What happens in The Raven?

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" opens with the famous words, "Once upon a midnight dreary..." The speaker of the poem hears a tapping on his door. When he opens the window, a raven flies in, taunting him. Every time the narrator speaks, the raven cries out, “Nevermore.” The speaker assumes the raven learned the word from a melancholy master.

  • The speaker thinks he feels an angel in the room. He hopes the angel will help him stop dwelling on his “lost Lenore." He asks the raven if he'll ever see Lenore again, and the raven cries, "Nevermore." The speaker tells the raven to leave, but it refuses.

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Summary

Introduction

First published in the Evening Mirror in January, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” was an overnight sensation. It remains the most popular and best known poem that he ever wrote. During the final years of his life, Poe was often referred to as “the raven,” and his readers often wove phrases from the poem into their daily talk. “The Raven” is a dramatic monologue, a form in which the speaker subtly reveals his psychological state. “The Raven” consists of eighteen six-line stanzas told from the perspective of a scholarly young man. The speaker's moods change as he interprets the raven’s presence and the meaning of a singular utterance, “Nevermore,” and descends deeper and deeper into despair.

Summary of the Poem

“The Raven” takes place in the speaker’s chambers at midnight on a “bleak December” night as the speaker lapses between reading an old book and falling asleep. He is roused by a tapping sound that he presumes to come from a visitor outside of his room. He does not immediately answer; he is in a sorrowful mood because of the death of his lover, the “lost Lenore.” He snaps out of these sad thoughts and assures himself that the sound is that of a visitor. He addresses his unknown guest but finds no one there when he opens the door. Peering into the silent darkness, the young man whispers Lenore’s name to himself. When he returns to his room, however, the rapping sound resumes, louder than before. He now figures that the sounds are merely those of the wind beating on the shutters of his window.

When he opens the shutter, a “stately” raven appears. It flies to the top of the chamber door and perches upon a bust of Pallas (Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom). The speaker is initially amused by the raven’s “grave and stern” looks. He addresses the bird in lofty terms, and asks what its “lordly” name is. The raven responds with the single word “Nevermore.” The young man marvels at the winged intruder’s powers of speech; he hopes to hear more, but the raven’s vocabulary is...

(The entire section is 597 words.)