The death of a beautiful heroine always leaves someone behind, or the device simply would not work. Poe's narrator laments his loneliness as much as he laments Lenore's death. Poe writes, "Leave my loneliness unbroken! -- quit the bust above my door! / Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!" (Poe). Poe may have had very personal reasons for including the death in his poem, too. Kopley and Hayes continue, "The impetus for the poem doubtless arose, at least in part, from Poe's loss of his mother - and of others whom he had loved" (Kopley, and Hayes 194). Thus, while the literary device worked effectively, Poe's own haunting memories of his mother and lost loves may have contributed their own unique blend of sadness, longing, and loneliness to the poem that help give it an even more poignant and melancholy quality.
Poe was actually the lover and son left behind, and so he brings this personal experience to the poem, along with the experience that the women in his life were beautiful, making them all the more tragic. The critics note, "Here we have what may well be the key to the poem: the black bird represents the student's infinite memory of his lost Lenore - Poe's ceaseless memory of those he loved and lost - and, indeed, our own unending memory of our own lost loved ones" (Kopley, and Hayes 195). This is yet another aspect of Lenore, and the death of a beautiful woman, that resonates with readers. They tend to remember their own lost loves, loved ones, and friends, and so, the poem becomes a personal look into grief and loneliness that they cannot forget. Artistically, this is another device to make the reader respond to the poem, but it is also a reality of life. People often lose those they love and cherish the most. Thus, the poem strikes a chord with just about every reader who has ever loved and lost.
While the poem is heart wrenching, there is also something dark and sinister lingering below the surface. The black bird seems evil and devilish somehow, and the narrator concurs when he shrieks, "Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil! -- prophet still, if bird or devil!'" (Poe). Why does a "thing of evil" bring memories to the narrator? What is the background of the pair of lovers? It is easy to see the narrator is lonely, but why is he so tormented? There is something missing in the equation here, and whatever it is seems sinister and foreboding. Poe uses this dark underbelly of life in many of his works, leaving the reader with a sense of fear and horror that linger. Lenore is a device to add depth and emotion to the poem, but as she dwells with "the angels" the reader must wonder just what happened to her, and what the narrator had to do with it. There is more than simply longing and grief in the poem, there is something darker that dwells in the very souls of so many of us. Poe saw the world darkly, and that is evident in this poem and many of his other works. Lenore is a sexual and sensual device, but she is certainly not the only device. The dark, haunting quality of the poem is another device that helps create outstanding and dramatic art.
Finally, Poe's work may be sexist and use common literary devices, but it is still a fine work of art. It proves that even some of the greatest and most enduring writers are not above using device and emotion to reach their readers. Many famous and quite successful authors have used the same literary device in their works to make them memorable and interesting to the reader. Poe's style, his horrific qualities, and his ability to reach his readers all add to his artistic qualities, but his use of the death of a beautiful woman in this poem may be the most important quality it has. It distinctly illustrates how death and art are intertwined, and how grief, loneliness, and passion strike a chord in just about every reader. There is a saying that "art often imitates life," and this poem graphically illustrates that, too. It is tragic when a beautiful young woman dies, and it makes the art even more remarkable and more dreadful. It is also quite a successful way to make a work of art live on long after the writer and the young woman have disappeared. Some of the greatest artistic works revolve around the death of a beautiful woman, and most of them are still popular, readable, and emotional today. "The Raven" is a great work of art for a number of reasons, and Poe was a great writer for a number of equally compelling reasons. He knew a good literary device and when to use it most effectively and with the biggest impact.
In conclusion, Poe's haunting poem "The Raven" would not be quite so haunting or memorable if it did not refer to and immortalize the death of the beautiful Lenore. Her presence with "the angels" lends a lingering and tragic note to the poem that would not exist otherwise. Poe alludes to so much during the poem, from loneliness and lost love to the perfection of Lenore. Without lost love, the poem would not be nearly as tragic as it is, and perhaps would not even be as frightening. The poem is a clear and lasting testament that death is essential to some types of art. Without the death of Lenore, this poem would simply be another of Poe's works, not nearly as memorable or as distinctive.
Hayes, Kevin J., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Kopley, Richard, and Kevin J. Hayes. "12 Two Verse Masterworks: 'The Raven' and 'Ulalume.'" The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 191-203.