James Earl Jones’s version is haunting and resonant, Vincent Price’s adds a certain cackle, a hint of the demented to Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative of lost love, obsession, delusion, coincidence and regret, first published in 1845, but with Halloween approaching, the season in which the unseen fluttering of wings may cause us to peer around a little more cautiously, I thought I would share this most chilling version, by that other legend of horror films, Christopher Lee. Scroll down, find a quiet room to listen, or perhaps not.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its 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 for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never-nevermore.'”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight 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 of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
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!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aiden,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of 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!
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!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

11 Responses

  1. jasmine

    Christopher Lee has the most amazing voice which is instantly recognisable. He also sings and there are various clips on YouTube of his singing early in his career. It is unfortunate that he only began to release CDs of his singing when already of an advanced age and his voice had started to decline.

    As a relatively young actor, he spent his ‘rest’ time singing with an opera group in Sweden and in fact, did consider that as his career, but decided (thank goodness) to continue with his acting career instead.

  2. C S Hughes
    C S Hughes

    I also read he met the men who killed Rasputin when he was young, and much later met Rasputin’s daughter. Amazing.

    • LCM

      Can anyone tell me the music in the background of Lee’s reading of “The Raven” or where I can buy the recording on permanent media?
      Thanks for the help

      • Olga Hughes

        Maybe go to the Youtube page and ask the uploader?

  3. Underdogge

    I suppose this is trending today (12.06.2015 as I type this) because Christopher Lee has just died. I believe he wanted to remembered for other things besides “Dracula”. He did have one of those voices which are instantly recognisable. RIP Mr Lee.

  4. Jasmine

    Every report in the media I have seen refer to him in his Dracula role – something he would not be very happy about, even though it is inevitable.

  5. Olga Hughes

    That’s odd, I thought as he was Saruman to a whole new generation of movie-goers they might remember that.

    • Jasmine

      The media only seem to think about Dracula. He was very annoyed by that. Apart from a French film (Dracula pere et fils – a satire on the original Dracula stories) which he made in the mid 1980s (IIRC), he made his last Dracula film in 1972, but the media seemed obsessed with that role. Even the headlines reporting his death in lots of UK papers referred to him as a horror actor or Dracula.

      I watched the first Hobbit film last night, and was pleased to see they did put in a small cameo role for him as Saruman. I remember he talked about how much he wanted to be in it, but could no longer make the flight to NZ – he did his bit in London and they stitched it in the film.

      I belong to his fan club, and he used to post quite a bit on the forum. Later, his daughter and son-in-law posted in stead and passed on messages etc.

      • Olga Hughes

        I didn’t know they filmed that separately. I think a lot of younger people will remember him as Saruman, and he was proud of Saruman. I haven’t really seen his Dracula (not a full film that is)
        Christopher Lee is the reason I try to read Lord of the Rings each year. I read an interview where he mentioned that he read it annually and thought it sounded like a good idea. I think of him each time I read it now.

  6. C S Hughes
    C S Hughes

    Of course he had many more great roles, but his role as Dracula is iconic.

    • Jasmine

      Oh, I agree – he managed to create a distinct charisma around the role, despite having few lines. The first time we see him in the first Hammer Dracula film, coming down the stairs to greet his guest, there is a strong sense of physical attractiveness – not what the audience would have expected. Such a contrast to the Bela Lugosi Dracula.


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