The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary and Analysis

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe is a narrative of a young man who is bereaved by the death of the woman he loved. He compulsorily constructs self-destructive meaning around a raven’s repetition of the word 'Nevermore', until he finally despairs of being reunited with his beloved Lenore in another world. Just because of the nightmarish effect, the poem cannot be called an elegy. In fact, 'The Raven' is a ballad of eighteen six-line stanzas with decidedly emphatic meter and rhymes.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

The speaker begins by giving us a clear and simple account of the setting. He also informs us that he is either a student or scholar who reads overnight. He is tired and weak, but is still awake in the middle of an ominous night. He seems to be passing time by reading strange books of ancient knowledge, most probably books on the supernatural. The speaker, however, doesn't linger on to tell us more about the setting. Suddenly he hears a tapping on the door. He now tells us why he had been staying up so late; he was unable to sleep and was trying to find some consolation from books, to ameliorate his sorrow, "sorrow for the lost Lenore... nameless here for evermore". To escapee his desolate mood, the speaker has been reading and trying to find something in his books that would take his mind off the sadness that he feels about his lost love, Lenore. He reveals that Lenore has died when he says that the angels call her by name. This suggestion that she has gone to heaven contrasts to the hell-like situation he cumulatively creates for himself.

The narrator adds some more details of the night and lonely situation that add to the suspense and anxiety to the poem. He describes how the rustling curtains were thrilling him, and filling his mind with 'fantastic terrors' that he had never felt before. So, to calm his thumping heart, he says he kept repeating the words "It's some visitor", certainly without believing that it is really some human visitor! He was already in a state of heightened sensibility because of his mood, the late hour, and the eerie setting. Reading ancient folklore, possibly of a supernatural nature, may also have added to his imagination run wild. The tapping and rapping at the door of a lonely man staying late night adds to the terror greatly. The repetitions in the description of this are awful.

He overcomes the sense of mystery and terror and rationally calls out to the supposed visitor. But when he opens the door, he finds "only darkens there and nothing more." This time the refrain is used to create a sense of mystery that follows a moment of rational behavior, overshadowing it. We can envision a man opening the door and speaking to someone, only to be echoed by a dead, dark stillness of a lonely midnight. On top of that, he stands at the door, peering, long into the darkness and "wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming, dreams that no mortal ever dared to dream before". When no reply came to his apology to a certain Sir/Madam, he stands for a long time, probably unable to move due to the sinking of energy. He involuntarily whispers the name of his dead beloved "Lenore?" He tells us that he Stopped looking out of his door, transfixed by the "darkness", the silence" and the "stillness" while his imagination became more sensitive.

Then he finally discovers the source of the mysterious tapping noise. It was a raven, a bird usually suggestive of evil-omen and death. Upon opening the window flies in and sits on top of the speaker's "bust of Pallas." The bird is "stately," reminding the speaker of ancient times, perhaps seeming to fly out of the books that the speaker tells of reading in the beginning. "Pallas" symbolizes the Greek of Goddess of wisdom, and by placing the mysterious and ominous bird above the narrator and the bust (statue), Poe creates a situation in which the Raven, a bird associated with death, symbolically dominates the narrator and the symbol of wisdom, or rational thinking.

The man is somehow struck by the strangeness of the bird's ‘expression', so much so that he almost forgets that he is still as alone, and even more, in the presence of an evil bird, adding to the nightly atmosphere an air of insanity and horror. The raven's dramatic presence strikes the man so much so that he somehow forgets his sadness to some extent, and for the time being. He finds humor in the situation, and in jest, begins to speak to the bird, though without believing that the bird will reply in human speech. He first of all asks it its name. The bird instantly replies, to his and our shock: "Nevermore". The bird's very name is 'Nevermore'. In the very question the speaker has assumed that the bird has come from the "plutonian Shore." It means that the Raven is a creature from the land of the dead. In this stanza the refrain is developed into its permanent form of "Nevermore", the answer that the bird always gives when the man speaks to it, regardless of what he says. Half believing that the bird will say anything new, the narrator goes on to ask more questions as to whether he will ever be able to get rid of his grief and so on. He probably hopes that the bird, which could speak, will say something positive; but whatever it says, the speaker can't mutter out his grief.

In the next two stanzas, the speaker tells of his astonishment at the birds' appearance, its position on the bust and its ability to speak. He says that the bird's reply was irrelevant, and that it did not make sense. But he makes an audible comment about the bird and again the bird replies with the same refrain. This time, though, as if the speaker has knowingly done it, he makes such statement that the "Nevermore" makes sense. He asks whether the bird will ever go away from him, and the Raven's fixed response of 'nevermore' obviously indicates that the will never depart. The bird, symbolizing the thought of death and horror, will never leave him, as he probably always knows. Then the speaker is "startled" in reaction to the bird's answer because he thinks it makes sense. Still using his reason rather than his emotions, he rationalizes that the bird knows only this one word and had learned it while living with a person who himself always used the word because he was an unlucky fellow.

He sits down on a comfortable chair to contemplate the Raven. But what happens is that he is reminded of the gentle pressure she used to exert upon this chair when she was alive. These memories intensify the sense of loss and that of horror. In the thirteenth stanza, the speaker and the bird remain silent. A frightening image of the bird presents it with "fiery eyes" that "burned into my bosom's core", and the red eyes all associate the bird with evil. The "no syllable expressing" means that there was a dead silence for some time; but the expression also reminds us of a poem that uses syllables and meter. The speaker's silence gives him more time for brooding, during which his mind wanders away from the Raven and back to the sorrows of his dead beloved.

When he thinks of Lenore, his imagination and emotions again become active. He remembers the scent that she used to put on, as if he almost senses the scent till now; he links that to the smells the incense of angels. Quite likely, the couch on which he sits has the lingering scent of Lenore; but this rational explanation does not occur to him. He prefers to think of the scent as a gift from God, noticing it provides a comforting experience that may help him forget his sorrow. He cries out to himself, calling himself "wretch." By this he means that he has sunk to a wretched state of grief.

The narrator by now begins to realize that the bird is not an ordinary bird; it is a prophet. To the Raven's response that he will ‘nevermore' get any drug to forget his beloved, the speaker calls it a "Prophet", and because the prophecy foretells of more suffering on him, he calls the bird "evil" and suggest that it may be a "devil." He does not know if the Raven is merely a bird seeking refuge after a tempest or if it is an "evil being" sent by the "Tempter", or the devil. The speaker notes that the bird remains "undaunted" (unafraid), even though it is "desolate" and it seems "enchanted" in this sad house that looks like a "desert land". This manner of referring to the bird and the speaker's house reveals that the speaker is becoming more distraught and leas reasonable. After making these statements about the Raven, he then speaks out loud to ask the bird: "is there balm in Gilead?" (Gilead was known in Biblical times for its healing herbs), meaning whether he will ever find a remedy for his sorrow. As expected, the Raven answers "Nevermore", and the speaker is, and will be thrown into a deeper frenzy of despair. This closes the door to the possibility of a miraculous solution to the problem also.

Getting ready for more disappointment, the man continues to talk to the bird. This time he asks the bird, whether he will be reunited with Lenore after he himself dies, in an afterlife. The bird's reply, or rather a nonsense blathering, becomes more and more sinister. Exasperated by the evil raven's behavior, the narrator seeks and tries to bid good-bye to it. But the bird, as usual retorts: "Nevermore!"

This is the most terrible answer to hear, for the bird now means that it will never take its beak out of the speaker's heart. The poor speaker has lost this composure, as shown in the use of the word "shrieked." He shouts back at the Raven that it should leave and that it has spoken a lie. The imagery used to describe the Raven continues to suggest its association with evil; the words "fiend," "tempest," "night," "beak" in the narrator's "heart" reveal how the narrator feels towards the bird.

The last stanza is a kind of conclusion; the narrative has been over and the speaker describes his present situation. Until this point, the poem was a retelling of events that led up to this stanza. Now he tells us that the Raven is still there in his room and that he himself is still dejected. This suggests that the raven is a symbol of his grief and horror rather than a literal one. His very soul is cast down on the shadow on the floor and the beak of the raven is still in his heart. The raven's sinister word has now become the narrator's own word; he uses it in such a way as if he fully believes what the bird has said. The final associations of the bird with evil occur in the words "demon" and "shadow". The connection between the raven's "shadow" and the speaker's "soul" in the last line of the poem suggests that the speaker believes himself to be cursed by the bird's presence. Since the bird has been associated with death and evil, it is suggestive to overpower his wisdom.

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Sharma, K.N. "The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary and Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 4 Nov. 2013,

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