The Raven is a long narrative poem written by Edgar Allan Poe and published in 1845. Poe wrote an essay Philosophy of Composition in 1850, explaining how he wrote this famous poem. The Raven is about a distraught lovers descent into madness. The atmosphere in the poem is of tension and supernatural elements with constantly changing moods. It is a carefully crafted poem written by a master craftsman which was worked out backwards from the determination of the effect to the plot.
The poem is set in dreary midnight hours when a weak and exhausted bereaved lover is poring over quaint and curious tomes hinting at delving into the occult perhaps in hope of reuniting with his lost love. The narrator is a student/scholar of old forgotten knowledge. The atmosphere is eerie on a bleak December evening, possibly hinting a moment of change; that one phase of his life is coming to an end. The eeriness is also made evident by the spectral dying embers, the narrators longing for morning light, the sad uncertain rustling of purple curtains. He is filled with fantastic terrors heightened by a gentle rapping at the chamber door. He is so frightened that he desperately attempts to allay by repeating to himself it is merely a visitor or the wind and nothing more, unsuccessfully trying to get the books to end his sadness. The hopelessness underlying his grief is evident when he says his dead love, the lost Lenore is nameless on earth for evermore. This thrilled feeling has filled him with fantastic terrors never felt before. As hes opening the door, hes apologizing for making the person wait. As he stands there in the darkness, wondering in the stillness and echoing Lenore, the hope that the darker forces may bring Lenore in some form mingles with doubt and dreams that no mortals would dare dream; the mixed feeling emphasised in the repeated nothing more.
It is the refrain uttered by the raven that is instrumental in the narrators progress towards frenzy. The raven, deliberately chosen as the avian visitor by Poe because of its ominous suggestiveness and a non-reasoning creature capable of speech and also, Poes fascination of a talking raven in Charles Dickens novel called Barnaby Rudge, does nothing but perch on a bust of Pallas, Athena the Goddess of Wisdom, and say nevermore which can mean nothing or everything if taken by the listener in the context of his thoughts and questions.
A stately raven flutters in, grave and aristocratic in mien, beguiles the sorrowful narrator into smiling and asking what its lordly name is in the Nights Plutonian shore. When the raven says Nevermore, it could mean that is his name. He marvelled at this reply, agreeing that no human being would have ever experienced a raven perched in his chamber door, answering that his name was nevermore. Even though at this stage, he feels that the word is meaningless and irrelevant, its significance slowly seeps into the narrators mind because the raven speaks it as if he is pouring out his soul in that one word. When the speaker muses on the fickleness of friends and that the raven will fly away as his friends and hopes have, the raven answers Nevermore.
This startles the narrator since the reply seems apt, yet he tries to be sensible. He wonders if the raven has picked up this single word from a master pursued by Disaster and despair, a word born of melancholy; the word then repeated to signify these torments. The bird continues to tantalise the speaker who begins focusing on the word. Sitting upon a velvet cushion,linking Fancy into fancy, he wonders more and more what the ominous ancient bird,grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt means by the croaking refrain.
Even as he sits imagining what the raven could have meant, nothing is spoken to the bird. He feels the birds burning eyes piercing into his heart and he reclines on the cushions, knowing that these cushions will be pressed by Lenore nevermore. All of a sudden the narrator feels the air growing dense with perfume from an angelic censer and cries out that God has sent as respite, nepenthe to help him forget Lenore. To this, the raven says Nevermore, which the distraught lover can take to mean that the blessing of forgetting his loss is not for him.
Agitated, the lover calls the raven Tempter (whether he is a bird or devil himself), begging the question into what dark paths the ghastly bird may be tempting him. He implores to be told if there is a balm in Gilead that will soothe away his sorrow. The ravens refrain Nevermore is the response. By now the speaker is overwrought and shrieks to the bird to return to the storm and Nights Plutonian Shore. The lover is content in his loneliness. The ravens Nevermore this time seems to indicate his unwillingness to oblige, the speaker now viewing him as a devil and in the presence of this shadowy demonic presence feels that the heaviness in his soul will last forever. The final Nevermore suggests the lover will never overcome the burden of grief.
Nevermore thus conveys the state of the lovers mind and his varying moods- grief, fear, doubt, dismay, despair. He wants to forget yet cling on to his sorrow. Knowing the word is the ravens only stock and store, he continues to ask questions and take the word as the answer. This deliberate tormenting of himself leads to his rapid descent into mad feverishness and the hinted desire to take his own life. The taut atmosphere of tension within the lover, which he reflects outside, is also highlighted by the refrain. Poes characteristic love of mystery and the supernatural macabre too emerges. He wrote this poem carefully and methodically for critical and popular acclaim and the use of repetition and refrain is a part of this deliberation.