Love Intertwined with Loss as Theme: The narrator is consumed by memories of Lenore, the young woman he loved who has died, and by his overwhelming grief in losing her. As the poem begins, he recalls that feeling “weak and weary,” he had been reading “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” and pondering over them in seeking “surcease of sorrow” for the “lost Lenore.” Very succinctly, Poe quickly establishes the depth of the narrator’s grief and his desperation to be reunited with Lenore in some way, setting the tone for the subsequent appearance of the mysterious raven.
- For discussion: The description of the books as strange and mysterious, containing knowledge from a much earlier time, suggest that he had been searching for a way alleviate his grief by contacting Lenore in the afterlife through magic or some supernatural means. How does this set the tone for his encounter with the raven? What does the narrator want throughout the “conversation”?
Lenore as Idealized Lover: Lenore is idealized in the poem; more than a lovely young woman, she is a “rare and radiant maiden” whose name is known by the angels. It is clear that the narrator loved Lenore and has been unable to find another who is as perfect as she was.
- For discussion: What does the narrator’s idealization of Lenore suggest about him? What does he compare her to? What do we know for sure about Lenore?
Theme of Madness as a Result of Insurmountable Grief: As the raven continues its refrain of “Nevermore,” the narrator continues to ask it more disturbing questions about the fate of Lenore and himself. The effects of the narrator’s grief are cataloged in stages as the poem develops. More than feeling melancholy, the narrator becomes increasingly unhinged, mentally and emotionally.
- For discussion: Highlight the mysterious nature of the raven. Is the raven a supernatural being or only a bird? Does the narrator’s thinking about the raven ever become irrational? In what ways?
“The Raven” as an Introduction to Poetic Structure: Written in 18 stanzas, each with 6 lines, “The Raven” is an ideal poem for teaching the foundations of poetic structure. Its rhyme scheme does not vary, contributing to its musicality and hypnotic effects. Furthermore, because its meter is consistent, it’s a good introductory example for students learning how to scan poems. Poe also employs many other poetic elements, such as onomatopoeia (“tapping”), alliteration (“I nodded, nearly napping”), assonance (“thrilled me—filled me”), and metaphor (“each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor”).
- For discussion: After a short lesson on rhyme scheme, have students determine the poem’s rhyme scheme (ABCBBB). Take a look at the words most repeated throughout: door, nevermore, Lenore, floor, etc. How does the consistent rhyme contribute to what Poe calls the “unity of effect”—the singular feeling created by a text? What examples of internal rhyme (such as “dreary” and “weary” in the poem’s first line) can students find?
- For discussion: What is the meter of the poem? How does the meter change in the final line of each stanza? What effect does the change have on readers?
- For discussion: Note the words that Poe chooses to capitalize. Why do you think that he chose to capitalize words that are not usually capitalized in everyday speech?
- For discussion: How and why does the narrator personify the raven? Does the raven seem to exhibit any human qualities?
Additional Discussion Questions:
- In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe writes that he wanted “The Raven” to appeal to both “the popular and the critical taste.” Ask students to discuss why the poem has remained popular with readers and why critics admire it.
- How is the narrator haunted, both emotionally and literally? Would you describe this poem as a ghost story? Why or why not?
- Note the repetition of the words “Lenore” and “nevermore.” What does...
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