The setting of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is revealed primarily by the first two stanzas of the poem. Within the first two lines of the poem, Poe gives the reader a great deal of information. The "action" of the poem is taking place "upon a midnight dreary" (1). In other words, it's a dismal midnight. The narrator is feeling "weak and weary" as he looks "[o]ver many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore" (1-2). Further, once the raven enters the room in stanza seven, it perches "atop a bust of Pallas" (41). The volumes of lore and bust of Pallas reveal to the reader that the narrator is in some sort of library or study, and that the books number many, and are antiquated, to the point of being forgotten by the world. The narrator is perusing works that are no longer well known. While this could be a hyperbolic reference to the "classics" as they are defined, another possibility is that the volumes are things that have truly been forgotten. This would help to better establish Poe's motifs regarding memory and legacy. If the narrator is looking at things that were once deemed important enough to be published, but have since been forgotten, what hope do we, or the narrator, have of leaving a legacy and being remembered?
In the second stanza, the narrator also states that the action took place "in the bleak December," which furthers establishes the dismal mood. December is the final month of the year, when things are coming to an end. The weather is colder, and in many parts of the United States, nature is entering a long period of dormancy. Winter is not only coming; winter has arrived. With it come harsh conditions and ice, snow, darkness, and many other things that are often associated with death. This mood continues throughout the remainder of the poem. The bleak, dismal setting is crucial in establishing the bleak, dismal message of the work as a whole.