The Three Ravens

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I found “The Three Ravens” to be a particularly difficult poem to deal with, not because it is dense, but because the content leaves me with many questions unanswered. Starting in the first stanza, the second (“Down a down, hay down, hay down”), fourth (“With a down”), and seventh (“With a down derry, derry, derry, down, down”) lines do not make a whole lot of sense.  In the sixth stanza, we are introduced to a “fallow doe” who inexplicably makes it past the fallen knight’s hounds and hawks, somehow lifts him up on her back, and even more incredibly is able to bury him, and then dies.

After doing some research, I have found some clarification. For the confusing lines in the opening stanza, Vernon Chatman believes that the second line can be taken as “Dejected all dejected, thou hast dejection, thou hast dejection” and the fourth line as “Utterly dejected.” For the seventh line, he offers the possibility that Derry, a city now known as Londonderry and a site of many battles in the Middle Ages, could be the setting of the poem. As for the “fallow doe,” Chatman writes that it was common for Irish clans to be named after animals; therefore, this doe could in fact be the knight’s lover or wife, being referred to as the name of their clan, which would fit in with the last line. However, he also offers the possibility that the doe is a hybrid of doe and woman. I actually like the latter explanation more. It fits in with the mythical and even sacred theme of this poem. The “doe” is able to easily make it through the barriers that guard the dead knight and also has a strong emotional connection with the knight as a human lover might (she kisses his wounds, buries him according to Catholic ritual, and is referred to as his lover). These are just possible answers to questions that are probably not meant to have a right answer.

 

Here is a link to the Chatman article:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4318039

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