What is the mood/tone of Poe's "The Raven"?

The tone of "The Raven" is desperate, as the speaker turns to a raven for comfort in the loss of his beloved Lenore. The mood is eerie, as the poem utilizes dark and foreboding word choice and intentional literary devices which generate unsettled feelings in the reader.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The tone of a poem is the attitude the speaker takes toward the subject. In "The Raven," Poe crafts a speaker who sits alone on a bleak December evening, missing his lost Lenore. This speaker is so desperate to see Lenore again that he begins badgering a raven for answers. Even when he surmises that the word "Nevermore" is the only word the bird can utter, he continues to pelt it with statements and questions. The tone to describe the speaker's attitude toward these circumstances is desperate. He is desperate for Lenore's companionship, desperate for relief from the pain of losing her, and desperate for answers. The poem ends in a final desolate image of the speaker sitting alone in the continued presence of the bird, feeling that his soul will never rise from the shadows of emotional confinement.

The mood of a poem encompasses how a reader is intended to feel when experiencing the poem. "The Raven" establishes an eerie, ominous mood from the beginning. The poem's setting is on a cold December evening. The bird itself, a raven, is often a symbol of loss and bad luck. Poe crafts alliteration that furthers this eerie mood, such as this example.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

The s sound that hisses through this line conveys a harsh reality, and the speaker adds that these sounds fill him with "fantastic terrors," the juxtaposition of those terms adding to the ominous and eerie mood. As the poem progresses, it's impossible to escape the sense of foreboding. The speaker longs for his dead love. He begs for relief from his pain. He screams that the bird is both "evil" and a "devil." And in the end, he cannot find peace, as the bird refuses to leave. This eerie ending reflects the darkness of the speaker's soul, which then leaves the reader with an unsettled sense of gloom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

First, mood and tone aren't the same thing.  It's common that teachers lump those two items together because they do come hand in hand quite often.  Additionally, tone will often affect mood, so many readers assume that they are equivalent.  

In a nutshell, tone is more about the author or speaker of a piece, and mood is more about the reader.  Tone refers to an author's or speaker's use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude toward a topic. Tone could be defined as how/what the author feels about their subject. What the reader feels is known as the mood.  

I'll start with tone for this poem.  When the poem starts out, I feel that the speaker's tone is a mixture of solemn, nostalgic, and perhaps even distracted.  The poem begins late at night with the speaker trying to find some way to take his mind off the lost Lenore.  He's very sad about losing his loved one, and he can't stop thinking about her. 

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow 
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— 
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore— 
            Nameless here for evermore. 
From there, I would say that the tone changes to curious.  A strange knocking arrives at his door, but there is nothing there.  
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;— 
            Darkness there and nothing more. 
Next, a strange talking bird comes in.  At first, the narrator sees the situation as quite curious.  
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, 
Eventually though, the narrator's curiosity turns toward annoyance and anger at the bird.  
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting— 
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! 
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! 
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! 
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” 
Finally, the narrator's tone is one of resignation.  He knows that Lenore is dead, and he knows that he will never be able to be with her and be happy again. 
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor 
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!
As for mood, I would have to say that the mood of the piece is mysterious, melancholic, and a bit morose.  The mysterious mood is easily taken care of through the talking raven.  That's just weird.  As for melancholic and morose, that mood pervades the piece because the narrator is spiraling through depression at the loss of Lenore.  The raven doesn't help his depression either.  In fact, the raven makes it worse and turns his depression into anger—which leaves him morose.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Poe's poem "The Raven" starts with these lines:

Once upon a midnight dreary, 

while I pondered, weak and weary...

Note that the words "dreary" and "weary" introduce the mood of darkness and lethargy. Poe's diction, or word choice, serves to promote and deepen the mood as seen in the second stanza, which refers to "bleak December," "dying embers" that make "ghost" shadows on the floor, and the narrator's vain attempt to find relief from his sorrow "for the lost Lenore."

The rustling of the curtain fills the reader with "fantastic terrors never felt before." There is an incessant tapping at the door that reveals, when opened, only darkness. As the poem continues, it is apparent that this is quite simply a poem about the speaker's dead love Lenore. Even the bird in the story's title supports the mood: the raven is black (the color of death) and is an animal often associated with death. Repeated references to the presence of the raven sustains the mood Poe creates and develops throughout the poem.

The raven thus becomes “emblematical of Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance.” 

Poe's repeated images of sadness and loss and the symbolism associated with the raven emphasize the feeling of melancholy. The poem comes full circle with the narrator's resignation to Lenore's loss, and his knowledge that his depression and misery will never leave him because he will never recover from his loss.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team