"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous and frightening poems in the English language. Its lyrical intensity, haunting cadence, and dark atmosphere make the reading of it an unforgettable experience.
Who: The poem's point of view is provided by an unnamed narrator whose love Lenore has died. He has a fascination for obscure works of literature. When the raven arrives, he is pondering over "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore." He hopes that his books will bring him at least temporary relief from the sorrow of losing Lenore, but this hope is in vain. The death of the woman has possibly caused the narrator to become unbalanced emotionally and psychologically, because he begins to speak to the raven when it enters his home as if it were supernatural and could give him some answers about Lenore. He is intent upon assuaging his grief and continues to ask pleading questions until the raven has convinced him that all he can expect forever is despair. As for Lenore, nothing more is said of her other than that she was a "fair and radiant maiden."
What: The object that the narrator focuses on is the raven, a mysterious bird that taps on the window and then flies in when he opens it. He perches upon a bust of Pallas, which refers to Pallas Athena, a Greek goddess known for her beauty and wisdom. From there the raven never leaves, and it answers any question asked of it with the ominous rejoinder of "Nevermore!"
When: The era in which the poem takes place is not given, but if we can assume that it is contemporary to the time when Poe wrote and published it, then it would take place in the mid-1800s. The narrator gives the specific time of the raven's arrival as midnight in "bleak December." However, it seems that the narrator is telling the story long afterwards, because in the last stanza, he emphasizes that the raven still sits silently on the "pallid bust," as if a long period of time has passed.
Where: The narrator refers to the place where the poem takes place as "my chamber," which would mean his bedroom. There is a fire burning, and he seems to have numerous books. The curtains are purple. When he opens the door to locate the source of the tapping, there is only darkness. The bust of Pallas is situated above the door of the chamber.
Why: There are two possible explanations as to why the raven appears and speaks to the narrator. One is that the events can be taken literally. In other words, the raven really is a demon sent from hell or the afterlife to torment the narrator. The other interpretation is that the narrator has gone mad with grief and that in his despair, he imagines the appearance of the raven and the sorrowful word that it speaks to him.