How does the author create a mood in the opening stanza of "The Raven"?
The mood created at the beginning of "The Raven" is one of mystery and sadness with undertones of horror. Poe accomplishes this through the Gothic setting, characterization, and poetic sound devices. The poem tells a story, and this stanza serves as the exposition and inciting incident, enticing the reader in.
Poe creates a Gothic setting through descriptions such as "midnight dreary," "quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore," and "chamber door." The mysterious sounds and the mental state of the narrator add to the vaguely scary feeling of the scene.
The characterization of the narrator creates a mood of mystery and sadness. Readers wonder why he is sitting up late alone at night and what he might be pondering. He is obviously tired, but he won't go to bed. This suggests he is deeply troubled. He is "weak and weary," and he mutters to himself at the unexpected noises. Many people will relate to hearing unusual noises when they are up late at night alone. The "tapping" and "rapping" noises he hears are quiet, adding to the subdued tone of mystery.
Poe develops the setting and characterization while using multiple poetic sound devices that cause the feelings of sadness, mystery, and horror to build. First, the predominant rhythm is trochaic--a two-beat measure with the stress on the first syllable: DAH-duh, DAH-duh, DAH-duh, DAH-duh. This is a trudging, somber, even funereal rhythm that weighs down the entire poem, reinforcing its feelings of sadness and depression. The onomatopoeia of the words "rapping" and "tapping" creates mystery and allows readers to imagine the sounds. The assonance of the repeated long /o/ sound in words like "over," "lore," "door," "only," and "more" creates a plaintive moaning sound that further enhances the sadness, mystery, and fear.
Poe, a master storyteller and brilliant poet, sets the mood of sadness, mystery, and fear from the beginning of "The Raven" by his use of a Gothic setting, characterization, and poetic sound devices.
Let us remember that a variety of techniques can be used to create mood, and these include rhyme, rhythm, diction and sound effects in poetry. If we examine the first stanza of this famous poem, we can see that in a sense, Poe uses all four of these elements to build a dark, ominous and threatening mood that is sustained throughout the poem.
Note how the words "midnight dreary" and "forgotten lore" are used to create an almost supernatural setting as we picture the student working hard on this "dreary" night in darkness, wading through books of forbidden knowledge. The onomatopoiea in words such as "rapping" greatly add to the suspense and fear, as we are startled into thinking who it is that could be knocking on the door at this time of night.
In addition, note the internal rhyme that is present, with "rapping" rhymed with various other words in the stanza. The regular rhythm of the poem which seems to be relentless in the way that it continues on and drives the stanza towards its conclusion helps sustain this tone through its power. The tone therefore is created through the impact of diction, rhyme, rhythm and other sound effects that give this opening stanza a chilly and supernatural tone.