The unnamed speaker sits in his room on a gloomy December night, reading old, obscure books. He sorely misses his love, Lenore, who presumably died recently, and hopes that reading will distract him from the loss. He's almost asleep when he suddenly hears someone or something knocking on the door.
He immediately feels uneasy but convinces himself that it's probably just a visitor.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this and nothing more."
He calls out, apologizing for the late response. Nevertheless, when he opens the door, no one is there. He whispers, "Lenore," into the darkness outside, but hears only the echo of his words.
Mysteriously, the knocking continued but this time the speaker heard it coming from the window. He assumes it is the wind but still feels uncomfortable. He opens the window shutters and a raven swoops in, landing on a bust of the Greek goddess Athena Pallas above the chamber door.
The sight of the bird gives the speaker a moment of relief.
"Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,"
He jokingly asks what the bird's name is. To his utter shock, the raven cried, "Nevermore."
The speaker is stunned and not sure what the ravens mean. He regains his serenity and whispers to himself that the bird will fly away soon.
"Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;"
The raven replies again, "Nevermore!"
Still trying to comfort himself, the speaker theorizes that the bird must have had an owner who taught it to say that one hopeless word. Interested, the speaker shifts his chair in front of the raven. He slumps in his chair, thinking about the raven for a few moments.
He thinks about how Lenore will never sit in this chair again. He admonishes himself - God has given him this one respite from his guilt, and he still thinks of Lenore. He tells himself to forget Lenore.
"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!"
In response, the raven again says, "Nevermore."
Now, the speaker starts talking to the bird, calling it "evil" and a "prophet". He questions if he will ever find solace. Raven says: "Nevermore."
He asks if he will hold Lenore when he gets to heaven. The raven replies: "Nevermore."
Furious, the speaker demands the raven to leave him alone. He accuses the raven of being a liar and screams for him to get out. Without moving, the bird recites its only refrain - "Nevermore."
The speaker concludes that the raven still sits on the bust of Athena Pallas, casting a shadow over his soul that will remain forever.
"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!"