In "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, explain any symbols that the poet uses?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe finds itself in the category of poetic masterpieces.  Poe employs almost every literary device in  literature  to convey the depths of despair that the nameless narrator feels.  

The poem has several symbols that Poe illuminates beginning with the subject of the narrator’s depression-- his lost Lenore.  Known only to the angels, the girl has died. The speaker finds Lenore in his every waking thought.  Little is learned about her accept that she was important to him.  Is she a myth, a memory, or a person gone from his life?  The reader never is given this information.  However, she represents the speaker’s melancholy. 

 And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this, and nothing more

This particular lady slinks into his obsessive mind and  symbolizes what the narrator thinks an ideal, virginal woman should be. Finally, she transfers from human to a heavenly saint.

Night and all its mysteries create the second symbol in the poem.  Darkness represents the danger lurking throughout the verse.  The scary images descend from the ethereal gloom brought through the unknown power of the midnight hour.  The shadows, the bleakness, the eeriness—all epitomize the setting and atmosphere within the poem. 

A specific reference adds fuel to the night’s fire: the Night’s Plutonian shore. The author  takes the reader to the pits of hell with his allusion to the Roman god of the underworld…and of course, waiting on the shore would be the ferryman ready to take the dead across to the gates of Hades.  The point is obvious: this is a hellish night.

The raven himself knocks at the door of perfect symbolism.  This was the perfect bird for the  job of scaring the man to death—black as night, large and scary, and unafraid of man. The raven’s entrance, stately and lordly, is indicative of  its  place as the representation of death.  The speaker’s reference to the bird is probably the most quoted line in American literature:

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

The final image of the bird befits this revolting bird.  He now is a sleeping demon with burning eyes.  His shadow dominates the entire room, terrifying the speaker.  Stately and lordly no more—he is the symbol of pure satanic evil:

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Poor man! He found his way to his lost Lenore.