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The Raven | Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

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The Raven | Quotes


Once upon a midnight dreary.

The Speaker

This opening line establishes the mood of the poem by offering a bleak setting.


Vainly I had sought to borrow / From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore.

The Speaker

The speaker introduces Lenore and her death. He uses study to fend off his sorrow and grief at her passing.


And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"

The Speaker

Upon finding no one at his door, the speaker briefly wonders if it is Lenore's spirit reaching out to communicate with him, giving a supernatural air to the poem and making us doubt the speaker's reliability.


In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

The Speaker

The raven appears at the speaker's window, brought by there by the foul weather. The raven is given a noble descriptor and assigned a feeling of great age and import.


But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— / Perched upon a bust of Pallas.

The Speaker

The speaker likens the bird to a nobleman or woman, personifying it and giving it human characteristics. It enters his rooms as though it belongs there and then sits on the statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom.


Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!

The Speaker

The speaker speaks to the raven as if to a human, as if it will answer him. He makes reference to the god of the underworld, and ties the raven to images of death and darkness.


Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

The Speaker

The raven's response to every question the speaker asks is "Nevermore." The speaker assigns different meanings and intonations to the bird's response.


Other friends have flown before— / On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.

The Speaker

The speaker fears the raven will abandon him, as hope has abandoned him. Lenore's death has left him grieving and despairing of the future without her, to the point that he feels hopeless. This drives home his feelings of isolation.


Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer / Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

The Speaker

The speaker thinks he smells incense in the air and ascribes it to angels from heaven, where he believes Lenore awaits him. Whether he is visited by the supernatural or is just hallucinating due to madness is left up to interpretation.


Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!

The Speaker

The speaker wishes to forget his memories of Lenore since they cause him so much pain. He'd rather forget her than go on remembering what he's lost.


"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!— / Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore."

The Speaker

The speaker associates the raven with the supernatural, either as a prophet—foretelling the future—or as an infernal beast. He wonders if the raven has been sent by the devil or simply arrived due to the storm. He is assigning supernatural agency to the bird.


Is there—is there balm in Gilead?

The Speaker

Gilead is heaven, and the speaker asks the raven if he will be reunited with Lenore when he dies. That would give him hope and make the memories easier to bear.


Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, / It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.

The Speaker

Again the speaker asks for confirmation that he will meet Lenore in the afterlife, hoping for a more palatable answer. His grief is turning to madness as he begins to hound the bird for an answer it cannot give.


Take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door!

The Speaker

The speaker orders the bird away after receiving an unsatisfactory answer. It has killed his dream of reunion with Lenore.


And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!

The Speaker

The speaker has given in to his despair. The raven sits on the bust of Athena and watches over the speaker as he sits in the chair and gives himself over to his madness.

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