"The Raven" is a narrative poem by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven's mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the latter's slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as being a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. The raven, sitting on a bust of Pallas, seems to further instigate his distress with its constant repetition of the word, "Nevermore". Throughout the poem, Poe makes allusions to folklore and various classical works.
Poe claimed to have written the poem very logically and methodically. His intention was to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explains in the follow-up essay "The Philosophy of Composition". The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship".
The first publication of "The Raven" on January 29, 1845, in the New York Evening Mirror made Poe widely popular in his lifetime. The poem was soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated. Though some critics disagree about the value of the poem, it remains one of the most famous poems ever written.
"The Raven" follows an unnamed narrator who sits reading "forgotten lore" as a method to forget the loss of his love, Lenore. A "rapping at [his] chamber door" reveals nothing, but excites his soul to "burning". A similar rapping, slightly louder, is heard at his window. When he goes to investigate, a raven steps into his chamber. Paying no attention to the man, the raven perches on a bust of Pallas.
Amused by the raven's comically serious disposition, the man demands that the bird tell him its name. The raven's only answer is "Nevermore". The narrator is surprised that the raven can talk, though it will not say anything further. He reasons that the bird learned the word "Nevermore" from some "unhappy master" and that it is the only word it knows. The narrator remarks that his "friend" the raven will soon fly out of his life, just as "other friends have flown before" along with his previous hopes. As if answering, the raven responds again with "Nevermore". The narrator is convinced that this single word, possibly learned from a previous owner with bad luck, is all that the bird can say.
Even so, the narrator pulls his chair directly in front of the raven, determined to learn more about it. He thinks for a moment, not saying anything, but his mind wanders back to his lost Lenore. He thinks the air grows denser and feels the presence of angels. Confused by the association of the angels with the bird, the narrator becomes angry, calling the raven a "thing of evil" and a "prophet". As he yells at the raven it only responds, "Nevermore". Finally, he asks the raven if he will be reunited with Lenore in heaven. When the raven responds with its typical "Nevermore", he shrieks and commands the raven to return to the "Plutonian shore", though it never moves. Presumably at the time of the poem's recitation by the narrator, the raven "still is sitting" on the bust of Pallas. The narrator's final admission is that his soul is trapped beneath the raven's shadow and shall be lifted "Nevermore".
He is reading "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore". Similar to the studies suggested in Poe's short story "Ligeia", this lore may be about the occult or black magic. This is also emphasized in the author's choice to set the poem in December, a month when the forces of darkness are believed to be especially active. The use of the raven — the "devil bird" — also suggests this. This devil image is emphasized by the narrator's belief that the raven is "from the Night's Plutonian shore", or a messenger from the afterlife, referring to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld (also known as Hades in Greek mythology).
Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a "non-reasoning" creature capable of speech. He decided on a raven, which he considered "equally capable of speech" as a parrot, because it matched the intended tone of the poem. Poe said the raven is meant to symbolize mournful and never-ending remembrance. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty by Charles Dickens. One scene in particular bears a resemblance to "The Raven": at the end of the fifth chapter of Dickens's novel, Grip makes a noise and someone says, "What was that – him tapping at the door?" The response is, "'Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter." Dickens's raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird's more dramatic qualities. Poe had written a review of Barnaby Rudge for Graham's Magazine saying, among other things, that the raven should have served a more symbolic, prophetic purpose. The similarity did not go unnoticed: James Russell Lowell in his A Fable for Critics wrote the verse, "Here comes Poe with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge / Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.
Poe may also have been drawing upon various references to ravens in mythology and folklore. In Norse mythology, Odin possessed two ravens named Hugin and Munin, representing thought and memory. The raven also gets a reputation as a bird of ill omen in the book of Genesis. According to Hebrew folklore, Noah sends a white raven to check conditions while on the ark. It learns that the floodwaters are beginning to dissipate, but it does not immediately return with the news. It is punished by being turned black and being forced to feed on carrion forever. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, a raven also begins as white before Apollo punishes it by turning it black for delivering a message of a lover's unfaithfulness. The raven's role as a messenger in Poe's poem may draw from those stories.
Poe also mentions the Balm of Gilead, a reference to the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible: "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? In that context, the Balm of Gilead is a resin used for medicinal purposes (suggesting, perhaps, that the narrator needs to be healed after the loss of Lenore). He also refers to "Aidenn", another word for the Garden of Eden, though Poe uses it to ask if Lenore has been accepted into Heaven. At another point, the narrator imagines that seraphim (a type of angel) have entered the room. The narrator thinks they are trying to take his memories of Lenore away from him using nepenthe, a drug mentioned in Homer's Odyssey to induce forgetfulness.
Edgar Allan Poe, however, claimed the poem was a combination of octameter acatalectic, heptameter catalectic, and tetrameter catalectic. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBB and makes heavy use of internal rhyme ("dreary" and "weary"; "Once upon" and "while I pon-") and alliteration ("Doubting, dreaming dreams..."). 20th century American poet Daniel Hoffman suggested that the poem's structure and meter is so formulaic that it is artificial, though its mesmeric quality overrides that.
Poe based the structure of "The Raven" on the complicated rhyme and rhythm of Elizabeth Barrett's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship". Poe had reviewed Barrett's work in the January 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal and said that "her poetic inspiration is the highest - we can conceive of nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure in itself." About "Lady Geraldine's Courtship", he said, "I have never read a poem combining so much of the fiercest passion with so much of the most delicate imagination.
Poe first brought "The Raven" to his friend and former employer George Rex Graham of Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia. Graham declined the poem, which may not have been in its final version, though he gave Poe $15 as charity. Poe then attempted to place the poem with The American Review, which paid him $9 for it. Though it was first sold to The American Review, which printed it in February 1845, "The Raven" was first published in the Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845, as an "advance copy". Nathaniel Parker Willis, editor of the Mirror, introduced it as "unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent, sustaining of imaginative lift... It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it." Following this publication the poem appeared in periodicals across the United States, including the New York Tribune (February 4, 1845), Broadway Journal (vol. 1, February 8, 1845), Southern Literary Messenger (vol. 11, March 1845), Literary Emporium (vol. 2, December 1845), Saturday Courier, 16 (July 25, 1846), and the Richmond Examiner (September 25, 1849). It has also appeared in numerous anthologies, starting with Poets and Poetry of America edited by Rufus Wilmot Griswold in 1847.
The New World said, "Everyone reads the Poem and praises it... justly, we think, for it seems to us full of originality and power." The Pennsylvania Inquirer reprinted it with the heading "A Beautiful Poem". Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Poe, "Your 'Raven' has produced a sensation, a fit o' horror, here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by 'Nevermore'. Poe's popularity resulted in invitations to recite "The Raven" and to lecture – in public and at private social gatherings. At one literary salon, a guest noted, "to hear [Poe] repeat the Raven... is an event in one's life. It was recalled, "He would turn down the lamps till the room was almost dark, then standing in the center of the apartment he would recite... in the most melodious of voices... So marvelous was his power as a reader that the auditors would be afraid to draw breath lest the enchanted spell be broken. Parodies sprung up especially in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and included "The Craven" by "Poh!", "The Gazelle", "The Whippoorwill", and "The Turkey". One parody, "The Pole-Cat", caught the attention of Andrew Johnston, a lawyer who sent it on to Abraham Lincoln. Though Lincoln admitted he had "several hearty laughs", he had never read "The Raven".
"The Raven" was praised by fellow writers William Gilmore Simms and Margaret Fuller, though it was denounced by William Butler Yeats, who called it "insincere and vulgar... its execution a rhythmical trick". Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I see nothing in it. A critic for the Southern Quarterly Review wrote in July 1848 that the poem was ruined by "a wild and unbridled extravagance" and that minor things like a rapping at the door and a fluttering curtain would only affect "a child who had been frightened to the verge of idiocy by terrible ghost stories".An anonymous writer going by the pseudonym "Outis" suggested in the Evening Mirror that "The Raven" was plagiarized from a poem called "The Bird of the Dream" by an unnamed author. The writer showed 18 similarities between the poems and was made as a response to Poe's accusations of plagiarism against Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It has been suggested Outis was really Cornelius Conway Felton, if not Poe himself. After Poe's death, his friend Thomas Holley Chivers said "The Raven" was plagiarized from one of his poems. In particular, he claimed to have been the inspiration for the meter of the poem as well as the refrain "nevermore".
"The Raven" has influenced many modern works, including Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1955, Bernard Malamud's "The Jewbird" in 1963 and Ray Bradbury's "The Parrot Who Knew Papa" in 1976. The poem is additionally referenced throughout popular culture in films, television, music and more.