Translating "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe from English to English

I have a student, Jenny, that wants to learn popular English poetry. We went through "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost and now we're working on "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. We are working on the third stanza right now; going over the individual words, the phrases, the lines, and the stanzas. She is doing well. We puzzle through it. I focus on asking questions at first, as we progress my explanations become more clear, I think. That way she can hopefully figure it out before I fully explain what everything means. I do try to go through each stanza after we finish talking about it and give a simplified contemporary version. I told her that I would do that for the first three stanzas and send it to her. That's what I'm going to do right now.

Here are the first three stanzas from "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.
"'T is some visiter," 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
"'T is some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;--
This it is, and nothing more."


Now, I'm going to see if, just off the top of my head, I can come up with a rendition that will be very plain, maybe even blunt. Basically it will strip the poetry from this poem, which is oh so sad, and rather ironic, but also useful for our purpose of comprehension. It seems a bit like sacrilege, but...
here we go.


On a sad night a tired guy
is reading a book of really old stories
and falling asleep when he hears the sound
of someone knocking on his door
and he thinks it's a visitor,
only a visitor.

This was in December
and the fire in his house was almost out.
He wanted the day to be over. He tried and failed
to stop being sad about Lenore by reading a book.
Lenore was a beautiful woman but now she's in heaven
and she will never come back.

The curtains were moving and making a sound
and that excited and scared him really bad.
To try to calm down he said to himself
it's a visitor knocking on the door,
a late night visitor knocking on the door,
and nothing else.


There it is. The first three stanzas of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in plain and easy to read English, translated from the English. I decided to cut out the dialogue entirely to simplify it as much as possible. I think this will help, I think it's been helping, I hope, and she says it is. Only 15 more stanzas to go.


I've written two fictional pieces that I like so far.

"The City of Peace" - A future science fiction utopia/dystopia action adventure in a framed story of a father telling his son a story about the child's grandfather.

"The Birth of Hanniba'al" - A dark, somewhat alternative, historical origin story for the Carthage General Hannibal.

Here are three of my most popular posts.

"The Make of a Great First Line in Fiction"

"A Letter to My Niece in 2034"

"The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4"

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