“Nevermore”

Published November 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

This drawing is perfect on so many levels.  Snape most certainly could have been the speaker of Poe’s “The Raven”, pondering “weak and weary” over his memories of Lily.  And like the speaker of the poem, he is caught up in his painful memories from which he will recover “Nevermore”.  I love how the raven’s mouth is open as if he is reiterating “its only stock and store”; however, the repetition of the word is not what draws the narrator spiraling downward in his depression.  The bird can only say what it knows, and it is the narrator that is in charge of the “conversation” that ensues.

It’s like a “talking” doll that can only say, “Mama.”  When a child plays with a talking toy, it’s the child in charge of any “conversation” that takes place during playtime.  Fully knowing that the answer to whatever the child says will be “Mama”, the tone of the discourse will depend upon whatever the child says.   For example, when playing this kind of game, a child might say, “Who do you love?”, to which the doll would respond, “Mama.”  In this scenario, it’s a happy conversation, and the child continues in this thread.  The doll can only say what it’s programmed to say… nothing more.  Imagine how the tone of the conversation would change if the child asked, “Who makes me mad?” or “Who’s the meanest person on Earth?”  The doll will still say, “Mama.”  The whole situation then becomes something much darker… but not through the fault of the toy.

Now let’s look at the speaker of the poem.  He’s already depressed.  He’s lost “the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore” and has taken to shutting himself up in his room.  When the raven arrives, being able to speak only the word “Nevermore”, the outcome of the “conversation” with the bird lies solely with the narrator.  He asks leading questions all the while realizing that the bird can only utter that one word.  He even admits that it probably learned “that one word… from some unhappy master.”  Still, though, he chooses to ask those leading questions.  He asks if he will ever see Lenore.  He asks if there is “balm in Gilead” and if he will ever “clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”  With the repetition of “Nevermore”, he spirals further downward into his depression to the point that he will never recover and remains sitting in his room.  Imagine if he’d asked, “Will Lenore forget me in Heaven?” or “Will this pain be with me always?”  “Nevermore” would have then been a comforting reply, and he might have healed from his emotional wounds… but he doesn’t.  He chooses to ask the wrong questions, which does nothing more than to echo the despair he is already feeling.

Severus Snape is a perfect choice for the speaker of this poem.  He never got over Lily Potter.  His emotional life ended when she fell in love with James, and he harbored the pain of what he took as betrayal for the rest of his life. In spite of that “betrayal”, he still loved her.  When Lily died, Snape felt responsible for Voldemort finding her, and he carried that guilt with him as well.  This just added fuel to his obsession with her.  Like the speaker of Poe’s poem, Snape shut himself off and wallowed in his painful memories.  He went home each night to an empty room and ruminated about Lily in the same way the speaker clung to his memories of Lenore.  Neither ever healed from their lost love because neither could let go of the past.

So what does all this have to do with me?  Well, like the narrator and like Snape, I have also lost someone that I loved very deeply.   Similar to Snape’s feelings of betrayal when Lily fell for James, I was also betrayed… and in some ways, I still feel that pain of that betrayal.   As much as I want the memories to fade into oblivion, I seem to unconsciously whisper the name of my ex-fiance more often than I would like to admit.  It seems to come out of nowhere.  I’ll be driving, and I’ll spontaneously say his name aloud.  I’ll be turning over to go to sleep, and his name will creep from my lips.  But I do NOT want to end up like the speaker of the poem or like Snape.  I want to move forward and “forget this lost”…person. Or at least forget the pain I feel.

What I need to do in response to those spontaneous whispers of his name is to finish the sentence with a reminder of how I need to move forward.  I know now for sure that this relationship was not at all healthy for me in so many ways.  He has to live his life, and I have to live mine.  I cannot chain myself to the pain that the memories bring, and I certainly cannot fool myself into thinking that maybe I’ll be with him again.  I do not want to go backwards, and I also do not want to get stuck like Snape.  While it might seem a romantic notion to carry a torch for someone you’ve loved deeply and spend the rest of one’s life loving a memory, it’s not at all healthy.  I cannot do that to myself.  I cannot attempt to justify his behavior and forget how his betrayal destroyed any illusions I had left about us getting married.

What I can do is try to forgive.  I am trying to erase the anger and hurt that I still feel months later, but it’s not easy.  Like the narrator and like Snape, I loved passionately.   But I know that the love I felt for him will never bring me anything but more pain in the long run because I’d forgiven him so many times and taken him back after breaking up.  I rode that merry-go-round for nearly ten years, and it’s time I stepped off the ride for good.   I will not take up that “conversation” with myself that consistently repeats his name.  That bird will NOT remain “perched above my chamber door”, and I will NOT continuously make the wrong statements to myself to which my personal “raven” will reply.

Will I always feel like this?  Will the anger and hurt stay with me forever?  Will I always be alone?

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

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