How does Poe use language throughout "The Raven" to show the deterioration of the speaker’s mental state?

Throughout “The Raven,” Poe uses language to show the deterioration of the speaker’s mental state through word choice, imagery, repetition, and direct address. Numerous words and images create a dark, emotionally charged mood. The speaker repeats several words and phrases, while the bird repeats only “Nevermore.” As the speaker addresses the bird, his tone changes from respectfully curious to demanding and overwrought.

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In “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe uses language in numerous ways to convey how the speaker’s mental state deteriorates through the course of his interactions with the bird. As the poem develops, the speaker changes from wondering if the bird is a figment of his imagination to accepting that it is real. Poe carefully selects words that convey the mood and tone of the speaker and his room or “chamber”; these include “dreary,” “bleak,” “dying,” “ghost,” “sorrow,” “sad,” “terrors,” and “darkness.”

In the early stanzas, the speaker is “napping,” and the overall mood is also quiet and calm, as indicated by words such as “gently” and “whispered.” The imagery, both visual and auditory, contributes to the somber but calm impression.

The speaker’s growing agitation is shown through repetition or very slight variation of both words and phrases. His unsteady state of mind is evident by repeating “rapping, rapping.” The speaker admits to this change of mental attitude, saying he was “filled…with fantastic terrors never felt before.” This changes is supported by two almost identical sentences:

'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door…

Once the bird begins to speak, it says only “Nevermore.” The repetition of this single, mysterious term contrasts markedly with the speaker’s increasing anxiety.

The speaker’s internal thoughts soon give way to direct address. Once the bird enters, he speaks to it.

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore…”

As they receive no reply, the calm tone becomes increasingly harsh as he demands an explanation.

Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!

The now hysterical speaker hurls insults at the bird and becomes obsessed with evil.

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!”….

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting….

In the end, however, calm is restored as the speaker is resigned to his fate.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,…

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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