At a Glance
In "The Raven," an unnamed narrator sits in his room mourning the loss of his lover; his sadness and desperation lead him to torture himself with questions he knows will cause him pain.
The raven, most likely an escaped pet who picked up his refrain (“Nevermore”) from his previous master, takes on supernatural significance in the disturbed narrator’s mind.
- Lenore, though discussed abstractly in the poem, appears to be the beautiful lover whose death the speaker mourns.
There is little direct information about the speaker of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Because the poem unfolds from his perspective, the speaker’s character emerges through inadvertent details. It is clear from the start that he is a scholar of some kind. In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe refers to him as a “student,” which suggests his age but does not entirely clarify his pursuits. The poem’s second line finds him pondering over “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” The bust of Pallas—that piece of professorial decor—further fills in the picture of the speaker as a seeker of knowledge. While the speaker’s class is never specified, the manner of his speech and the luxuriousness of his purple-curtained chambers suggest he is of an aristocratic, or at least affluent, background.
The speaker is also, from the start, “weak and weary.” As soon becomes clear, his central source of conflict and pain is the loss of his love, Lenore. His grief for her drives the story of the poem. When the eponymous raven arrives and begins to utter its refrain, the word “Nevermore,” the speaker projects his obsessive grief onto the bird. The speaker takes the raven’s word as wisdom. So, when he asks a series of questions about the death of his beloved, the continual reply of “Nevermore” fills him with dread. Will he ever forget his grief? Is there any consolation? Will he ever see the lost Lenore again? Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore.
Edgar Allan Poe chose the figure of the raven to satisfy several of the formal guidelines he had set for the poem. As he describes in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe had first decided to aim for a melancholic tone and to use a refrain of “Nevermore.” The conceit of the raven provides a reason for the single-word refrain, and the raven is, as Poe puts it, a “bird of ill omen” suited to a sorrowful poem.
The speaker sees the raven through the lens of his grief. Therefore he responds to the bird’s dreadful appearance and refrain by viewing it as a “prophet,” a “thing of evil,” and a “devil” from “Night’s Plutonian shore.” The poem never outright denies the speaker’s intuitions, but attentive readers will keep in mind that the speaker’s depiction of the raven is colored with emotion. On the most basic level, the...
(The entire section is 657 words.)