StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
"The Raven" (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of the most anthologized poems in American literature. It is arguably Poe's most famous poem, and the narrative's lasting impact can be attributed to its dark subject and his skillful use of literary devices. "The Raven" was initially published in the New York Evening Mirror in January 1845 and gained popularity upon its publication, with accounts of people reciting the poem—almost like we would sing the lyrics to a pop song today.1 "The Raven" has maintained popularity, influencing the name of a football team, the Baltimore Ravens, and being referenced in countless movies, TV shows, and pop culture. Analyzing "The Raven" can help us understand the tale of grief, death, and madness.
|Writer||Edgar Allan Poe|
|Published||1845 in the New York Evening Mirror|
|Structure||18 stanzas of six lines each|
|Sound devices||Alliteration, refrain|
"The Raven" is told in first-person point of view. The speaker, an unnamed man, is alone late on a December night. While reading in his chamber, or study, to forget his sorrows over recently losing his love, Lenore, he suddenly hears a knocking. This is odd considering it is midnight. He opens his study door, peeks out, and out of hopelessness he whispers Lenore's name. The speaker hears tapping again, and he finds a raven tapping on the window. He opens his window, and the raven flies in and perches on a bust of Pallas Athena, just above the study's door.
In first-person point of view, the narrator is within the action of the story, or narrative, and is sharing the details from their perspective. This form of narration uses the pronouns "I" and "we."
At first, the speaker finds the situation humorous and is amused by this new guest. He even asks its name. To the narrator's surprise, the raven responds, "Nevermore" (line 48). Then, speaking aloud to himself, the speaker flippantly says that the raven will leave in the morning. To the narrator's alarm, the bird responds "Nevermore" (line 60). The narrator sits and stares at the raven, wondering its intent and the meaning behind the croaked word, "nevermore."
The narrator thinks of Lenore, and at first feels the presence of goodness. The narrator tries to enter into conversation with the raven by asking a series of questions, to which the raven repeatedly responds with "nevermore." The word begins to haunt the narrator, along with the memories of his lost love. The speaker's attitude towards the raven changes, and he begins to see the bird as a "thing of evil" (line 91). The speaker tries to kick the raven out of the chamber, but it does not budge. The last stanza of the poem, and the reader's last image, is of the raven with a "demon's" eyes (line 105) sitting ominously and continuously on the bust of Athena, above the speaker's chamber door.
"The Raven" is a macabre tale of mourning, misery, and madness. Poe achieves the somber and tragic tone in "The Raven" through carefully chosen diction and setting. Tone, which is a writer's attitude toward the subject or character, is expressed through the specific words they choose regarding the topics addressed.
Diction is the specific word choice a writer employs to create a certain effect, tone, and mood.
Poe's diction in "The Raven" features words like "dreary" (line 1), "bleak" (line 7), "sorrow" (line 10), "grave" (line 44), and "ghastly" (line 71) to communicate a dark and ominous scene. Although the chamber is a familiar setting to the speaker, it becomes a scene of psychological torture—a mental prison for the speaker where he remains locked in grief and sorrow. Poe's choice to use a raven, a bird often associated with loss and ill omens because of its ebony plumage, is noteworthy.
In Norse mythology, the central god Odin is associated with magic, or the fantastic, and runes. Odin was also the god of poets. He owned two ravens named Huginn and Muninn. Huginn is an antiquated Norse word for "thought" while Muninn is Norse for "memory."
Poe establishes the setting in "The Raven" to express feelings of isolation and loneliness. It is the dark of night and desolate. The speaker is in a stupor because of lack of sleep and feels weak. Poe also harnesses thoughts of death as the poem begins by referencing the winter and the glow of a fire dying out.
In literature, midnight is often an ominous time as shadows lurk, the dark blankets over the day, and it becomes hard to see. The speaker is alone on a night that is "dreary" or boring, and he is physically weak and tired. In a sleepy stupor, he is jolted to awareness by a tapping, which interrupts his thoughts, sleep, and silence.
While the speaker sits in solitude within his chamber, outside it is December. December is the heart of winter, a season itself marked by a lack of life. Surrounded by death on the outside, the chamber itself lacks life, as "each separate dying ember wrought its ghost" (line 8) on the floor. The internal fire, what is keeping him warm, is dying out and inviting in the cold, the darkness, and death. The speaker sits, hoping for the morning, as he reads to try to forget the pain of losing his love, Lenore. Within the first ten lines, Poe creates an enclosed setting. In his essay, "Philosophy of Composition" (1846), Poe notes that his intent in "The Raven" was to create what he called "a close circumscription of space" to force concentrated attention. The intense focus and the isolated setting surrounded by death work together to build suspense from the onset of the poem and establish the somber and tragic tone that is carried throughout.
Two controlling themes in "The Raven" are death and grief.
At the forefront of much of Poe's writing is the theme of death. This is also true for "The Raven." In Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" he asserts "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world" and the loss is best expressed from the "the lips … of a bereaved lover." The narrative poem "The Raven" is centered around this very idea. The poem's speaker has experienced what seems like a life-changing and personal loss. Although the reader never sees Lenore's actual death, we feel the tremendous pain as expressed through her mourning lover—our narrator. Although Lenore is in everlasting sleep, the narrator seems to be in a form of limbo, enclosed in a chamber of solitude and unable to sleep. As his mind wanders on thoughts of Lenore, he tries to find solace "[f]rom [his] books" (line 10).
However, all around him are reminders of death: It is midnight, the embers from the fire are dying, darkness is all around, and he is visited by a bird that is ebony in color. The bird's name, and the only answer he provides our narrator with, is the single word "nevermore." This haunting refrain reminds the narrator over and over again that he will never see Lenore again. The raven, a visual reminder of ever-present death, is placed at the top of his door. As a result, the narrator falls into madness with his own haunting thoughts of death and the loss he has suffered.
Grief is another theme present in "The Raven." The poem deals with the inescapable nature of grief, and its ability to sit at the forefront of one's mind. Even when thoughts are occupied by other things, like books, grief can come "tapping" and "rapping" at your "chamber door" (lines 3-4). Whether it is with a whisper or a pounding, grief is incessant and stubborn. Like the raven in the poem, it can appear stately, as a collected reminder and memory, or as a haunting—creeping up when least expected.
The speaker of the poem seems to be locked in his own state of grief. He is alone, dejected, and seeks loneliness as he pleads with the raven to "[l]eave [his] loneliness unbroken" (line 100) and "quit the bust" (line 100) above his door. Grief often seeks solitude and turns inward. The speaker, the very figure of seclusion, can't even bear the presence of another living creature. Instead, he wants to be surrounded by death, perhaps even longing for it in his grief. As an ultimate example of the corrosive nature of grief, the speaker slips deeper into madness the longer he remains in isolation. He is locked within his chamber of grief.
It is important to note that Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess, is a symbol of wisdom and of war. Poe's use of this statue above the narrator's door emphasizes that his thoughts are troubling him and are literally weighed down by grief and death. As long as the bird is perched upon Pallas's bust, his mind will be at war with his sorrow.
What do you think? What would your essay analyzing tone, diction, or poetic devices look like if you were explaining a certain theme you have identified in "The Raven"?
Edgar Allan Poe was inspired to write "The Raven" after having reviewed a book by Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1841), which featured Dickens's pet raven, Grip. While Dickens was on tour, Poe arranged a meeting with him and his pet raven.2 Although Grip reportedly had an extensive vocabulary, there is no account indicating he used the word "nevermore." Drawing from his experience with the raven, Poe fashioned his own ebony bird, Nevermore, now immortalized in his poem, "The Raven."
Two central literary devices used by Poe bring meaning to the melancholy narrative poem: alliteration and refrain.
Poe's use of alliteration creates a cohesive framework.
Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the start of words within a line or over several lines of verse.
Alliteration provides a rhythmic beat, similar to the sound of a beating heart.
The hard "d" sound featured in the words "deep, darkness, doubting, dreaming, dreams, dared" and "dream" (line 25-26) mimics the strong thumping of a heartbeat and phonetically expresses the drumming the narrator feels within his chest. The hard consonant sound also speeds up the reading, creating an intensity within the narrative by manipulating sound. The softer "s" sound in the words "silence, stillness," and "spoken" slow the narrative down, and create a quieter, more ominous mood. As the action in the narrative slows more, and drops into an almost pause, the soft "w" sound is emphasized in the words "was", "whispered", "word" and "whispered" again.
The second key sound device is refrain.
Refrain is a word, line, or part of a line repeated through the course of a poem, and typically at the end of stanzas.
A refrain is often used to emphasize ideas or reinforce the main theme in a piece. Poe used refrain, but by his own admission he altered the idea behind the refrain to mean something different each time. Poe's aim, as stated in "The Philosophy of Composition" was to manipulate the refrain in "The Raven" to "produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the application of the refrain." He used the same word, but manipulated the language around the word so its meaning would change, depending on the context.
For example, the first instance of the refrain "Nevermore" (line 48) indicates the raven's name. The next refrain, in line 60, explains the bird's intent to leave from the chamber "Nevermore." The next instances of refrain, in lines 66 and 72, show the narrator contemplating the origin and meaning behind the bird's singular word. The next refrain ends with his answer, as this time the word "nevermore" in line 78 means Lenore will never "press" or live again. "Nevermore" in lines 84, 90, and 96 show hopelessness. The narrator will be doomed to always remember Lenore, and consequently, he will forever feel the pain. He will also find no "balm" (line 89) or healing ointment to dull his pain, his emotional anguish.
The two concluding stanzas, which also end in the refrain "nevermore" symbolize physical torment and spiritual torment. Falling into deep psychological suffering in line 101, the speaker demands the bird to...
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
The descriptive language portrays physical pain. The bird's beak is stabbing at the narrator's heart, which is the center life source of the body. Whereas the refrain "nevermore" previously had a literal meaning as the raven's moniker, it is now a sign of visceral heartbreak. The speaker, submitting to his fate, states in line 107...
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor"
The narrator's soul is being crushed, not by the raven, but by his mere shadow. The torture the narrator feels from the grief, the loss, and the raven's incessant presence is a reminder that sorrow transcends the physical and goes into the spiritual. His despair is inescapable, and as the final line asserts...
Shall be lifted--nevermore!"
This last refrain in line 108 establishes an eternal torment for the narrator.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is about how the human mind deals with death, the inescapable nature of grief, and its ability to destroy. Because the narrator is in a secluded state, there is no genuine evidence to affirm whether the raven is real, as it can be a construct of his own imagination. However, the experience and grief he has are real. We see the narrator, his composure, and his mental state decline slowly with each passing stanza.
The raven, a "bird of ill omen" according to Poe, stands perched on an emblem of wisdom, the goddess Athena herself, yet the raven is a symbol of inescapable thoughts of grief. There is a battle within the speaker's psyche—between his ability to reason and his overwhelming misery. As the use of the refrain evolves from the very literal meaning of the raven's name to a source of metaphysical persecution, we see the damaging effects of Lenore's death and the narrator's response to it. His inability to control his sadness is destructive and results in a kind of self-imprisonment.
The narrator's own thoughts and sorrow become a binding force, disabling, and putting a stop to his life. For the narrator, his grief locked him in a state of instability and insanity. He can't live a normal life, locked away in his chamber—a figurative coffin.
1. Isani, Mukhtar Ali. "Poe and 'The Raven': Some Recollections." Poe Studies. June 1985.
2. Runcie, Catherine A. "Edgar Allan Poe: Psychic Patterns in the Later Poems." Australasian Journal of American Studies. December 1987.
"The Raven" is told in first person point of view and is about the narrator, who is mourning the death of his beloved Lenore, when a raven named "Nevermore" comes to visit, and then refuses to leave.
In Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" he asserts "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world" and the loss is best expressed from the "the lips ... of a bereaved lover." He wrote "The Raven" to reflect this idea.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is about how the human mind deals with death, the inescapable nature of grief, and its ability to destroy.
The intense focus and isolated setting, surrounded by death, work together to build suspense from the onset of the poem and establish the somber and tragic tone that is carried throughout the poem.
Edgar Allan Poe was inspired to write "The Raven" after having reviewed a book by Dickens, Barnaby Rudge (1841), and meeting with him and Dickens's pet raven, Grip.
Who wrote "The Raven"?
"The Raven" was written by Edgar Allen Poe.
When was "The Raven" published?
"The Raven" was published in 1845.
What type of poem is "The Raven"?
"The Raven" is a narrative poem.
What is the tone of "The Raven"?
The tone of "The Raven" is somber and tragic.
What inspired Poe to write "The Raven"?
Charles Dickens's pet bird, Grip, inspired Poe to write "The Raven".
What are some themes in "The Raven"?
Two central themes of "The Raven" are death and grief.
In Norse myth, what god had two pet ravens whose names meant "thought" and "memory"?
Odin had two pet ravens who would often perch on his shoulders.
How does Poe build suspense in "The Raven"?
The intense focus and the isolated setting surrounded by death work together to build suspense from the onset of the poem. These elements establish the somber and tragic tone that is carried throughout the poem.
What is the meaning of "The Raven" by Poe?
Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is about how the human mind deals with death, the inescapable nature of grief, and its ability to destroy.
What is the refrain in "The Raven"?
The central refrain in "The Raven" is "nevermore."
What is the raven's name in "The Raven"?
The raven's name is Nevermore.
Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.
Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.
Create and find flashcards in record time.
Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.
Have all your study materials in one place.
Upload unlimited documents and save them online.
Identify your study strength and weaknesses.
Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.
Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.
Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.
Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.
Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.
Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.