Literary Analysis Essay On The Raven Summary


The unnamed narrator is wearily perusing an old book one bleak December night when he hears a tapping at the door to his room. He tells himself that it is merely a visitor, and he awaits tomorrow because he cannot find release in his sorrow over the death of Lenore. The rustling curtains frighten him, but he decides that it must be some late visitor and, going to the door, he asks for forgiveness from the visitor because he had been napping. However, when he opens the door, he sees and hears nothing except the word "Lenore," an echo of his own words.

Returning to his room, he again hears a tapping and reasons that it was probably the wind outside his window. When he opens the window, however, a raven enters and promptly perches "upon a bust of Pallas" above his door. Its grave appearance amuses the narrator, who asks it for its names. The raven responds, "Nevermore." He does not understand the reply, but the raven says nothing else until the narrator predicts aloud that it will leave him tomorrow like the rest of his friends. Then the bird again says, "Nevermore."

Startled, the narrator says that the raven must have learned this word from some unfortunate owner whose ill luck caused him to repeat the word frequently. Smiling, the narrator sits in front of the ominous raven to ponder about the meaning of its word. The raven continues to stare at him, as the narrator sits in the chair that Lenore will never again occupy. He then feels that angels have approached, and angrily calls the raven an evil prophet. He asks if there is respite in Gilead and if he will again see Lenore in Heaven, but the raven only responds, "Nevermore." In a fury, the narrator demands that the raven go back into the night and leave him alone again, but the raven says, "Nevermore," and it does not leave the bust of Pallas. The narrator feels that his soul will "nevermore" leave the raven's shadow.


"The Raven" is the most famous of Poe's poems, notable for its melodic and dramatic qualities. The meter of the poem is mostly trochaic octameter, with eight stressed-unstressed two-syllable feet per lines. Combined with the predominating ABCBBB end rhyme scheme and the frequent use of internal rhyme, the trochaic octameter and the refrain of "nothing more" and "nevermore" give the poem a musical lilt when read aloud. Poe also emphasizes the "O" sound in words such as "Lenore" and "nevermore" in order to underline the melancholy and lonely sound of the poem and to establish the overall atmosphere. Finally, the repetition of "nevermore" gives a circular sense to the poem and contributes to what Poe termed the unity of effect, where each word and line adds to the larger meaning of the poem.

The unnamed narrator appears in a typically Gothic setting with a lonely apartment, a dying fire, and a "bleak December" night while wearily studying his books in an attempt to distract himself from his troubles. He thinks occasionally of Lenore but is generally able to control his emotions, although the effort required to do so tires him and makes his words equally slow and outwardly pacified. However, over the course of the narrative, the protagonist becomes more and more agitated both in mind and in action, a progression that he demonstrates through his rationalizations and eventually through his increasingly exclamation-ridden monologue. In every stanza near the end, however, his exclamations are punctuated by the calm desolation of the sentence "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore,'" reflecting the despair of his soul.

Like a number of Poe's poems such as "Ulalume" and "Annabel Lee," "The Raven" refers to an agonized protagonist's memories of a deceased woman. Through poetry, Lenore's premature death is implicitly made aesthetic, and the narrator is unable to free himself of his reliance upon her memory. He asks the raven if there is "balm in Gilead" and therefore spiritual salvation, or if Lenore truly exists in the afterlife, but the raven confirms his worst suspicions by rejecting his supplications. The fear of death or of oblivion informs much of Poe's writing, and "The Raven" is one of his bleakest publications because it provides such a definitively negative answer. By contrast, when Poe uses the name Lenore in a similar situation in the poem "Lenore," the protagonist Guy de Vere concludes that he need not cry in his mourning because he is confident that he will meet Lenore in heaven.

Poe's choice of a raven as the bearer of ill news is appropriate for a number of reasons. Originally, Poe sought only a dumb beast that was capable of producing human-like sounds without understanding the words' meaning, and he claimed that earlier conceptions of "The Raven" included the use of a parrot. In this sense, the raven is important because it allows the narrator to be both the deliverer and interpreter of the sinister message, without the existence of a blatantly supernatural intervention. At the same time, the raven's black feather have traditionally been considered a magical sign of ill omen, and Poe may also be referring to Norse mythology, where the god Odin had two ravens named Hugin and Munin, which respectively meant "thought" and "memory." The narrator is a student and thus follows Hugin, but Munin continually interrupts his thoughts and in this case takes a physical form by landing on the bust of Pallas, which alludes to Athena, the Greek goddess of learning.

Due to the late hour of the poem's setting and to the narrator's mental turmoil, the poem calls the narrator's reliability into question. At first the narrator attempts to give his experiences a rational explanation, but by the end of the poem, he has ceased to give the raven any interpretation beyond that which he invents in his own head. The raven thus serves as a fragment of his soul and as the animal equivalent of Psyche in the poem "Ulalume." Each figure represents its respective character's subconscious that instinctively understands his need to obsess and to mourn. As in "Ulalume," the protagonist is unable to avoid the recollection of his beloved, but whereas Psyche of "Ulalume" sought to prevent the unearthing of painful memories, the raven actively stimulates his thoughts of Lenore, and he effectively causes his own fate through the medium of a non-sentient animal.

“The Raven” is an exploration into the loneliness, despair, and insanity associated with the loss of a loved one. Through the clever use of structure, repetition and symbolism Edgar Allan Poe manages to draw us into this feeling of morbid despair and with every use of the haunting refrain “nevermore” upon which the chilling cadence of this poem is built Poe transforms a story steeped in sorrow into a tale of supernatural fear and insanity as only he can. Poe uses the very structure of his poem to scream melancholy despair. The Raven” is written in trochaic octameter. The first and third lines have sixteen syllables each. That makes eight pairs of syllables. The emphasis in these pairs is usually placed on the first syllable. (Once / u / pon / a / mid / night / drea / ry / while / I / pon / dered / weak / and / wea/ ry). It also makes use of internal rhyming,every eight syllables rhyme (Dreary, Weary). In the fourth line, the rhyme from the third line is used to rhyme again in the middle.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore. ) The most noticeable rhyme comes at the end of the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines in each stanza it’s easy to pick up because it always ends in an “or” sound (lore, door, floor, Lenore, and of course nevermore), meaning two-thirds of the poem ends in the same sound. The meter however is not constant throughout, the last line of each stanza is a lot shorter with only seven syllables and the second, fourth, and fifth lines only have fifteen syllables.

The trick is that in each of the lines ending in an “or” sound, poe leaves off a syllable. That way the crucial “or” sits out there by itself, unattached to another syllable, making it stand out even more. Through all of these little things he makes his poem musical hypnotic and captivating drawing you more completely into this world full of despair and insanity. Poe makes use of repetition to slowly transform this piece from a tale of melancholy despair into one of insanity. Our narrator starts out seemingly hopelessly trying to drown his orrows by any means possible (Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow sorrow for the lost Lenore) .

After the raven comes into the picture announcing for the first time that his name is nevermore our narrator seems almost disbelieving ( “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 as the poem continues unraveling he keeps asking the raven questions knowing the answer will always be the same as if he knows this will always be the answer but is trying to deny it (“Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore? ” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore. ”)

After this goes on for some time his pleas intensifying all the while and the raven repeating nevermore all the while he begins to show signs of madness like a mad scientist on the edge of a discovery. Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend! ‘I shrieked upstarting . ) Until finally he seems to just give up and accept his fate (And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted – nevermore! ) and back to despair the difference is this time he seems to accept it as a part of himself he knows will never go away. Another literary device that Poe uses throughout his poem to draw us into the feelings he is trying to convey is symbolism. One of the centerpieces of the poem is Lenore.

She is the main focus of our narrators obsessive thoughts. He brings her up constantly and yet despite this we don’t actually learn much about her at all. We don’t know the color of her hair or eyes or much besides her name . He never even specifically brings up their relation. She’s an idea a memory but never becomes a full fledged character even when her presence seems to lurk everywhere in the room in a sense, this Lenore is not anything like a real person because of this I believe her to be a symbol.

At the beginning we learn that Lenore is dead (Sorrow for the lost Lenore For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore Nameless here for evermore. ) Lenore seems to be a symbol for lost loves for all the lost things that bring us despair. She is almost purposefully not described in detail thus allowing us to fill her in as our mind will and pulling us even deeper into the atmosphere of sorrow surrounding the poem. Another big symbol used in the poem is of course the namesake of the poem, the raven.

In most stories and in folklore the raven is used to symbolize death. Poe seems to take this idea and expand it and use it to further convince us of the feelings he is trying to convey throughout the poem. In this particular use of the raven as a symbol he symbolizes not death but comes more in the form of a messenger. Although the fact that he is as black as the night it came out of and adds to the supernatural atmosphere emphasised by the personification of the bird could have been intentional on Poe’s part.

His role as messenger does not escape the narrator who believes first that he is a prophet sent by god (thy God hath lent thee by these angels he has sent thee) but as the raven’s ever present refrain begins to slowly drive him mad he actually comes to think that he is a demon (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! ). Whatever Poe meant the raven to really symbolize it just seems to add to the air of supernatural despair and insanity.

Therefore Poe brings us this feeling of morbid despair and insanity through structure, repetition, and symbolism. His use of trochaic octameter gives the poem an almost musical melody that adds to the feelings of despair Poe is trying to convey. The repetition of the word nevermore almost constantly throughout the poem helps to transition from the despair at the beginning to the insanity in the middle then back around full circle; and through the symbolism of Lenore and the raven he wraps all these feelings in one single package quite nicely that he can bring up over and over again.

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