What are the questions that the poet asks the raven in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"? 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Raven" is unquestionably the most famous poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, probably at least in part because of its form and structure--and a talking raven is intriguing, as well. The speaker of the poem (the "I" we meet in the first line) is a young man, a student, who is sitting in his library one night, pondering the loss of his beloved lover, Lenore. A raven shows up and the man is startled from his despondent reverie; a conversation of sorts ensues.

Though the man is startled by the talking bird, he begins to ask the raven some questions. It soon becomes clear that the bird can only speak, or at least answer, one word; nevertheless, the man continues to ask the raven some questions.

The first seven stanzas are the precursor to the man-bird exchange. It is late and he is dreaming and sleeping when he hears a tapping at the door. Because he has been dreaming of her, his first thought is that Lenore has come back for a visit. The bird comes in and settles himself above the door on a bust. 

Starting in stanza eight, the man conducts his rather one-sided dialogue with the raven. The first question he asks the bird is his name. The answer: "Nevermore." The next stanza contains an implied question:

"Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."

The implied question seems to be will the bird leave him like all his "hopes" have. Again the answer is simple: "Nevermore." 

At first the man suspects that this is a tame raven that has been taught this one word from its owner, but then he sits and ponders and his thoughts again lead him to his feelings about Lenore. His next question is more of a hope than an actual question:

"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!"

The man wants to know whether the gods have sent him some relief from his sorrow, but of course the raven has only one answer: "Nevermore."

Then he cries out in desperation and begs the bird to tell him whether such relief even exists, if there is such a thing:

"...tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!" 

In other words, is there any hope that his grief will ever be assuaged, he asks--knowing by now the painful answer to his painful question. "Nevermore."

The man's final question is rather horrible, because we already know the depth of his torment and we know there is no relief but he is compelled to ask anyway:

"Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?"

Will he be reconnected with his lost love, even in Eden (a derivative of "Aiden")? Nope.

In the next-to-the-last stanza the man commands the bird to leave, which might also be considered a question, though it is framed as a statement. He tells the bird to leave, to

"Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"

In other words, he asks the bird if he will leave, and of course the answer is exactly what both the reader and the man expect: "Nevermore."

To some degree, all the man's questioning is torturous and futile, because the raven only serves as a confirmation of what he already knows: his love is gone forever. In another way, this rather odd dialogue is healthy for the man, as he is forcing himself to face the sad reality that his love is gone and he will always feel the loss.

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