Episode 18: Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”
Note: Before the previous platform collapsed and I made the move to Mosaic, I had been posting excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir of my life with pain. If you are new to this topic, I encourage you to retreat into the backlog of posts now available and begin with episode #1 (“My Best Day: 7 Years ago this Week”). Today we return to the story with episode 18.
I haven’t read or thought about Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” since high school English, 40 years ago. Only now, after revisiting the Oklahoma wildfire and what CRPS began to burn in 2008, do I hear “a tapping, As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” And from the mystery of human memory I recall the raven’s name: “Nevermore.” Something deep within me has made a connection between my life and this poem, a subconscious correlation between my life and this poem, a distant memory that offers a way of understanding my life.
“The Raven” (1845) is a narrative (story) poem about a lover’s grief for the death of his beloved, Lenore. As the poem opens, the poet is in his library late at night, searching for words that will help end his sorrow for Lenore. When he hears a tapping at the door, he reminds himself that it is merely a visitor; it is not and cannot be Lenore. Still, when he opens the door and finds no one, he stands peering into the darkness, “dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” and speaks a single word, “Lenore?”
He gives up and closes the door, only to hear a louder tapping at the window. Again, he calms and reminds himself that it is only the wind (not Lenore). When the poet throws open the shutters, to his surprise a raven steps into the room and flies to a perch on the bust of Pallas (or Athena), above the chamber door. The poet recognizes that this bird has come from the realm of the underworld and demands that the raven reveal its name. He hears only one word in reply: “Nevermore.” The lovesick writer struggles to understand the mystery of the raven. Maybe the raven will leave by morning, just as friends have “flown before” (died), to which the raven says: “Nevermore” (“no”). Or perhaps there is no significance to the raven’s presence or name; maybe its former owner taught it only one word: “Nevermore.”
The longer the poet observes the raven, the more he realizes its message is about Lenore. She will never again sit with him on this couch. Densely perfumed air blows in from the window, a sign that angels have sent the raven. The poet hopes it is a nepenthe: a potion he may drink and forget his painful memories of Lenore. This must be the raven’s purpose, to which the raven again replies, “Nevermore.” Then the speaker asks, “Tell me thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil is there ‘a balm,’” any salve or medicine for his broken heart? The answer: “Nevermore.” Will I ever be with her? Will I hold Lenore again? “Nevermore.” At this news, the grief-stricken speaker demands the raven leave, go back where it came from, leave and no longer torture me with its demon-like eyes. Let my grief for Lenore pass, to which the raven replies, “Nevermore” and takes an eternal perch above the chamber door. Not only will he will never recover Lenore, but the raven ensures that he will never lose the painful memories of his loss.
I began the year 2009, with renewed hope that cutting-edge medical technology would enable me regain control of my life and manage my near-constant pain. By now every passing day contributed evidence to confirm Dr. Brown’s diagnosis of CRPS. Every day I woke up ready to confront the pain, determined that I wouldn’t let it take the day. I’d fight back; I’d do battle. And today, I’d win. And every day I found myself wrestling with Br’er Fox’s “Tar Baby”  or tangled up with the “Whatchamadingle” made by Rabbit, Owl, and Gopher to catch “The Masked Offender” (Tigger in disguise).  The harder I fought and struggled against the pain, the worse I became tangled up, trapped, and unable to escape—with no brier patch in sight or friends who could help free me. All my fighting only served to escalate the pain with rushing adrenaline and tensed muscles. And no matter how hard I fought, every day I lost the battle.
I didn’t know any better. I hadn’t learned that it was a mistake to let pain pick a fight with me. I thought I was supposed to be strong and do battle with all my resources. I had to win. But I was wrong. It doesn’t work. In fact, losing one battle after another, day after day, began to wear me down—physically, mentally, and spiritually. So consequently, by the end of 2009, I was not only losing daily battles, I was losing the war. All that I valued or treasured was slipping through my fingers, and the harder I tried to hold on to them, the faster I lost them.
 “The Tar-Baby” from Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, compiled and edited by Joel Chandler Harris, 1881.
 Mark Zaaslove and Carter Crocker, “The Masked Offender” in The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Walt Disney, Original Air Date: January 1, 1989.