Reflections on routines, repetition, and Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’

Rijul Jain

This is the second column by Rijul Jain ’25 exploring shared Williams experiences through literature and other art forms. 

I had just chosen my usual table at Goodrich — the one where some days the sunbeams will batter you into a glowing sort of happiness if you’re lucky — when it finally hit me: The spring semester had begun in earnest. Today, the sunbeams weren’t helping. I was blinded by their brightness and blindsided by my new classes, coursework, and activities; my fall routines had been largely washed away by Winter Study, and I felt like all my work had conspired to converge on this unassuming Tuesday. 

That morning, I decided to make an effort to settle into the flow of my weekly workload some more, and since then I’ve enjoyed trying to find that rhythm this semester. I’ve finally realized that at Williams, having transformative experiences, like new classes at the start of the term, doesn’t have to mean that we’re always unsteadily in flux. The process of finding our new routines itself feels like the perfect balance between the dazzling novelty of change and the comforting repetition of habit — and there’s an ecstasy we should seek in settling into those fresh routines and rhythms. 

To that ecstatic end, I find Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” especially compelling. It seems like an unlikely choice; its grief-stricken narrator, who feels oppressed by the ominously ever-present capital-R Raven in his room, tinges the work with despair. Yet however bleak the poem’s themes are, the pure aesthetic pleasure of reading its verse is undeniable, as when the narrator begs the Raven to “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!” The atmosphere of dread in “The Raven” is eclipsed by the satisfaction and joy of resonating with Poe’s intuitive poetic rhythm and structural repetition — just as the dread we sometimes feel when overwhelmed by a new semester gives way to the loveliness of intuiting fresh rhythms of daily life and having things finally click once more. 

Now, I can’t stop seeing “The Raven” crop up everywhere — even my daily Goodrich experience is transformed. As the semester, like Poe’s Raven, has come ominously “rapping, rapping at my chamber door,” I’ve found a new drink order. My routine jaunt to Goodrich is comfortingly centering, and each time I repeat the words “London Fog with whole milk” for my order, the more it feels so. Unlike Poe’s narrator, whose unease mounts as he reckons with the Raven’s tapping, I feel like spring semester itself isn’t as daunting now that I’ve situated myself slightly. It’s just new classes, new people, and new times — as Poe writes, “only this, and nothing more.”

Every day, with zeal, I consume my morning measure of Goodrich caffeine, which I’m especially grateful for due to my newly erratic spring-term sleep schedule. In keeping with my championing of habitual repetition, I’ve begun a routine that is both new and nostalgic — falling asleep to the Harry Potter audiobooks. It gives my sometimes-frazzled brain something constant to focus on other than the sounds of life in the hallways or the peculiar rattling of my slightly open window — Poe’s narrator uncharacteristically puts my distracted mind (and maybe yours) at rest too, reminding me that “‘tis the wind, and nothing more!”

Usually, after downing my daily London Fog, I chat with friends or indulge in roundabout reflections like that which led to this article. Then, I get to work — and not just normal work, I mean work-work. (We all sometimes use this emphatic repetition, a linguistic phenomenon called contrastive focus reduplication, to make a point, which is how you know this ritual toil truly means business.) To keep me focused on said work-work via musical rhythm, I’ve uneasily adopted another routine — listening to rap’s premier philosopher Playboi Carti on loop. His effervescent chanting of the mantra “never too much, never too much” was what first made me realize that repetition doesn’t sap meaning out but rather can suffuse it throughout something — a song, an experience, even the Raven’s incessant echoing of his pithy phrase “Nevermore.” It’s this mystical philosophy that influences how I perceive what the Raven “meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’”  

I shouldn’t fail to mention the beneficial aspects of remaining in Goodrich for hours on end — I’m that person who, like the Raven, “still is sitting, still is sitting” at the spot I began to occupy ages ago. From my perch, I particularly adore waving or saying hello to people. The simple act of recognizing others with a greeting, however fleeting — acquaintances, friends, perhaps neither —  is a vital one that provides slight but valuable moments of connection and stokes the flames of our sociability and warmth. These routines, too, though we may not think of them as such, imbue our days with the sense of buoyancy that we sometimes long for.

Each day, through my daily breakfast run, I come to find a surprising ecstasy in “The Raven,” in my new routines, and in repetition in general. Of course, the morning must come to an end at some point, so, every time I prepare to leave Goodrich, I always take a moment to inwardly revel in the comforting clamor of Williams students around me. Invariably, each morning, as I drain the last dregs of my drink and walk out the door, I appreciate more and more the Raven’s unceasing “Nevermore.”

Rijul Jain ’25 is from San Jose, Calif.