The Raven Summary

"The Raven" is a famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe about a grieving man tormented by a raven.

  • At midnight, the poem's speaker hears a tapping on his door. When he opens the window, a raven flies in.
  • The speaker is amused at first but then begins to ask the raven increasingly desperate questions. The bird always answers, "Nevermore."
  • The speaker asks the raven if he'll ever see his lost lover, Lenore, again, and the raven once again cries, "Nevermore."
  • The speaker commands the raven to leave, but it refuses. The despairing speaker says the raven remains there to this day.

Summary

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Last Updated on June 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594

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.

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Summary

“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 limited to that one word. He reassures himself that the raven will depart in the morning, but the raven opposes this prospect by uttering another “Nevermore.” The speaker speculates that the bird was trained to say “Nevermore” by some melancholy master. He smiles to himself, but then begins to think about what the raven means by “Nevermore.” The creature begins to take on demonic qualities in the man's mind as he notes the bird’s “fiery eyes.”

The speaker then connects the bird’s appearance and message to Lenore. He calls the raven a “wretch” sent by “thy God” to remind him of sorrows that he wants to forget. He now believes that the bird is a “prophet” and asks him whether there is life after death. The reply, of course, is “Nevermore.” He repeats the question, this time with specific reference to that “rare and radiant” maiden Lenore, but the response remains the same. The speaker becomes angry, commands the bird to leave him alone and return to his roost in hell. The raven's “Nevermore” is now a strident refusal that the speaker is helpless to counter. In the poem's concluding stanza, the speaker says that the demon-eyed bird is still sitting on the bust above his door, throwing a shadow over his soul. The speaker joins the raven's refrain in the final lines: “that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!”

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Themes