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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2004
Revised in 2010..©
Type of Work
......."The Raven" is a narrative poem presented by a man lamenting the death of the woman he loved. While he mourns her, a raven enters his room through a window, perches on a bust of the goddess Athena, and repeatedly speaks the word nevermore.
Date of Publication
......."The Raven" was published on Jan. 29, 1845, in The New York Mirror from a copy prepared for The American Review.
.......The scene is set in a chamber of a house in an undisclosed locale in the United States, circa 1845. The time is midnight. In a fireplace, embers are turning to ash. The narrator uses the word chamber rather than bedroom apparently because chamber has a dark and mysterious
Source of Inspiration
.......Poe was inspired to write his poem after reading about the raven in Charles Dickens's 1841 novel, Barnaby Rudge, a historical novel in which a mentally retarded person (Barnaby) is falsely accused of participating in anti-Catholic riots in 1780. Barnaby owns a pet raven, Grip, which can speak. In the fifth
chapter of the novel, Grip taps at a shutter (as in Poe's poem). The model for Grip was Dickens's own talking raven, which was the delight of his children. It was the first of three ravens owned by Dickens, all named Grip. After the first Grip died, it was stuffed and mounted. An admirer of Poe's works acquired the mounted bird and donated it to the Free Library of Philadelphia, where it is on
Point of View
.......The narrator tells the story in first-person point of view. He is depressed, lonely, and possibly mentally unstable as a result of his bereavement.
What Is a
.......A raven, which can be up to two feet long, is a type of crow. Ravens eat small animals, carrion, fruit, and seeds. They often appear in legend and literature as sinister omens.
.......As in his short stories, Poe is careful to use words that contribute to the overall atmosphere and tone of the poem. These words include weary, dreary, bleak, dying, sorrow, sad, darkness, stillness, mystery, ebony, grave, stern, lonely, grim, ghastly, and gaunt.
Sound and Rhythm
.......The melancholy tone of "The Raven" relies as much on its musical sound and rhythmic pattern as on the meaning of the words. To achieve his musical effect, Poe uses rhyming words in the same line (internal rhyme), a word at the end of one line that rhymes with a word at the end of another line (end rhyme),
alliteration (a figure of speech that repeats a consonant sound), and a regular pattern of accented and unaccented syllables.
.......Most of the lines in "The Raven" each contain eight pairs of syllables, for a total of sixteen syllables. Each pair, which makes up a unit called a foot, consists of an accented (stressed) syllable followed by an unaccented (unstressed syllable). Whenever a foot contains an accented syllable followed by an
unaccented one, it is called a trochee (TRO ke), or trochaic foot. And whenever a line contains eight feet, it is said to be in octameter. Octa- means eight; meter means rhythmic pattern. Thus, the meter of the line is trochaic octameter.
The first line of the third stanza
demonstrates this prevailing metric pattern in the poem.
the..|..SILK en..|..SAD un..|..CERT ain..|..RUST ling..|..OF each..|..PUR ple..|..CUR tain
.......As you can see, the first syllable pair, or foot, contains an accented syllable (AND) followed by an unaccented syllable (the) to make up a trochaic foot. The remaining feet repeat the pattern to achieve trochaic octameter. Note, however, that the last line of each stanza is short, containing only four
feet, as in the sixth line of the third stanza:
THIS it..|..IS, and..|..NOTH
You may have noticed that the fourth foot is incomplete, containing only an accented syllable. An incomplete foot is called a catalectic foot but is still regarded as one foot. Now, since the feet in the line are still trochees but contains only four feet, the line is said to be in trochaic tetrameter. Tetra- means four.
.......In each stanza, lines 2, 4, 5, and 6 rhyme. Also the second line of any stanza rhymes with the second line of any other stanza. For example, lore in the second line of the first stanza rhymes with floor in the second line of the second stanza, before in the second line of the third stanza, and
implore in the second line of the fourth stanza. Following is another example, the fourth stanza:
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, Internal Rhyme
"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
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.
.......To support the rhythm and musicality of the poem, Poe also uses internal rhyme in the first and third lines of each stanza. Here are examples.
Stanza 1 Sometimes Poe extends the internal rhyme into the following line. Here are examples:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
Ah, distinctly I rememberit was in the bleak December
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy,
thinkingwhat this ominous bird of yore
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other
friends have flown before
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Summary of the Poem
It is midnight on a cold evening in December in the 1840s. In a dark and shadowy bedroom, wood burns in the fireplace as a man laments the death of Lenore, a woman he deeply loved. To occupy his mind, he reads a book of ancient stories. But a tapping noise disturbs him. When he opens the door to the bedroom, he sees nothing–only darkness. When the
tapping persists, he opens the shutter of the window and discovers a raven, which flies into the room and lands above the door on a bust of Athena (Pallas in the poem), the goddess of wisdom and war in Greek mythology. It says “Nevermore” to all his thoughts and longings. The raven, a symbol of death, tells the man he will never again ("nevermore") see his beloved, never again hold
her—even in heaven.
Text With Explanatory Notes
By Edgar Allan Poe
1......Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered,1weak and weary,
2......Over many a quaint2and curious volume of forgotten lore,3
3......While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
4......As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber4door
5......"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
6...........................Only this, and nothing more."
7......Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
separate dying ember wrought its ghost5upon the floor
9......Eagerly I wished the morrow;6vainly I had sought to borrow
10....From my books surcease7of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
11....For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name
12.........................Nameless here for evermore.
13....And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
14....Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic8terrors never felt before;
15....So that now, to
still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
16...."'Tis some visitor entreating9entrance at my chamber door—
17....Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
18.........................This it is, and nothing more."
19....Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
20...."Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore10
21....But the fact is I was napping, and so gently
you came rapping,
22....And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
23....That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door;—
and nothing more.
25....Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
26....Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
27....But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no
28....And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
29....This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"—
30.........................Merely this, and
31....Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
32....Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
33...."Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:11
34....Let me see, then, what thereat12is, and this mystery
35....Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
36.........................'Tis the wind and nothing more."
37....Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt13and flutter,
38....In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore14;
39....Not the least obeisance15made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
40....But, with mien16of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
41....Perched upon a bust17of Pallas18just above my chamber door—
42.........................Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
43....Then this ebony19bird beguiling20my sad fancy into smiling,
44....By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.21
45...."Though thy crest22be shorn23and
shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,24
46....Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
47....Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"25
48.........................Quoth26the Raven, "Nevermore."
49....Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly27,
50....Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;28
51....For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
52....Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber
53....Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
54.........................With such name as "Nevermore."29
55....But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid30bust, spoke only
56....That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered-
58....Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before—
59....On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
60.........................Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
61....Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
62...."Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,31
63....Caught32from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
64....Followed fast and followed faster till his
songs one burden bore—
65....Till the dirges33of his Hope that melancholy burden
67....But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
68....Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
69....Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
70....Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
71....What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt34and ominous bird of yore
72.........................Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
73....This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
74....To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
75....This and more I sat divining,35with my head at ease reclining
76....On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
77....But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
78.........................She shall press, ah, nevermore!36
79....Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer37
80....Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor
81...."Wretch,"38I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent
82....Respite—39respite and nepenthe,40from thy memories of Lenore!
83....Quaff,41oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
84.........................Quoth42the Raven, "Nevermore."
85...."Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!— prophet still, if bird or devil!
86....Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
87....Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
88....On this home by horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
89....Is there—is there balm in Gilead?43— tell me—tell me, I implore!"
90.........................Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
91...."Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or devil!
92....By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore-
93....Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,44
94....It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
95....Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
96.........................Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
97...."Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting-
98...."Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
99....Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath
100..Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
101..Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
103..And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting THE END
104..On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
105..And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
106..And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
107..And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
108.......................Shall be lifted—
The theme of the poem is the abject grief the narrator suffers after the death of his beloved. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot gain "surcease of sorrow . . . / For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore" (lines 10-11).
Finality of Death
The narrator, heartsick at the loss of Lenore, finds it extremely difficult to accept her death. When he hears the tapping, he even calls out her name, perhaps thinking that her spirit has come to visit him. But the raven, repeating the word "Nevermore," reminds him that Lenore will not return. Death is final and
So grief-stricken is the narrator with Lenore's death that he appears to become mentally unstable. The raven may be a hallucination--a manifestation of what he wishes to deny, the death of Lenore.
Who Is Lenore?
It is possible that Lenore, the idealized deceased woman in the poem, represents Poe’s beloved wife, Virginia, who was in poor health when Poe wrote "The Raven." She died two years after the publication of the poem, when she was only in her mid-twenties.
Some reviewers in Poe’s day, including poet Walt Whitman, criticized “The Raven” for its sing-song, highly emotional quality. The poem is still criticized today–and often parodied–for the same
reason. However, the consensus of critics and ordinary readers appears to be that the poem is a meticulously crafted work of genius and fully deserves its standing as one of the most popular poems in American literature. It is indeed a great work.
Figures of Speech
.......Alliteration is an important figure of speech in "The Raven" because of its ability to impart rhythm and musicality. Following are examples of alliteration in the poem, as well as other figures of speech.
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore Anaphora
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
And the silken
sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting Metaphor
Though its answer littlemeaning—littlerelevancy bore
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. Onomatopoeia
Comparison of the ash to a ghost
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping Personification
As of some one gently rapping, rappingat my chamber door
And the silken sad uncertain rustlingof each purple curtain
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkledon the tufted floor
Meant in croaking"Nevermore."
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er ..
The lamplight gloats, like a person.
1....pondered: Meditated, studied.
2....quaint: Archaic, old.
3....volume . . . lore: Book of knowledge or myths.
4....chamber: Bedroom or study.
5....ember . . . ghost: Each glowing wood fragment turned into ash.
6....morrow: Next day.
7....surcease: End, pause, delay.
8....fantastic: Unreal, imaginary; weird, strange.
9....entreating: Begging, pleading for.
10..implore: Beg, ask for.
12..thereat: There, at that place.
14..yore: The distant past.
15..obeisance: Bow, gesture of respect.
17..bust: Small sculpture showing the head, shoulders, and chest.
18..Pallas: Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom.
20..beguiling: Charming, coaxing
21..decorum . . . wore: Look on its face.
22..crest: tuft of feathers on the head.
25..Night's Plutonian shore: The narrator believes the raven is from the shore of the River Styx in the Underworld, the abode of the dead in Greek mythology.
“Plutonian” is a reference to Pluto, the god of the Underworld.
26..Quoth: Spoke, said.
27..to hear . . . plainly:
The narrator is surprised that the raven can speak.
28..little . . . bore: The raven's answer made little sense.
29..Nevermore: The narrator at first thinks the raven's name is "Nevermore." However, he later learns that "Nevermore" means he will never again see the woman he loved.
31..its only . . . store: The only word it can speak.
33..dirges: Funeral hymns
34..this grim . . . gaunt: The bird is now the image of death.
35..divining: Trying to figure out.
36..press . . . nevermore: Never again rest her head on the cushion.
37..censer: Vessel in which incense is burned.
38..Wretch: The narrator is referring to himself.
39..Respite: Rest, pause.
40..nepenthe: Drug causing forgetfulness.
42..Quoth: Said, spoke.
43..is . . . Gilead: Ointment used to heal. Anything that heals, soothes, or relieves suffering. The balm of Gilead is mentioned in the Bible (Jeremiah 8:22).
45..Shall . . . nevermore: The narrator will never again see Lenore.
Study Questions and Writing Topics
- Is the narrator sane? Explain your answer.
- Does Lenore represent Poe's wife, Virginia? Explain your answer.
- Write an essay that explain how poem achieves its rhythmic, musical effect?
- Write a short poem that imitates the rhyme scheme and meter of "The Raven." The topic is open.
.......Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless couple–John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled
in schools there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. .
.......After beginning his literary
career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem “The Raven” in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short
story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an outstanding literary critic.
.......Despite the acclaim he received, Poe was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people
close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
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