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A stanza from a poem entitled The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe:

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.

I'm not sure how to properly understand that line. Could you please break it down for me?

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Rough transliteration...
You tapped at my door so quietly, that I wasn't certain I heard it'

I scarce was sure = I really wasn't sure I heard you...

Literally meaning 'rare, hard to find' but in archaic English this was able to be used in the same sense as 'barely', 'could hardly', 'only just' etc

Totally irrelevant, yet nicely done - The Simpsons [voiced by James Earl Jones] - http://vimeo.com/29733360

  • Positively, we can naturally say 'I was fairly sure I heard you' and negatively, 'I was hardly sure I heard you'. Another option is 'I was scarcely sure I heard you'. Poe can't use the form 'scarcely' because it won't fit into the rhythm, so he uses 'scarce'. Dictionary.com lists 'scarce' as an adverb meaning 'scarcely'. – Sydney Nov 19 '14 at 11:53

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