This poem is reticent of Edgar Allen Poe’s dark sinister mode of writing he is well known for. The setting of this poem is the speaker’s chamber, or bedroom, at midnight. The first person narrator is a man who is distraught over the death of his beloved, Lenore. He is quite possibly mentally unbalanced as well. Poe has carefully chosen precise words such as weary, dreary, bleak, dying, sorrow, sad, darkness, grave, lonely, ghastly and gaunt to illustrate the dark sinister tone.
Poe also employs a musical effect on this poem through the use of rhythmic pattern involving internal rhymes, end rhymes, alliteration, and a pattern of sixteen syllables per line that are alternately accented and unaccented. It is interesting to note that Poe wrote this poem while his wife/cousin, Virginia, was in ill health. He loved her very much and had lost every woman in his life that he had loved (beginning with his mother), so he was, in all likelihood, in a depressed state of mind thinking that Virginia may die.
The poem begins with the narrator attempting to read an ancient tale while bemoaning his lost love (a common motif in literature). He keeps hearing a tapping at his door and finally goes to investigate only to discover that no one is there. However, the tapping continues, so he opens the shutter on his window only to find a raven (portent of doom and death). The raven flies into the room and lands on a bust of Pallus (Athena). He keeps saying “Nevermore.” The raven tells the narrator that Lenore is lost to him forever both now and in the afterlife. The narrator will never hold Lenore again-even in heaven.
The Raven is divided into eighteen stanzas of six lines each with the fourth and fifth lines ending with the same word and rhyming with the last word in the sixth line. There may or may not be relevance to this particular syntax, but the effect is, nevertheless, musical. In the second stanza we learn more about the setting. It is December, the first month of winter where the days are short and the weather is bleak. A dying fire casts an eerie glow thus setting the scene for something sinister and scary. He uses onomatopoeia to create the sound of the curtains: “rustling.” He opens his door to utter blackness and whispers the name of his dead love- “Lenore.” This seems to be an almost hopefully questioning tone as if he thinks Lenore may have returned to him. When the tapping continues he opens the window, and the raven flies in. The narrator actually begins a conversation with the raven, and the raven replies “Nevermore.”
By the thirteenth stanza, both the speaker and the raven are silent as evidenced by Poe’s use of the phrase “no syllable expressing.” At this time the narrator begins to think of Lenore again and how she sat on the very chair in which he is now sitting. He remarks that he smells “the incense of angels.” It is quite possible that Lenore’s perfume still lingers on the chair, and that is what the narrator actually smells. He hopes that the angels can help him get over his grief of Lenore, but the raven interjects with, “Nevermore.” This causes the speaker to call the raven “Prophet,” but also casts him as “evil” and calls him “devil.” He has quickly gone from the humor seen in the first stanzas where he met the raven to the disgust and madness we see now.
In the final stanza, the narrator goes totally insane and starts screaming at the bird as evidenced by the word “shrieked.” He tells of his present situation wherein the raven is still in his room. He still associates the bird with evil when he uses the words “demon” and “shadow.” The raven’s prediction that the narrator will be “nevermore” able to get over Lenore seems to have come to fruition.