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

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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...

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In "The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe's word choice and imagery in the first five stanzas evoke a bleak and foreboding mood, even before the entry of the titular Raven. The poem explores themes of grief and hopelessness, and sets the tone for these themes from the beginning.

Stanza 1

Poe sets a dismal mood from the outset; the first line indicates the setting is a dreary midnight. Our protagonist is studying a "curious volume of forgotten lore." The use of the word "lore," when read in conjunction with Poe's other works, particularly "Ligeia," is likely a reference to literature on the occult. This nod to the paranormal brings with it an ominous tone.

The narrator then hears a knocking, which he presumes is a visitor, "Only this and nothing more." The assumption that a visitor could not be good news, a welcome friend, or other positive possibility indicates the hopelessness that becomes a central theme. As the Raven hammers home later in the poem, the narrator expects nothing- he has no hope of being lifted from his grief and depression.

Stanza 2

Again, the physical setting is described as dismal. It is a "bleak December" and the embers in the fire are dying, a dark imagery that reminds the narrator of his dead paramour, Lenore. The embers are personified as having ghosts, creating an eerie mood that touches on how the narrator is haunted by his lost love.

Stanza 3

The physical setting is developed further as dark, with purple curtains, and haunted. This stanza in particular brings in an element of foreboding and even suspense, as the narrator jumps in terror at mundane sounds like the curtains rustling and the knock on the door. Again, the narrator uses the phrase "nothing more," setting the tone of hopelessness.

Stanza 4

Here the narrator summons courage, and speaks to the mysterious visitor. His effort at connection is met only with "darkness there and nothing more." The non-responsive creature in the dark is classic horror imagery, and heightens the suspenseful atmosphere, while also driving home the depressive mood; the grieving narrator reaches out for human connection, only to find nothing but darkness.

Stanza 5

This stanza is where we begin to see the narrator's hope that the Raven will eventually destroy. The narrator, acknowledging the supernatural by daring to dream "dreams no mortal dared to dream before," believes the visitor may be Lenore. For the first time, but not the last, his hopes of reuniting with Lenore are dashed. This stanza, again, ends with him finding nothing more.

Poetic Structure

"The Raven" is written in trochaic octameter, a meter with eight trochaic feet per line, each foot having one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBB, with each B line rhyming with "nevermore," creating a dragged out "o" sound throughout. The meter and rhyme scheme, especially when combined with copious alliteration, create a hypnotic tone that add to the poem's eerie feel.

With their supernatural imagery, haunting structure, and repetition of the words "nothing more," "The Raven's" first few stanzas set the stage for the narrator's descent into grief and hopeless madness by creating an atmosphere of foreboding.