"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe has been popular for more than 100 years. Does it merit this continued attention?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe was published in 1845, so it has been around for over 160 years. Poe published the poem in two magazines at the same time.  The rumors about the poem have been boundless; however, one seems particularly interesting: Poe sold his poem for five dollars. Throughout his life, Poe struggled financially. 

The poem fits into today’s popular horror genre.  In the poem, a student who is struggling physically and emotionally drinks a strong drug: nepenthe.  It was an opiate that certainly would have clouded the judgment of the drinker.  The young man begins to hear noises.  He recently has lost his love: Lenore.  Opening the door, he actually expects to see her corpse standing outside his door and is disappointed when she is not there. 

The mood changes slightly when a black bird taps outside the window of the man.  The man lets the bird in his room which intrigues him as the bird alights on a statue of the goddess of wisdom Athena and begins to stare at the man.  The raven has a limited vocabulary when he answers Nevermore to every question. 

The young man begins to lose his mind. Finally, he believes that his soul is blending with the soul of the bird.

Why has the poem maintained its popularity?

The subject matter

Most people like to be scared by literature or visual media.  The topics in the poem include death, insanity, weird human-like animal, drugs, an eerie setting, and love.  What more could a reader ask from a poem!

The style of writing

Poe’s use of imagery, comparison, alliteration, and personification create the sinister mood and tone of the poem:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak


And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost           upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—

From this description, Poe provides the time of the year, the weather, and the scary reference to the fire making ghost-like images on the floor. Even the poor protagonist wishes that it was the next day.

Within this brief portion of the verse, the poet uses imagery, alliteration, and a metaphor.

The Art of Interpretation

The poem has become a part of our literary masterpieces, and thus is included in almost all school curriculum.  It is a fun poem to interpret and expose the man and his bird to the 21st century.