it writes, “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!” Balm in Gilead is a reference to the Old Testament to a spiritual medicine that healed Israel so the narrator is begging the raven for relief from his suffering. In similar fashion, Thoreau is also looking for an escape from his current state of living. It reads, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived, I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dead; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. ” In summary, Thoreau is telling the reader that he is going to the woods to find out what life truly is and escapes the monotony of his previous life so discover and learn on his own from nature. Not only are these topics quite similar, but they are also very different.

Both Poe and Thoreau want to escape the misery that they are currently living but one is more successful than the other. In “The Raven” Poe is wallowing in his misery and not looking for a way out of it. He does very little to cheer up and when a raven comes along saying ‘nevermore’ he completely loses his mind and spirals deeper and deeper into his self-pity. On the contrary, in Walden Thoreau tries to actually escape what he is living in and is successful. Throughout his story, he leads the reader through his journey of digging his cellar to the building materials he uses to even the cost and how he paid for it. He also shares lessons that he has learns from his time in the woods with the readers so that they may also understand these lessons from nature.

The final difference between the two is that they are both bound by different ideas and concepts. In “The Raven” he is bound by his misery and sadness for the loss of Lenore. In the poem, it declares, “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak of December And each separate dying ember wrought int 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 evermore. ” Poe lost the love of his life Lenore and because of his loss he spends the rest of his days thinking of Lenore and missing her. He is bound by his love for his lost Lenore. In Walden by Thoreau, Thoreau feels bound by something that was not love, he felt bound by society. He thinks he has already learned all that he could from society and everyone around him, so he took to the great outdoors to find a greater meaning to life. He wanted to learn lessons that only nature could teach him.

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One major point of similarities and differences between “The Raven” by Poe and Walden by Thoreau is that they both speak of the supernatural in their passages. To start with a difference in “The Raven” the main supernatural figure that it speaks of is God. Poe exclaims, “’Prophet!’ and I, ‘thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore’”. Throughout the poem, Poe brings up God many times and speaks of him as if he believes in him. However, in Walden Thoreau speaks mainly of Greek stories and tragedies.

At one point in “Brute Neighbors, ” he composes, “Whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished his wrath apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus” while watching an ant fight. Achilles was a myth from Ancient Greek writing where a baby was dipped into the river Styx resulting in him having skin as iron. The quote from the passage is introducing a part of the passage where Thoreau spoke of the Ancient Greek gods and myths, which connects to the central idea of "Where I Lived And What I Lived For". Both passages also had some similarities, namely the fact that “The Raven” not only speaks of the Christian God but also of the Greek Gods. He writes, “And the Raven, never flitting, still sitting, still sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;” In that fragment from the poem Poe is talking about where the raven is sitting and it just so happens that the raven is sitting on the bust of Athena Pallas, the goddess of wisdom. It is no coincidence that the raven just so happened to be on the bust of the goddess of wisdom. The narrator placed the raven there to symbolize that the raven might be speaking wisdom about what is to come of Poe and what has already come of his love Lenore.

Both stories vary greatly in how they view animals. In “The Raven” the raven is viewed as a supernatural being with a demonic countenance. Poe exclaims in frustration, “’Be that word or sign in parting, bird or fiend, ’ I shrieked, upstarting- ‘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!’” Poe is now yelling at the raven, desperately telling it that it is a fiend and that it should go back to night’s Plutonian shore. Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld so when the raven is commanded to go back to Pluto’s shore he is implying that the raven is from hell and is supernatural.

Although in Walden it speaks of many animals but never does it refer to those animals as supernatural, set from god or even magical. In Walden it says, “In the fall the loon (Colymbus glacialis) came, as usual, to moly and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with his wild laughter before I had risen. ” Nothing summoned or called the loon from anywhere. The loon came to Walden Pond as it does every year with nothing magical, special or supernatural about it unlike that of the raven from “The Raven”.

There are many similarities and differences between “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and Walden by Henry David Thoreau on the matter of the supernatural. Not only are there many similarities and differences between the interests in the supernatural, but there are many between their uses of the five senses to influence how the reader feels and thinks about what is happening. One similarity that is shown between the two stories is that they both use imagery and the sense of sight to heighten their individual situations.

In stanza eight of “The Raven” it relates, “By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore… 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 floor;” That quote from “The Raven” is describing the raven as dark and stern with eyes that seem like a demon’s. The description of the raven appeals to the sense of sight and makes the reader see a dark and scary raven which can make a reader nervous and on edge of what is about to happen next.

Similarly, in Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau is describing a war between some ants and uses many words that appeal to our sense of sight to make the story become more intense. He observes in his chapter “Brute Neighbors”, “I saw that, though he was assiduously gnawing at the near foreleg of his enemy, having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn away exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior, whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer’s eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite. ” He spoke of the carnage that he saw before him in great detail so that those reading his story could picture exactly what he was seeing. Many readers will be drawn in and engaged to see what will become of the ants later on in the passage. Although the stories have many similarities they are also different in many ways in the way that they use the five senses. One of those differences is that they use the reader’s sense of sound to make the readers feel different things. In “The Raven” Poe uses the sense of sound to make the reader feel a sense of urgency and nervousness for what is coming up. Poe has the raven repeatedly say “Nevermore” which makes the narrator gain a greater sense of uneasiness and more flustered which in correlation makes the reader also feel a greater sense of uneasiness. In variance, Walden uses sound to make the mood light and more playful. In “Brute Neighbors” Thoreau is in a boat on the pond and a loon comes by. He tries to catch the loon but the loon is always dodging him and going different ways. It would dive under the water and Thoreau would try to paddle over to where he believes it will show up again. Even with his great thought about where it would pop up again the loon would show up in a different place.

Thoreau wrote near the end of “Brute Neighbors”, “having looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore towards the middle a few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself. ” Thoreau speaks of the laugh multiple more times referring to is everything from wild to unearthly to demonic. The laugh helps the reader picture the game that he is playing with the loon and how the loon is surprising Thoreau and is popping up all over the water tricking him. Another similarity between “The Raven” and Walden is that they both use imagery to bring situations to life in the readers mind. Poe wrote, “I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door; 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” The way Poe uses his words helps the reader visualize what is actually happening in the scene. They can see the bird on the bust in front of the purple. They can see the bird and how dark and ominous it seems for them. Likewise Thoreau uses imagery and very descriptive words to help the reader understand what is happening in the story. He goes into great detail to describe his house and how he built it. Thoreau spoke into great detail about the digging of the cellar, how he paid for everything, and what supplies he used to build his new house. They both use great detail and descriptive words to help their stories come to life in reader’s minds.

“The Raven” by Poe and Walden by Thoreau are both classic pieces of literature written in the Age of American Romanticism. They both share different ideas on life and the world around them namely their concern for individual freedom, interest in the supernatural, and use of the five senses. They had many strong similarities between the two and many strong differences. The greatest similarity between the two was their desire for a change for the better in both of their lives. The greatest dissimilarity between the two is how in Walden imagery is used to create a happy playful mood while in “The Raven” it is supposed to scare the reader and to put them on edge. The similarities between these two wonderful works of literature have proven a greater strength than that of the similarities showing that maybe the anti-transcendentalists and –transcendentalists were not that different after all.

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