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The Raven
In one of those weirdly connected tangential chains that distracts one from work, I was listening to previously-unplayed songs in my Google Music collection when it chose "The Raven", by Isobel Campbell. Tuning into it in the middle of the song, I wondered if it was based on "The Raven", by Edgar Allan Poe.

So I looked up the poem, and quickly decided that no, it wasn't. But this did make me wonder if anyone had set it to music and recorded a song of it. YouTube turned up no longs, but did get readings of it by Vincent Price, James Earl Jones, and others.

So I listened to James Earl Jones reciting it ( while reading it myself.

One thing I noticed when doing that is that JEJ didn't follow the punctuation in the version I was reading. For instance, the second stanza begins "Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,//And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor." JEJ clearly and distinctly places a pause after "remember" and "ember". It was disconcerting to read it written without commas and hear it with pauses. There are many other places where the reading and the punctuation didn't match as well, sometimes adding pauses not written in the text, sometimes no pauses where commas are clearly in the text.

JEJ's reading isn't unusual. I'm fairly certain his pauses line up with what I've heard most others. Certainly in the cited example highlights the internal rhyme structure. But I suspect that it may not be what Poe intended. The punctuation in the poem is not regular -- phrases are set off by commas, semicolons, periods, and dashes (including one place with a semicolon followed by a dash). I don't think Poe was slap-dash; I think he was careful in his writing.

I tried reading it aloud as written, pausing at punctuation as seemed appropriate, not pausing where not indicated by the punctuation. It was hard. I feel that "Quoth the raven 'Nevermore.'" does not indicate a pause before "Nevermore", yet it is hard to not put one in.

And yet, I think it might be a better reading.

Rhyme is a problem. I don't rhyme "devil" and "evil". Poe does. I can see "undaunted" rhyming with "haunted", but "enchanted" has the wrong vowel sound in the stressed syllable to rhyme to me. That wasn't a problem with Poe. Did they rhyme in mid-19th century Baltimore, but not in early 21st century Ithaca?

If enough people ask, I'll try to make a recording of my reading it this way.

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The "Raving" and take heed.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I
pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious
volume of forgotten lore.

While I nodded in the hushing, suddenly
there came a rushing, as of someone
slowly flushing water 'cross my chamber
floor. Only this and nothing more.
Eagerly I wished the morrow, vainly I
sought to borrow plungers to relieve my
sorrow, mops to dry the soggy floor.
I slowed it down and nothing more.

Ankle deep in water standing, long I stood
there wheezing, panting, weeping, cursing
curses no mortal ever cursed before. As the
mess was slow subsiding, my thoughts were
strong to go a-riding to dry my troubled
clothes, perhaps to find a liquor store.

I jumped astride my motor scotter, a big
black bird screamed "Roto-Rooter"!
"And away go troubles down the drain" --
Roto-Rooter. Quoth the raven: "Evermore."

(c) 1979 Roto-Rooter

This was a radio commercial from about 15 years ago. I always loved it, because the guy reading it sounded so serious.

I heard a version I liked on the book channel on satellite radio.

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