Edgar Allan Poe's “The Raven” and Donald Justice's “Incident in a Rose Garden” both center around an uncanny, supernatural visitor, who has arrived with a message for the speaker.
In “The Raven,” this messenger is a bird, a black bird with flashing eyes who unexpectedly taps upon the speaker's window one dark night and repeats only one word: “Nevermore.” The speaker is curious at first as he observes the bird, and then he questions the creature. The raven continues to respond, “Nevermore” to each question or request, and the speaker becomes more and more agitated, interpreting the bird's single word as a prophetic answer to his fear and curiosity. The speaker wishes to know the fate of his lost love, Lenore. Is she in heaven? Will he see her again? Yet the bird continues to croak only “Nevermore,” allowing the speaker to make of that what he will.
The speaker in “Incident in a Rose Garden” also receives a visitor. Only this strange being arrives in the speaker's rose garden. The gardener sees him first and, terrified, runs to the speaker with an announcement:
Sir, I encountered Death
Just now among our roses
Death beckoned the gardener, but he dashed off in the other direction, not yet ready to meet this fearsome figure. The speaker takes this sudden appearance of Death quite calmly and goes off to see him. He observes Death (as the speaker in “The Raven” observes the bird), noting his appearance and his attitude (patient, as he deliberately kills one rose after another). Then, like the speaker in “The Raven,” the speaker in this poem addresses his visitor. He accuses Death of threatening his gardener and warns him that only friends are allowed on his property. Death, however, has a much fuller answer than the raven. Like the raven, he cares nothing for the speaker's opinions. He holds out one bony hand, tells the speaker that he was a friend of the speaker's father “at the end” (line 44), and then clarifies his purpose now. Death has come not to take the gardener but to meet with the speaker himself.
Both of these poems, then, address the question of death, each in its own way, through an encounter with a strange visitor. Both contain a dialogue between the speaker and the visitor. Both end on a note of mystery. What is the raven's purpose? Will it ever leave? Does Death mean to take the speaker with him? Can they leave as friends? Both are designed to make readers reflect deeply on the mysteries of life and death.