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The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: An Interpretation

“The Raven” is a narrative poem published in January 1845 and is well known for its stylized language and eerie mood. It describes a bizarre visit from a talking raven to a hurt lover, showing the man’s gradual disruption into insanity.

The lover, who is frequently described as a student, is mourning the passing of Lenore. The raven, perched on a bust of Pallas, seems to aggravate the protagonist by repeating the word “Nevermore” without stopping. The poem has references from folklore, mythology, religion, and classical literature.

Raven Text

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.”
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
A cover designed for the poem, ‘The Raven’ for an illustrated edition.
    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 was 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 marveled 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 blessed 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 farther 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 all my 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 of 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!

Interpretation of ‘The Raven’

‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe is his most famous work and is especially noted for its musicality, heightened speech, and supernatural atmosphere. It talks about a raven’s mysterious visit to a man who is pining for his dead lover, highlighting his slow descent into madness.

The protagonist passes his slow, agonizing hours of the night by reading. This keeps his mind off his lover when suddenly there is a knock at the door. He opens it and finds no one out, only pitches darkness.

The narrator has been reading books of the supernatural element and therefore the knock at the door adds to his heightened sensibility that it is really some human out there.

He consoles himself by repeating the same words again and again, ‘it is some visitor’. The repetitions add to the ominous atmosphere of the poem. Finally, he discovers that the sound of the tapping came because of a raven in the dark.

In popular culture, the raven is a bad omen, supposedly of evil and death. The narrator gives the bird an air of mystery and amusement as he forgets his own sorrow at that moment.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

He asks it its name in jest, when to his surprise, the bird answers, ‘Nevermore’. This word is repeated throughout the poem, which symbolizes the element of the afterlife. This could either mean that the raven came from the land of the dead or it could mean that he is answering the narrator’s doubt about being reunited with his lover in heaven.

Another interesting dimension and imagery that we see here are that Poe symbolizes the beloved’s death by saying that she rests in the arms of angels. This clearly contrasts with the hell like a situation that he has created for himself over here.

In the next few stanzas, the narrator deems that Raven’s chanting of the word ‘Nevermore’ to anything he says is illogical and vague. But soon, he realizes that the Raven is a Prophet.

Nevermore Meaning

By saying ‘Nevermore’, the bird may mean that he would not get any drug to forget his beloved. When he finally asks what will he be reunited with his beloved in the afterlife, he is terrified of the ‘Nevermore’ that the bird utters.

He shrieks and convinces himself that the bird is lying. This poem could be an exaggeration of an actual raven that visits the man at night or it could be a tale spinning out of his grief and his rather morbid will to purposefully create an aura of eeriness.

Nevertheless, the bird’s beak is stuck in the man’s heart, meaning that he will never be able to let go of its terrible prophecy or his hallucination.

Poetic form

The eighteen six-line stanzas make up Edgar Allan Poe’s Ballad “The Raven”. The trochaic octameter is a particularly unusual metrical form that has been consistently used by the poet. He consistently wrote in the first person and followed the rhyme pattern of ABCBBB.

Many nouns share the same ending, such as “ore” in “Lenore” and “Nevermore”, for instance, “Epistrophe” or the repetition of the same word in the ending is evident.

Analysis

As he described in his 1846 follow-up article, “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe claimed to have written the poem logically and systematically intending to produce an appealing poem that will create both critical and popular tastes. The poem was partially influenced by a talking raven in “Charles Dicken’s book Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots”.

Poe used internal rhyme and alliteration throughout, as well as the intricate rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”.

In the order to underline the enigmatic banging that occurs in the speaker’s home in the middle of a chilly December evening, the poet employs repetition throughout the entire poem.

The speaker makes an effort to dismiss it and persuade himself that no one is present. Eventually, though, he opens the gate and peers into the shadows, wondering if his beloved Lenore could be coming back to him.

The speaker finally concludes that the angels are to blame for the air’s increased density and wonders whether they are present to help him feel less agony.

Poe restrained from including any didacticism or allegory in the poem, as it was only written as a tale. The poem’s central theme was unwavering commitment.

The impulse to forget and the urge to remember seem to be in a bizarre conflict within the narrator.

He seemed to like concentrating on losing. Despite knowing the answers to his queries, the narrator assumes that the raven’s “sole stock and store” is the word “Nevermore”. He then asks questions that are intentionally self-deprecating and that heighten his sense of loss.

Poe does not specify if the raven actually understands what it is saying or whether it truly means to elicit a response from the narrator of the poem. Beginning as “weak and exhausted, the narrator later develops remorse and anguish before descending into a fury and finally, into lunacy.

This poem is a type of elegiac paraclausithyron, which is an old Greek, and Roman literary style that depicts a lover being shut out and lamenting at the locked door of his beloved.

Theme

Poe explores topics like mortality and the afterlife in “The Raven.” These two are among the most prevalent topics in Poe’s body of work. The supernatural, memory, and loss are the themes that go along with these topics. The reader feels the impression that the speaker and those surrounding him are themes about or have already experienced awful things throughout the entire article.

The speaker’s loneliness highlights each of these themes. On a chilly evening, he is by himself in his house and attempting to ignore the “rapping” on his room door. By the end, it seems as though he will continue to exist in the shadow of grief and loss.

Literary devices

Poe uses several literary techniques in “The Raven”. These include caesura, alliteration, and repetition, among others. The latter is a formal device that occurs when the poet places a stop in the middle of a line using meter or punctuation. For instance, take line 3 of the first stanza as an illustration, “While I nodded, almost failing asleep, suddenly there came a tapping, “it reads.

Other instances abound, such as line three of the second verse, which begins. “Eagerly I longed the morrow- vainly I had attempted to borrow.

One type of repetition employed in “The Raven” is alliteration. It happens when a poet starts several words with the same consonant sound. For instance, the opening line of the poem has the words “weak and weary.” While the first line of the fourth stanza uses the words “soul” and “stronger”.

Poe also employs repetition in a broader sense throughout. For instance, the poet often uses parallelism in sentence construction, word choice, and punctuation. With his meter and rhyme system, he also keeps a fairly repeated cadence throughout the piece.

Alliteration

Alliteration is one of the most overt poetic devices in “The Raven”, where it is used to repeat a sound or a letter at the beginning of numerous words. Alliterative words and phrases abound throughout the poem, including “weak and weary”, “almost asleep”, and “followed quickly and followed faster”. One of the reasons people enjoy reciting the poem is because of this poetic method, which contributes to the poem’s well-known melody.

 Allusion

In “The Raven”, Poe uses several allusions, which are a type of indirect reference. The key examples include:

  • The bust of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom in ancient Greek mythology, is what the raven is seated on.
  • The medication nepenthe, which is said to obliterate memory, is described in Homer’s classic The Odyssey.
  • A medicinal lotion referenced in the Bible’s Book of Jeremiah is the Balm of Gilead.

Aidenn asks if he and Lenore will be reunited in the Garden of Eden, though the narrator probably just uses the word “heaven” in general.

In numerous tales, including Metamorphoses written by Ovid and Norse mythology, ravens themselves are referenced.

Assonance

Assonance, which is similar to alliteration, is the recurrence of vowel sounds in closely spaced words. It begins with the poem’s opening line. The long “e” sound is repeated in the words “tired”, “weak” and “dreary”. It fulfils the same function as alliteration.

Repetition

The term “nevermore”, which the raven himself repeatedly used throughout the poem, is one of many that are repeated in “The Raven”. “Lenore”, “bedroom door”, and “nothing more” are among the other phrases and words that recur frequently throughout the poem. All these contain the word “nevermore” which heightens the poem’s melancholy mood by highlighting the raven’s pessimistic response to all queries.

Meter

The majority of “The Raven” is written in trochaic octameter, and has eight trochaic feet per line with one stressed and one unstressed word in each foot. Poe utilized a variety of meters, though and it is believed that he modelled “The Raven’s” meter and rhyming scheme on Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”. The Raven’s strong use of meter, along with other poetic tropes, contributes to the poem’s popularity as a recitation exercise.

Rhyme

The poem “The Raven” uses the rhyme scheme ABCBBB. The “B” lines emphasize the final word of the line and all rhyme with “nevermore”. There is a lot of internal rhyming throughout the poem as well.  For example, the word “unbroken” rhymes with “token” in the line. “But the silence was unbroken and the stillness provided no token”.

Onomatopoeia

In “The Raven”, there are several instances of onomatopoeia, which is when a word’s name is connected to the sound it makes. Examples include the terms “whispered”, “tapping”, “rapping” and “shrieked”. All of it contributes to the poem’s atmospheric character and gives readers the impression that they are physically present in the room with the narrator and the raven.

Symbolism

A symbol is something that stands in for something else. A symbol in literature can be understated or overt. The emblem in “The Raven” is clear because Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, Raven is representing the mournful, never-ending reminiscence.

Our narrator’s conversation with the Raven is motivated by his sorrow over his lost, ideal maiden Lenore. In response, the Raven pushes the narrator to accept the idea that Lenore won’t make an appearance again “nevermore”, despite the narrator’s resistance.

As a result, at the poem’s end, the Raven has “the eyes of a demon” and the narrator’s soul is under its shadow. The speaker of the poem views the Raven as the personification of evil, moving beyond melancholy, never-ending recall.

Conclusion

A man grieving over the recent passing of his beloved, Lenore becomes the subject of the poem “The Raven”. A raven keeps tapping recurrently on the door and then the window as he spends a lonely December night in his room.

When the guy raises the window shutter, he is astonished to see the raven since at first; he believed that the noise is being made by a late-night visitor trying to wake him up. The raven flies to and lands on a bust of Pallas after being allowed inside who is an ancient Greek Goddess of Wisdom.

The man starts to have a conversation with the raven because he finds it amusing how serious it seems, but the bird can only respond by croaking “nevermore”. The man muses out loud that the bird is about to depart from him just like the people he cared about have already done so.

The man interprets the raven’s response of “nevermore” as the bird concurs with him, though it’s unclear if the bird genuinely realizes what the man is saying or is merely using the one word that it is capable of for communicating.

The man keeps talking to the bird, eventually losing his sense of reality. He positions his chair in front of the raven and asks it futile questions such as whether or not he and Lenore will meet again in heaven.

Now, he interprets the raven’s constant “nevermore” response as proof that all of his sinister thoughts are accurate, rather than just finding the bird amusing. He finally loses control over his temper and shrieks at the Raven, calling it a devil and ominous creature.

The poem closes with the bird still perched atop and the narrator, who appears to have lost control of his grief and sanity, declares that his soul will be raised “nevermore”.

FAQs

What is the main purpose of ‘The Raven‘?

The poem examines how depression might impair a person’s capacity for present-day existence and social interaction. The speaker descends into despair and madness throughout the poem due to his inability to move on from his lost love Lenore. The speaker begins by describing himself as weak and weary implying that all his attempts of getting rid of his mind off Lenore’s memory have gone in vain.

 What does Nevermore symbolize in ‘The Raven’?

The bird’s cry, “nevermore”, expresses an unquestionable truth nothing about the speaker’s circumstance can alter. The speaker’s cries for mercy become a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair since he only asks the raven questions concerning Lenore after he has established that the bird will always reply, “Nevermore”.

 What does Lenore symbolize in ‘The raven‘?

Lenore, the narrator’s departed love, is compared by critics to Poe’s own late wife Virginia. Although Lenore does not really appear in the poem and is only known to be the narrator’s beloved, her presence permeates the entire text as the narrator is unable to stop thinking about her death and wonders if he is going to see her again.

What does the raven represent to the narrator?

The poem’s title contains the most overt symbol. The raven dominates the narrator as soon as it enters the room with dictatorial behaviour. Death is represented by the bird’s shadow, making it a perpetual reminder and an ominous intruder. The poem might be about the impossibility of man to escape his ultimate fate, which is a recurring theme throughout Poe’s short works if taken in a larger context.

How does the raven symbolize evil?

Ravens are frequently associated with evil, death, and paranormal powers. When the Raven appears when the narrator is in the midst of his deepest grief over the loss of his beloved Lenore, the narrator learns to perceive the Raven in precisely these terms, as a sort of supernatural ambassador who has come to dash his dreams of ever being reunited with his beloved Lenore.

The narrator believes that the raven represents not merely death but also a particular kind of death: a death devoid of paradise and a death that is the end. Despite this, the narrator’s interpretation of the raven differs slightly from what it means to the poet.

The significance of the Raven changes from a supernatural messenger about death to an incarnation of the bereaved narrator’s questions and worries about what occurs after death when one reads the poem. Furthermore, it is also conceivable to understand that the Raven is a sign of irrationality and unknowability rather than a senseless death.

 

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