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

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 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. 

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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."

nallister eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.