The Raven by Edgar Allan
Introduction: The Raven is a narrative poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer. Published for the first time in January 1845, the poem is also remembered for its musicality, stylized language and surreal atmosphere. It tells the story of a talking raven’s enigmatic visit to a distressed lover, tracing the man’s gradual descent into madness. The lover mostly identified as a student, mourns the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on the bust of Pallas, the raven appears to be more disturbed by the protagonist’s frequent use of the phrase “Nevermore.” The poem uses folk, mythological, religious, and classical examples.
surcease – an end
obeisance – a bow or other gesture of respect
mien – aspect
Plutonian – of or relating to the underworld; hellish
countenance – face; facial expression discourse – conversation
aptly – appropriately
Seraphim – angels
respite – relief
nepenthe – something that eases pain or causes one to forget a painful situation quaff – drink
Questions and Answers
1. Read the poem’s first line. What is the literary term for a rhyme such as the rhyming of “dreary” (in the middle of the line) with “weary” (at the line’s end)?
The literary term is internal rhyme.
2. Who is Lenore?
Lenore is a lost love of the speaker’s – lost because of death.
3. Why do you think Poe chose to use a raven in this poem as opposed to, for example, a parrot or sparrow?
Answers may vary. Example: A raven may be seen as an ill omen since it has darker connotations the other birds do.
4. What, according to the second stanza, is the speaker trying to accomplish by reading “forgotten lore”?
The speaker is trying to find some relief from his mourning to distract himself and attain “surcease of sorrow.”
5. When he peers into the darkness and sees nothing, who does the speaker initially imagine may be trying to contact him?
The speaker initially imagines that Lenore may be trying to contact him.
6. What does the narrator mean when, in the eleventh stanza, he says of the raven, “Doubtless…what it utters is its only stock and store,/Caught from some unhappy master”?
The speaker is trying to convince himself that the raven most likely learned only one word–”nevermore”– from its master and is not replying intelligently to the narrator’s queries, but rather automatically. However, the word “nevermore,” as it is used in other stanzas, also signifies the end of Lenore’s life and the fact that the narrator will never see her again. The bird’s automatic response mocks his feelings.
7. Who is the narrator addressing when he cries “Wretch” in the fourteenth stanza?
The narrator is addressing himself.
8. Describe the narrator’s state at the end of the poem.
Answers may vary. Example: The narrator has been driven somewhat mad by grief, torturing himself by shaking off his earlier idea that the raven’s “nevermore”s were mere parrotings of a word the bird had been taught in favor of the idea that the raven really does know that the speaker will never be reunited with Lenore.
Summary/ Analysis of The Poem
One of the main themes of the poem is ‘ undying devotion’. The writer faces a perverted struggle between a need to forget and a need to remember. He appears to have some joy in dwelling on loss.The narrator believes that the term “nevermore” is the raven’s “only stock and store” and, however, proceeds to raise questions, anticipating what the answer will be. His queries, then, are deliberately self-deprecating and only incite his feelings of loss. Poe leaves it uncertain if the raven really understands what he is doing or if he truly wants to trigger a reaction in the narrator of the poem.The narrator starts as “weak and weary,” then grows regretful then depressed, before he passes into frenzy and, finally, madness. The poem is a kind of elegiac paraclausithyron, an ancient Greek and Roman literary genre consisting of the lament of an excluded, locked-out lover at his beloved’s sealed gates, as Christopher F. S. Maligec implies.
The poem consists of 18 lines, each of which has six words. Generally, the metre is a trochaic octameter – eight trochaic feet per line, each foot having a stressed syllable accompanied by an unstressed syllable.
Poe, however, believed that the poem was a combination of octameter catalectic, heptameter catalectic, and tetrameter catalectic. The rhyme scheme is ABCBB, or AA, B, CC, CB, B, B, B when it comes to internal rhyme. In each stanza, the “B” lines rhyme with the word “never again” and are catalectic, with special stress on the final syllable. The poem often makes extensive use of alliteration (“Doubting, dreaming dreams …”) 20th-century American poet Daniel Hoffman suggested that the structure and metre of the poem is so formulated that it is artificial, even though its mesmeric quality overrides it.