In "The Raven," what loss is the speaker trying to recover from?
The speaker is burying himself in books, in "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore," in order to find "surcease of sorrow" over the death of "a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore." The whole poem is haunted by the death of this maiden. The speaker wonders if there is an afterlife in which he might hope to meet her again--but the raven replies to all such questions with the single word "Nevermore." In an early stanza of the poem, the speaker throws open the shutter and peers out into the darkness, hoping against hope that the tapping he kept hearing was made by the spirit of Lenore. "The only word there uttered was the whispered word 'Lenore.'" But there is no response. The raven with its single-word vocabulary symbolizes the painful truth the speaker cannot escape--that he has lost his loved one forever.
The speaker of the poem has lost Lenore, "a sainted maiden" with whom he was deeply in love.
One way to read the poem involves interpreting the raven as an embodiment of his sorrow for Lenore's passing. In that case, the fact that the raven refuses to leave him (at the poem's end it "still is sitting, still is sitting / On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door") signifies that he will never be able to recover from his deep mourning.
Prior to the bird's arrival, the speaker has been trying, without success, to distract himself from thinking about Lenore. He has been browsing through old books in his library, and he concludes that "vainly I had sought to borrow / From my books surcease of sorrow" just before he hears the tapping that introduces the raven.
The speaker asks the bird, "Is there—is there balm in Gilead?" to try to determine whether his grief will be everlasting or whether there is hope for his emotional recovery. He interprets the bird's response, "nevermore," as an answer in the negative--there will be no healing for him.
The poem's final lines, "my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore," communicate that the speaker has lost all hope of moving on from Lenore's death.
The speaker had recently lost his love, Lenore. (This was inspired by the actual death of his wife, Virginia. NOTE: This poem is not autobiographical.) In the beginning of the poem, he states that he was reading to ease his pain. In stanza one:
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -