The Raven Analysis

For the first day of Gothic Romance Week, I will be doing a stanza-by-stanza analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.   As I announced yesterday, this year Gothic Romance Week will be themed further to feature The Works of Edgar Allan Poe exclusively!   This is why I found analyzing Poe’s most famous work to be an ideal place to start off.   I pulled the text of the poem from   Now, without further ado, here’s the analysis!

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.”

  • In this opening stanza we see that the narrator is forlorn and falling asleep whilst attempting to read an old esoteric text.   He seems incredulous that the tapping that awoke him is anything other than the ordinary.   I believe that he was likely studying a text that would help him possibly attempt to raise the dead!

    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.

  • Now in this next stanza, that suspicion that he was desiring to bring someone back from the dead is confirmed by his speaking of his lost love, Lenore!

    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.”

  • In the third stanza we have the narrator both fearful and desirous to see if the rustling is really only a visitor.   He wishes (and also fears) that it could be a message from the supernatural world!   He would adore nothing more than to once again see his lost love.

    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.

  • When he opened the door to find nothing, he had genuinely assumed that something would have been behind the door.   This leads to both a deeper dread and a deeper hope that he will soon have a message from beyond the veil!

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal 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.

  • His begging for the sound to have been his lost love, Lenore, brings out a heartbreaking nature to this stanza.   The reader can feel all of his longing and despair at being parted from her.

    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!”

  • In this stanza we see the narrator desiring to find a logical explanation once again.   It is something that many people would do in this situation, as actually believing the supernatural explanation is something truly difficult for most.

    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.

  • Here we finally get to meet this stately raven.   It is an interesting introduction to the bird, as it is a truly lovely description of the meeting between the narrator and the raven!

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.”

  • In this stanza, he is attempting to learn more about this bird, asking him his name.   All the raven says is “Nevermore” the most famous quote of this poem!

    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 blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

            With such name as “Nevermore.”

  • He is confused by the raven and his means of communication with him.   He seems to feel even less understanding after getting an answer to his question.

    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 farther 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.”

  • He is here lamenting that he will lose this new friend as he always does.   I believe that is a reference to his grief and pining, likely having driven away the other people in his life after the loss of Lenore. 

    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’.”

  • Here we see that the raven and the quote“Nevermore” is seen as his answer to his question over whether or not he will ever get his lost love back again.   This is leading to his even deeper melancholy.

    But the Raven still beguiling all my 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 is where he begins to analyze the meaning of the appearance of this specific bird.   Why is it a raven that has appeared?   Ravens have long been seen as psychopomps, able to go between the realms of living and dead with ease!

    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 lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

  • Here we see that the narrator knows that although the raven is here, he will not find a way to reunite with Lenore in this lifetime.   It is a sad thing to accept as he explores what the bird’s appearance truly means!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls 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.”

  • Here we see that the narrator has come to the conclusion that the raven was sent by angels to give him a message.   He is wondering if it is a sign that now is the time to finally let go of Lenore and move on with life.

    “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.”

  • At this point, the narrator is wondering if instead, the devil sent the bird.   He is fearful that he will be doomed if he lets go of Lenore, so he must accuse the bird of being evil!

    “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.”

  • Now he is asking if it was truly God or Lenore (in angelic form) who had truly sent the bird.   Once again, he simply gets the response of “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of 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.”

  • At this point, he has decided that if the bird means that he should rejoin society (after the death of his lover) that he would rather the raven simply leave.   It is a rejection of the idea of ending his mourning period!

    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!

  • In the end, this poem is about the struggle with how long one should stop living their life in mourning after the death of a loved one!   The narrator is left reeling and struggling with the idea that maybe now is the time to finally begin to live again.   It is a deeper struggle that he will have to do so without his lost lover!

~I hope that you have enjoyed my thoughts on The Raven.   Thank you for joining me for Gothic Romance Week Day One!   How did you interpret this poem?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!