“Deep Into That Darkness Peering”: An Essay on Gothic Nature

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When the anxious narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" first hears the gentle "rapping at my chamber door" that disturbs his reading of "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore," he imagines its source to be some human "visitor" that has come knocking (58). Cast into a state of apprehension by thoughts of his recently deceased beloved Lenore, he "open[s] wide the door" to find only "Darkness there, and nothing more" (Poe 58). In a powerful moment pregnant with anticipation and dread, he stands there, "Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting," all the while staring into the blackness of the open doorway. Suddenly uncertain of what lurks within that darkness, Poe's narrator admits that he is "dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before" (58). We never quite learn what these dreams are, but his phrasing suggests that what he wonders about, what he fears, what he doubts is as much a product of his own imagination as it is anything that might actually exist outside his chamber. Of course, while this narrator's mind runs loose conjuring up shadowy and fantastical fears, the real object of his concern turns out to be merely a bird, a "stately raven of the saintly days of yore" (59).