The Raven is the crown of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry. It is not only his most famous poem but, along with The Black Cat, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Masque of the Red Death also his most famous literary work. In the middle is a very dark poem with lost love as the main theme. The original edition was published on January 29, 1845, and in a very short period of time, it brought Edgar worldwide fame.
In Edgar Poe's own words, the poem was written from end to beginning, completely programmatically, yet with supreme artistic mastery. Starting from the length of the song, the theme, then the motive, he decided on the chorus as the main stylistic figure and determined on "Nevermore".
Edgar Allan Poe built a special event in the poem in 18 stanzas and 108 lines. Each stanza ends with a chorus that is deep, especially emphasized, and in harmony with the melancholic tone of the song.
The poem explores how grief can overcome a person's ability to live in the present and engage with society. During the poem, the speaker's inability to forget his lost love Lenore drives him to misery and madness. In the beginning, the speaker characterizes himself as "weak and weary," indicating that his attempts to distract himself from Lenore's memories by reading have only exhausted him.
Even though he is initially entertained by the raven, the raven's words "nevermore" soon remind him that he will never see his Lenore again. The power of this discovery moves him so greatly that he believes the air has become "thicker", making it difficult to breathe, and stresses that Lenore's presence in his memory fully changes his perception of reality. Although the speaker tries to persuade himself that he should forget his grief, the raven's chorus brings him back to the reality of his loss, pulling him back out of the present moment. When he tells the raven to leave his loneliness "unbroken", he highlights that grief has made him shut himself off from the world, but, paradoxically, he is not really alone because the memory of his beloved Lenore keeps him company.
It remains unclear whether the speaker will find himself possessed by demons of his own making or truly mystical beings. Despite the mysterious atmosphere of the song, everything that happens actually has a logical explanation. The speaker begins the poem in an disturbed state, trying to distract himself from his grief, and the "a quaint and curious volume" he is reading could surely put him in a dark and suggestive state of mind that the gloomy December night only enhances.
Ravens can mimic human speech, and a raven could, in theory, make a sound similar to the word "nevermore." Nevertheless, the events of the song are undeniably eerie, and the bird's chorus that flawlessly matches the speaker's state of mind seems too accidental, indicating the presence of something paranormal. This obscurity shows both the mind's ability to terrorize itself and the fact that psychological hauntings can disturb and destroy just as much as physical danger. Whether we believe that the bird can only repeat a single word or brings a prophecy of doom, hearing "nevermore" - a word that highlights the eternal nature of the speaker's grief and loss - is what ultimately leaves the speaker mentally devastated.
The poem also highlights the hopelessness of the speaker's situation - he will never be reunited with his beloved Lenore, physically or spiritually. As the poem advances, the speaker finds three possible comforts for his grief that he quickly realizes will never happen, leaving him with no hope of relief.
First, when he hears a knock at the door, the speaker gives himself some hope that he will see Lenore again, which is shown when he opens the door and calls her name in the darkness. Hearing only his voice echoing back to him dashes that hope, and the raven's repetition of the words "nevermore" further highlights that the speaker has physically lost Lenore forever.
Following, the speaker takes the appearance of the bird as a sign that perhaps he can forget Lenore and find solace in forgetting. Again, the word "nevermore" kills this hope as earlier in the poem, the speaker's own attempt to divert himself from his sadness by reading has also failed. Ultimately, the speaker asks the raven about seeing Lenore in heaven, which the raven again denies. The bird's refrain, "nevermore", is an undeniable absolute, meaning that nothing can change in the speaker's situation.
Since the speaker asks the raven questions about Lenore only after establishing that the bird will always say "nevermore," his pleas for mercy act as a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair. Although we have great textual evidence that the speaker will not see Lenore again and likely will not forget her, we cannot know whether or not the speaker will see Lenore in the afterlife, indicating that he is using the single word raven to reflect his own emotional states. He has put himself in a position where he will only accept an answer that sentences him to endless sorrow, emphasizing that he has created his own misery.
Poe often uses allusions to the Christian Bible and Roman and Greek mythology. The bust of Pallas refers to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena Pallas. Her presence in the chamber evokes learning and rationality, which the raven's presence figuratively and literally overpowers. The speaker refers to the raven as a messenger from "Night’s Plutonian shore," alluding to the Roman god of the underworld, Pluto, and emphasizing the raven's common connection with death. This allusion clarifies why the speaker asks the bird for news about Lenore as if the bird can confidently speak about the afterlife. Taken together, these allusions contrast with the allusions to Christianity the speaker makes when thinking about Lenore - the Garden of Eden (here "Aidenn") and the many references to Lenore living with angels or being holy.
The way the speaker uses pagan connections to discuss his current state, but Christian references to refer to Lenore, highlights his permanent separation from her.
When talking about the chance of forgetting Lenore, the speaker alludes to "nepenthe", a drink mentioned in Homer's Odyssey and other ancient Greek literature that causes those who drink it to forget. The speaker then follows this reference by mentioning the balm of Gilead, a balm from the biblical book of the prophet Jeremiah. Mentioning both Christian and pagan remedies for his pains, the speaker emphasizes that he cannot find consolation in either context.
By the end of the poem, the speaker acknowledges how completely cut off he is from Lenore, both spiritually and physically. When he first speaks of Lenore in Stanza 2, he states that in his world she is now "nameless" forever, meaning she has died. When he hears a knock at the door, he defines himself as "dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before". That is, he holds the impossible hope that Lenore has returned from the grave. In the 13th stanza, he remembers again how he will never see her again, focusing on her physical absence, considering that she will never "press" into the velvet of his chair again.
From here, the speaker's thoughts turn to spiritual things, namely seraphim and angels, as he fantasizes about forgetting Lenore, shutting himself off from the memory. Although he cannot forget, as the raven echoes, he thinks he is spiritually estranged from Lenore. When the raven tells him that he will never hug Lenore in heaven, it means that the speaker is condemned. Since the raven appears to speak only one word, it stays unclear whether this curse simply reflects the speaker's darkest fears, or whether the raven truly knows its dark destiny. In any case, the speaker ends the poem with the belief that he has lost Lenore in both this life and the next.
In addition to the fact that the events of the poem emphasize the endlessness of grief, the structure of the poem stimulates the reader to remember Lenore's name. In the rhyme scheme - ABCBBB - the B rhyme that repeats more than halfway through each stanza is always "Lenore" or a word that rhymes with it. The sound of her name repeats throughout the poem, reminding the speaker and the reader of the never-ending nature of his grief. Ultimately, in the end, he knows that Lenore's loss will hang over him forever.
Throughout the poem, the speaker's grief and guilt overpower his rational thought, drowning out his reason. The speaker at the beginning seems rational but melancholic. He reads books, usually an act of mind expansion, and sits in a room where a bust of the Greek goddess of wisdom is displayed. We can come to the conclusion that this is a person who values logical thinking and education. Furthermore, throughout the first stanzas, the speaker attempts to find logical explanations for the eerie sounds he hears - telling himself that it is a visitor or the wind. These are signs of a mind that still uses logic. Although asking the bird its name seems odd, the speaker's joy and relief suggest that he originally starts talking to the bird as a kind of joke.
Nonetheless, the raven's first word means a turning point for the speaker. Once the bird says, "Nevermore," he asks increasingly desperate questions for which there is no evidence that the bird will have the right answer. Certainly, as far as he knows, the bird can only repeat one word, meaning that the speaker imbues the word with its own dark meaning.
Finally, he calls the bird a liar because it repeated the same word he knew it would say, projecting its own fear and guilt onto the raven. At the end of the poem, a dark, ominous bird, associated with death and perched on the bust of Athena, acts as a visual representation of the sorrow and madness and that common sense can be overpowered by the worst and darkest corners of the mind.