Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is a poem about a man who has lost his love, Lenore.
The mood is set with the time ("a midnight dreary") and the author's physical condition ("weak and weary"). It is December, the fire is full of dying embers—and even those bring to mind the supernatural:
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
The speaker sits alone reading old books ("forgotten lore"), nodding off; the sound of the rustling curtains fills him with terror, which adds to the mood of the story. When there is a knock at the door, the speaker tries to convince himself that even though he is frightened, the knocking is nothing more than "some late visitor."
Mustering his courage, the speaker rises and opens the door; he sees nothing, but hears his whisper "Lenore" that is echoed back at him. He comes in, closes the door, but again there is a knocking. The speaker tries to calm himself, thinking something may be tapping on the window—surely only the wind. He opens the shutter and a raven enters, walking like a "lord," where it…
Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door.
The man addresses the bird, "Ghastly grim and ancient raven," and asks him why he has come. The man makes no special note that he speaks to the bird, but he does express surprised that the bird can talk—only one word: the famous and daunting, "Nevermore." The man personifies the bird's speech...
...as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
When the bird will not say more, the man reflects that the bird will leave soon enough as all of his friends have. The bird repeats "Nevermore." The man thinks then that maybe the bird was only ever taught one word by "some unhappy master." Finally, smiling, the man turns his chair to face the bird, wondering what "Nevermore" means. For a moment, the man looks at a velvet cushion, knowing she will never sit there again, and suddenly he feels a presence in the room. He cries to heaven that he might forget Lenore, but "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'" The man becomes frenzied. He asks the bird, "is there balm in Gilead," which is a quote from the book of Jeremiah: he asks is there no healing for his broken heart? The bird's answer does not change.
The man then asks the bird, who he addresses as "Prophet," if he shall ever again see Lenore:
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore ...
Again, the bird offers no hope, repeating the same answer. Angry the man demands that the bird leave him to his sorrow. The bird's response remains unchanged, and in the last stanza the man reports that the bird is still sitting in the same spot. He acknowledges:
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
Poe's gift with poetry is often overshadowed by his tales of horror. As we read the poem, we are struck with Poe's surprising ability to write excellent poetry, using a variety of literary devices, while presenting a dark tale (his calling card) with hints at "other worldly powers." Here are some of the literary devices Poe uses:
- internal rhyme: While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
- onomatopoeia: rapping, tapping
- rhyme scheme: ABCBBB
- consonance: what it utters is its only stock and store
- assonance: yet was blest
- alliteration: grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt
- repetition: Nevermore.
- personification: the raven, sitting lonely
"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in 1845. Poe himself describes the poem's composition and the deliberate choices he made while writing it in his 1846 essay ""The Philosophy of Composition."
The poem is written in stanzas consisting of five lines of trochaic octameter followed by a shorter final line, rhymed ABCBBB, with the frequently repeated word "nevermore" acting almost as a refrain.
The poem is written in the voice of a first person narrator whose beloved Lenore has just died, and expresses his melancholy and mourning. The main event of the poem is the arrival of the raven, perhaps someone's lost pet bird, which flies in the narrator's window and with whom the narrator then converses. The raven apparently knows only one word, and in response to the narrator's queries, answers "nevermore" (or perhaps the raven just croaks and the narrator reads the meaning into the bird's noises).