“The Raven,” a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, was first published in the Evening Mirror in January 1845. It is a narrative poem and one of the best-known works written by Poe, a dark Romantic writer. It touches upon several key themes, such as lost love, self-destruction, and the search for meaning.
The poem is written as a narrative told by a man sitting in his room “once upon a midnight” in “bleak December.” He hears a tap on his door and is startled by the movement of the curtain in front of the window. He closes the window and moves to answer the door, only to find “Darkness there and nothing more.” When he hears a second tap on the window, he opens the shutter and a raven flies inside. The bird perches itself on a bust of the Greek goddess Pallas Athena.
The speaker asks about the raven’s name and is surprised to hear the bird answer, “Nevermore.” The man keeps asking questions but is only met with the same answer. Although he knows that the answer is a mere “stock and store,” the speaker keeps questioning the raven. He wants answers about his lost love, Lenore, about his misery, and about the end of suffering. As the raven only says one word, the speaker becomes increasingly distraught. He concludes that his soul is eternally trapped inside “that shadow that lies floating on the floor.”
The poem is filled with several symbols, which add up to build a complex meaning. The time of the story is symbolic, as both midnight and December refer to endings and new beginnings. The questions that the speaker asks are simple in the beginning, but they become more complex. They reveal his tormented soul: he wants to forget about his lost love, but he also misses Lenore and wants to dwell in her memory. As he asks these questions, he grows angrier and comes to perceive the raven as evil. At the end of the poem, the shadow that entraps the soul of the speaker becomes a metaphor for his madness.