How does Edgar Allan Poe in "The Raven" create the mood/ and atmosphere in the first five stanzas?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe creates an ominous atmosphere for this eerie tale of the ebony bird who visits the narrator.  The narrator has recently lost his love—Lenore. He is  in a dark place in his grief. 

The author uses alliteration, rhyming, and repetition to accentuate the mood of the poem.  The setting of the candle-lit chamber and the grief stricken speaker prepare the reader to be frighten as the man receives into his room the black bird.

1st stanza

The time is midnight. The speaker sits feeling weak and tired. He has been reading old books.  He is almost asleep when he hears a tapping at his bedroom door. He thinks that it must be a visitor.

The author establishes the ominous mood by using the midnight hour.  When the knock at the door occurs, who would be there so late at night. The man himself is apparently frail possibly due to his recent loss. He also talks to himself which questions his mental stability.

2nd stanza

The season is wintery December.  The fire creates an eerie appearance throwing shadows on the floor. The man wishes that it was already the morning. He has been reading the books to avoid thinking about the his lover, Lenore. He describes her as unusual and beautiful.  The reader learns about her death since the angels have taken her.

This is a flashback which lets the reader know night is in the past.  The ghostly embers of the fire create a weird look. The man is upset and wishes it were morning. Already sad and lonely, everything looks worse at night time. The poet uses the words sorrow, dying, bleak, surcease:  all words that relate to death and despair.

3rd stanza

A breeze makes the window curtains rustle and move.  This scares and terrorizes him. He can feel his heart beating within his chest.  He begins to repeat:

“Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door---

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;--

                                   This it is, and nothing more!”

The alliteration in the first line of the stanza establishes fear: silken sad uncertain rustling…” The curtains are moving, but he does not know how. He is already so scared that anything that happens pushes him more toward hysteria.

4th stanza

Soon, the narrator finds a little more courage; without hesitation, he says to the door that he is sorry for the wait because he was napping.  Then, he opens the door: Nothing--but darkness.

The terror that the speaker feels is so deep that it infiltrates his soul, already vulnerable from his grief.   The author uses the word “darkness” outside the door. That in itself is scary.  Still, he has no answer to his question of the tapping at the door.

5th stanza

The man peers out into the hall and stands there thinking--afraid…first, he doubts that he heard anything at all—then, he begins to imagine terrible things that no human should ever think.

There is no sound, and the darkness yields nothing at all. He whispers out into the darkness: Lenore.  An echo comes back to him: Lenore. 

The alliteration in this section adds to the fear of the man.  Poe uses the “d” sound: deep, darkness, doubting, dreaming, dreams, dared, dream, darkness.  This repetition adds to the dismal atmosphere of the room and the opening of the door with nothing there.   Although the man knows that Lenore is dead, he whispers her name. This indicates that he is willing to accept her returning as a ghost.