The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “
“'Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this, and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating, “
“'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is, and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“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 chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice,
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
'Tis the wind and nothing more.”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore,
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“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!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
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 lamplight 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!

Footnotes

  1. As he shares in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe selected the raven as his messenger of choice for two reasons. The raven serves as a “non-reasoning creature capable of speech” while adhering to the poem’s funereal tone in the way, say, a parrot could not. Poe also cites the raven as “the bird of ill omen,” which is consistent with many cultural depictions of the raven.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The lamplight serves as the catalyst for the poem’s chilling closing image. The light—once again a representation of the harsh truth of Lenore’s irreversible death—strikes the raven, casting a shadow on the floor. That shadow becomes a manifestation of the narrator’s grief, from which he “shall be lifted—nevermore!”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The light shed by the narrator’s lamp serves as a representation of the harsh truth of Lenore’s death. Here we see the lamplight “gloating o’er” the cushion Lenore will never again sit on.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Two of the poem’s scenic details are conspicuously purple: the “purple curtain” and the chair, with its “velvet violet lining.” In both Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian symbolic systems, purple serves as a mark of class and aristocracy. If nothing else, Poe likely uses these touches of purple to give the narrator some social context. These suggestions of class are consistent with his scholarly nature.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Pallas may also refer to the daughter of the sea-god Triton, who raised Athena alongside his own children. According to some stories, Athena killed the young maiden Pallas. In her sorrow, Athena took Pallas’s name out of remembrance, referring to herself thenceforth as “Pallas Athena.” This myth is helpful in our understanding of “The Raven” in that Pallas represents a parallel of Lenore. Both Pallas and Lenore are tragically killed maidens who live on only in name.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The final "nevermore" in this poem comes from the narrator. The narrator gives over to the bird and adopts a fatalistic attitude: he is resigned to a future trapped within his sadness and imprisoned by his loss of Lenore.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Plutonian means of or relating to the underworld. Pluto was the Roman god of the underworld, and the "shore" refers to the River Styx, one of the major rivers in the underworld. The narrator is banishing the Raven back to the hell he assumes it came from.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. "Tempter" is another name for the Devil. The narrator begins to imagine the bird as an evil entity sent by the Devil. The Raven now takes on supernatural qualities—he is no longer a normal bird that learned a word from a former master, but the embodiment of death, the Devil's orders, and evil.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Nevermore, which the narrator originally interpreted as the Raven's name here becomes a menacing threat: the narrator will never forget his lost Lenore, he will never recover from his grief. Notice that the meaning of "nevermore" underscores the narrator's decline into madness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. "Gloated" in this context means to gaze with malignant pleasure, to feast one's eyes upon. Notice that the narrator personifies his surroundings with words that make them menacing. The narrator imagines everything as hostile, and demonstrates his feelings of vulnerability.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The narrator is intrigued by the Raven, amused slightly out of his depression by his interest in the bird. Juxtaposing this happy feeling with the melancholy contemplated in the previous stanza suggests that the narrator is experiencing an unstable kind of happiness akin to mania.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. A dirge is a lament sung for the dead especially during funeral rites. Here the narrator plays on birdsong and blames the melancholic word for transforming the Raven's birdsong into a dirge. "Nevermore" therefore becomes a symbol of death and dying that destroys hope.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The narrator realizes that the bird can only say this one word from rote recitation. However, rather than dismissing his ability to speak as something learned, he creates a story to explain the Raven's word. He imagines a miserable master who repeated this word enough times that the bird learned it. Notice that the story the narrator ascribes to the bird's former master mirrors his own.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The second time the Raven utters this word, it suggests that he will never again leave this chamber. The narrator initially fears that the bird, a brief source of entertainment and levity, will leave him as his friends and hopes have. But with this, he sees the Raven as ominously promising to stay indefinitely, and the bird becomes more menacing than friendly.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Notice that the first repetition of "Nevermore" comes from the narrator not the Raven. The narrator immediately internalizes the word and repeats it in his own mind. This suggests that the narrator is susceptible to fantastical thinking.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. The narrator first interprets the repetitive line as the bird's name. Nevermore, the state of being no longer, at no future time, or never again, recalls the narrator's first description of Lenore being "nameless here for evermore" because she has died. This suggests that the Raven is either an embodiment of his lost lover or death incarnate. The narrator sees the Raven is a symbol of loss and mortality.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. The narrator perceives the Raven as a wandering ancient creature. In Genesis 8:7, Noah sends a dove and a raven in opposite directions to test if the water had receded enough for his family and the animals to leave the ark. The dove remains famous for returning and signaling the end of the flood. The raven never returns to the ark, and is lost to the night. Referencing the grim associations given to the bird since Greek mythology draws on a long standing history that relates this bird to wandering, absence, and omens.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Perched means both seated on a perch and to be presumptuous and assertive. The narrator ascribes power to the Raven in repeating this word three times. The Raven reflects the narrator's unstable mental state and dejected psychological state; he feels powerless against a mere bird.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. Obeisance is the respectful acknowledgement of one's superior. Notice that the narrator immediately attributes human characteristics to this bird, even before it speaks. Because one would not normally expect an animal to bow or perform social customs upon entering a chamber, this expectation reveals the narrator's unstable mental state.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. "Flung," to open with haste or violence, directly contradicts the sense of calm he tries to convince himself to feel in the previous stanza. The narrator's actions clash with his attempts to quiet his nerves, and this tension builds suspense within the poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. A "window lattice" is a window in which the pieces of glass are set in diagonally crossing strips of wood, vinyl, or metal. In the 19th century, windows were made this way because large single sheets of glass were extremely expensive due to primitive glass making technology.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Poe uses a common trope of gothic and horror genres. Rather than describing a particular fear, he invites the reader to fill in the "fear" and "dream" with their own imagination. He emphasizes the darkness, the emptiness, and the unknowable to allow the possibility for supernatural horror to creep into both his own mind and the readers.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. This long and polite apology demonstrates two things about the narrator. First, the narrator's politeness and social etiquette suggest that he is a member of the upper class. Second, the speaker is nervously prattling to whomever he thinks is outside the door. This suggests that he is nervous and afraid of whomever, or whatever is on the other side of the door.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. Notice how the "nothing more" that the narrator was using to reassure himself that he was not hearing things has now changed from something reassuring to something not only unsettling but also upsetting.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. Repetition is a literary technique that Poe uses throughout this poem. In the beginning, the narrator uses repetition to reassure himself and calm his nerves. However, this same technique will later be the source of his distress when the Raven begins to repeat "nevermore."

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. "Silken sad uncertain rustling" is a type of alliteration called susurration. Susurration is soft repetition of the "s" sound. It creates an eerie sense of whispering, hissing, or swishing. But while eerie, it can also have a calming or lulling effect. This line simultaneously shows the narrator's discomfort at this uncanny experience and paints the image of a still, silent room.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. The em-dash punctuation signals an abrupt change of thought or tone. Poe uses it frequently within this poem to build intensity and demonstrate the narrator's wavering mind. Notice how the narrator interrupts his train of thought, or attempts to stop his fantastical thinking using this punctuation.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. In his "Philosophy of Composition," Poe claimed that “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.” He chose to make the death of a beautiful woman his topic because he believed that nothing was more poetical than the beautiful melancholy that this topic would evoke.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. Poe begins his poem by playing with the conventional opening to fairytales and well known folklore, "Once upon a time." This situates his story in the fantastical world of fairytales, but also establishes the dark and ominous setting of "dreary midnight."

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. Notice Poe's use of subtle alliteration of "S" sounds in these two lines. After sounds in "denser...unseen censer," the reader might expect that to be all. But since Poe is describing a swinging censer containing burning incense, it is pleasantly surprising when the weighty (literary) device seems to swing back at the beginning of the next line with, "Swung by seraphim," two more alliterative "S" sounds.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. “Nevermore” can be interpreted to mean no as well as never again. This first instance of speech captures the narrator’s attention, and while he initially regards the Raven’s refrain as nonsense, it soon takes hold in his mind as something meaningful.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. Notice how the narrator repeats “nothing more” to comfort himself and dismiss his fears, and how the effect of the phrase changes with each stanza. Poe repeats this refrain to emphasize the narrator’s increasingly agitated state of mind and to gradually develop the poem’s mysterious, threatening atmosphere.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. Disturbed by the way the Raven appears to have intentionally disagreed with him, the narrator rationalizes the repetition of the ominous word “Nevermore”: He imagines that the Raven’s master, having suffered unendurable disasters, taught the bird to utter the single word most expressive of the owner’s sense of hopelessness.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. Imagining a perfumed presence in the room, the narrator asks if the Raven has been mercifully sent by God to bring him nepenthe, a potion of forgetfulness mentioned in Greek mythology. The Raven, of course, replies with a bleak “Nevermore,” which the self-tormenting narrator takes to mean that he will never find a moment’s rest from his grief.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. Notice how Poe creates a distinct transition here in both the structure of the poem and the way the narrator regards the Raven. After attempting to contemplate his visitor objectively, the narrator connects the Raven’s refrain of “Nevermore” with his personal grief. The narrator begins to ask increasingly painful questions in masochistic anticipation of the inevitable response.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  36. The narrator’s ultimate question is if he will be reunited with Lenore in “Aidenn,” a poetic spelling of Eden, after he dies. The contrast between his self-description and Lenore reveals how lowly the narrator regards himself and how highly he regards his memory of Lenore.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. Gilead was a region known in biblical times for its healing plants. The narrator desperately implores the Raven to tell him if there is “balm” or medicine as promised in the Bible, metaphorically questioning whether there is any hope or remedy in religion for his grief.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  38. The first seven stanzas establish the narrator’s melancholic, impressionable state of mind. Now, the narrator playfully asks the raven its name, as if to reassure himself that it portends nothing ominous. However, although what the raven says initially has little relevance or meaning, the narrator is sobered by the bird’s forlorn utterance and begins to try and rationalize it.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. At first, the narrator tries to interpret the bird as a source of humor. However, his failure to continue to do so helps establish the prevailing tone. Notice how the narrator’s choice of words when addressing the raven become more intense and extreme as the mood of the poem darkens to reflect the growing misery of the narrator.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  40. This adjective relates to the underworld realm of the Roman god Pluto who guarded the entrance to the world of the dead. The narrator's choice to associate this word choice with the night suggests his fear of the closeness of death, the supernatural, and the raven’s association with these things as a messenger of sorts.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. The notion that the rustling of the curtains thrills the weary and depressed narrator is perhaps a little odd. However, considering the time of night and his current mental state, it's very possible that Poe is implying that the narrator has a more vivid imagination than is good for him, especially considering how he soon behaves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  42. This is the first example of Poe’s frequent use of alliteration, the repetition of initial sounds, and internal rhyme. Notice how Poe uses internal rhyme throughout the first and third lines of each stanza, and particularly how repetition represents an essential technique and theme in the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. "Its ghost" refers to the dying embers of the fire that is about to go out. By using mysterious and depressing words such as “bleak,” “dying,” and “ghost,” Poe’s metaphors and word choices help set the mood of the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  44. Pallas, a reference to Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, is representative of knowledge, reason, and logic, while the Raven embodies imagination, darkness, and the unknown. By having the Raven perch unceremoniously on the bust, Poe is possibly belittling wisdom itself, suggesting that when the two collide, imagination will overpower reason.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  45. Also throughout the poem, Poe chooses words that rhyme with more in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines to create a very strong, unifying effect for the poem. In his “Philosophy of Composition,” Poe states that he consciously chose the or-sound because of its sonorous quality.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  46. Poe's poem is primarily about death—of his beloved Lenore and of hope. Here, the narrator makes the implication that other friends have died, along with hope, and he hopes the bird will as well (which is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke that he would refer to the raven as a friend). However, the raven’s reply suggests that the bird, as death personified, has arrived and will remain.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  47. By whispering the name of the deceased Lenore, the narrator reveals the extent of his depression and how her loss has so affected him. This perhaps explains the reason why the initial rustling of the curtains and tapping on the door provoked such a reaction within him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor