Poem Analysis “The Raven” Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door –
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
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.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
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.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never – nevermore.’”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting –
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

The poem tells of a raven’s mysterious visit to a depressed lover, tracing the man’s slow fall into insanity. The lover, likely a student, is lamenting the loss of his departed love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Athena, the raven seems to exacerbate the lover’s distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore.”

Gradesaver observes, “The Raven” is the most famous of Poe’s poems, notable for its melodic and dramatic qualities. The meter of the poem is mostly trochaic octameter, with eight stressed-unstressed two-syllable feet per lines. Combined with the predominating ABCBBB end rhyme scheme and the frequent use of internal rhyme, the trochaic octameter and the refrain of “nothing more” and “nevermore” give the poem a musical lilt when read aloud.” To understand what is meant by an ABCBBB end rhyme scheme, look closely at the final stanza. If we look at the last word of each line of this stanza, we have “sitting (A), door (B), dreaming (C), floor (B), floor (B), nevermore (B).”

Why a raven? The Poe Decoder argues that Poe used an animal instead of a human because he wanted to show that the lover is really torturing himself with questions that have no answer. Had he used a human, the human could have had a dialogue with the lover. But by using a bird that only repeats the lover’s own words, the theme of self-torture is realized. It could have been a parrot and the Poe Decoder claims that Poe actually considered using a parrot in the poem. He ultimately decided in favor of the raven because ravens are associated with death and darkness therefore they are more in keeping with the theme of loss. He may also have been thinking of Norse mythology, which considers ravens messengers (see below).

Difficult Words

  • Lenore” variant of Eleanor, meaning “light” in Greek, a sharp contrast to the darkness of the poem
  • Seraphim,” perfumed by an unseen censer / Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled…” is used to illustrate the swift, invisible way a scent spreads in a room. A seraphim is one of the six-winged angels standing in the presence of God.
  • Nepenthe,”, is a potion, used by ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow.
  • Balm in Gilead,”, is a soothing ointment made in Gilead, a mountainous region of Palestine east of the Jordan river, Jeremiah (8:22). The question, “Is there a balm in Gilead?” is a way of asking “Does my disease have a cure?”
  • Aidenn,” , is an Arabic word for Eden or paradise, it means roughly, “eternal”
  • Plutonian,”  the god of the underworld in Roman mythology.
  • “Pallas”, an alternate name for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom
In Norse mythology, the chief god Odin possesses two ravens that act as his messengers. They are called Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). They fly across the human world and report everything they see and hear to Odin. Some critics connect Poe’s raven to Odin’s ravens. It is unclear which of the two ravens is Poe’s raven.
The man welcomes the raven, and  fears that the raven will leave in the morning, “as [his] Hopes have flown before”; however, the raven answers, “Nevermore.” The man smiled, and pulled up a chair, interested in what the raven “meant in croaking, ‘Nevermore.’” The chair, where Lenore once sat, brought back painful memories. The man, who does not expect the raven to know anything, still cannot help but ask the raven questions. Since the narrator realizes that the raven only knows one word, he can anticipate the bird’s responses. “Is there balm in Gilead?” i.e., “Can my heartache be cured?”- “Nevermore.” Can Lenore be found in paradise? – “Nevermore.” “Take thy form from off my door!” – “Nevermore.” The question of Lenore’s presence in paradise may have a deeper significance. As the name Lenore means “light,” perhaps the lover is really asking, “Can humans place their hope in Paradise?,” yet the raven causes him to despair. Finally the man concedes, realizing that this dialogue is futile. And his “soul from out that shadow” that the raven throws on the floor, “Shall be lifted — Nevermore!” Much like Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” this poem also depicts a character whose mind slowly unravels, leading to an ending in which there is no hope.
The American football team, the Baltimore Ravens take their name from this poem. The author, Edgar Allen Poe, lived and died in Baltimore.
References
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_raven
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltimore_Ravens
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huginn_and_Muninn
http://www.gradesaver.com/poes-poetry/study-guide/section8/
Christoffer Hallqvist, http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/raven/.
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