What is the meaning of "Nevermore," repeated by the raven? How does it change throughout the poem?

The narrator of "The Raven" knows that the word "Nevermore" is a meaningless sound as far as the bird is concerned. However, he ascribes a series of meanings to it, beginning, facetiously, with the raven's name and ending with its refusal ever to leave him.

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The first time the raven says "Nevermore," it is apparently in answer to the narrator asking its name. The second time, the word comes after the narrator reflects that the raven will soon leave him. The difference, as the narrator himself points out, is that the first time, the response seemed meaningless. "Nevermore" is not a name. The second time, however, the word could be taken as a direct reply to his thoughts.

The narrator, however, has a perfectly reasonable explanation for the bird's repetition of "Nevermore." Presumably, its previous owner was given to muttering this word to himself, and the raven picked it up. The narrator's folly and derangement appear in the fact that, having reached a perfectly logical conclusion and knowing what the raven is going to say, he then asks a question to which "Nevermore" is an unwelcome answer: will he ever have any respite from his memories of Lenore? When the raven gives the expected answer, he persists. "Is there balm in Gilead?" Will he be reunited with Lenore in Heaven? He knows the answer each time before asking the question. Finally, he orders the raven to leave, again knowing what it will say.

The word "Nevermore" is meaningless, but the narrator decides to interpret it as meaning something. He is merely being facetious when he takes it to be the raven's name, but he becomes more and more upset and angry as he ascribes increasingly unwelcome meanings to the three syllables the bird has learned. First, it will never leave him. Then, he will never be free of his memories, there is no solace for his pain, he will never see his beloved again, and he will never be rid of the raven, psychologically or physically.

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The brilliance of Poe's immortal poem "The Raven" is this: an ordinary corvid flies into the narrator's house one night, perches over his door, and starts squawking (as birds are wont to do). Due to the extremely fragile state of the narrator's tortured mind, this simple, simple sound—repeated over and over—causes him to go hopelessly mad. 

"Nevermore" is the sound that the narrator hears when the raven opens its mouth. It's no great surprise that his mind created something unusual—after all, we hear the words "cock-a-doodle-doo" from roosters. The word does not immediately cause stress upon his brain, just as the melodic chimes begin sounding beautifully in Poe's "The Bells" before they turn to gradually to a cacophony of torture. 

In both poems, a lovesick man hears a neutral external noise and is driven mad by his own mind's inability to find peace in its agony. "Nevermore" becomes a cruel mantra; it becomes the jeering of the gods at his own attempt to mourn his lost love; it becomes the beak in his heart and the shadow upon his soul.  

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Early on, the bird's "Nevermore" comes in answer to the narrator's request for the animal's name, but then it takes on a somewhat more sinister tone...

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when the narrator,

mutter[s] "other friends have flown before- On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before." Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

The narrator is mourning the loss of his love, Lenore, and now he feels that this raven will leave him too, just as she did. However, the raven's "Nevermore" implies that he will never leave the narrator.

Further, though the bird is "still beguiling all [the speaker's] sad fancy into smiling," the narrator describes it as "grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous."  He next interprets the raven as a "respite" from his sorrows and a chance to forget for awhile, but the raven says, "Nevermore," which the narrator interprets as a claim that he will never be able to forget his sorrows.  At this point, he screams at the bird, calling it a "thing of evil," and he asks if there is any chance that he will meet Lenore in "the distant Aidenn" (Paradise or heaven).  The raven's "Nevermore" now dashes the narrator's hopes that he might someday be reunited with his love.

Finally, when the narrator orders the bird to leave, insisting that it is something from hell, the raven replies, "Nevermore," and—to this day—it still remains atop the bust of Athena in the narrator's chamber.  The light from the lamp throws the shadow of the raven on the floor, and the narrator says, "My soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!"  In other words, the raven has now become symbolic of some kind of oppressive force working on the narrator: perhaps it is the idea that death is final and that there will be no happy reunion with loved ones once we pass away. 

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The line increases the tension of the poem as the speaker continues his story. At first, the word is used in a humorous way when the narrator asks the bird its name and it replies "nevermore." He thinks that is a strange name for a bird.As the bird continues to sit on the bust of Pallas, the Greek goddess of wisdom, the speaker is still not very affected by its presence because he thinks that bird will just leave the next day. But then the bird says "nevermore", making the speaker think the bird is telling him he will never leave.The speaker becomes a little concerned but simply thinks "nevermore" is the only word it knows. But then the tone changes. The speaker begins to think there is something more to its meaning and begins to wonder what "nevermore" really means.As he thinks, the narrator becomes more agitated, first when he realizes that in this world, he will see Lenore "nevermore". Finally, the speaker begins to think the bird is a messenger from the dead so he asks the bird if he will see Lenore in the next world. Of course, the reply is "nevermore". He repeats the question in several different ways and receives the same reply. Now the narrator is incensed. He tells the bird to leave and receives the reply "nevermore. Thus, the meaning of the word has gone from an odd name of a raven to a prophetic warning that he will never again see Lenore nor will he ever get rid of the bird. In the end, the speaker decides he will be happy, "nevermore."

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