Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven

The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, is one of American literature’s best known poems. Poe (1809–1849) is a revered author and is best known for his works related to mystery, horror, and suspense.

Looking for a dark, mysterious Halloween poem? Seek no further! Poe’s The Raven is the right choice.

Perhaps his most famous work, The Raven – an 18 stanza poem – is a dark tale about a man tormented by a raven (= a black bird) who speaks to him, but has just one word – “nevermore.” Between the frightening bird and the death of his beautiful young wife, Lenore, the man slowly descends into madness. He feels that he will never be free from the grief of his lost love. The poem The Raven is one of the most easily recognisable pieces of literature, and is the perfect reading to get you in a creepy Halloween mood.

the raven by edgar allan poe

Read The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Enjoy the spooky pleasures of the complete poem – all 18 stanzas – then check out the vocabulary and video.

Stanza 1

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Stanza 2

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

Get ready for Edgar Allan Poe’s skillful use of the rhetorical device known as alliteration; you hear it in the repeated initial S sounds in the next line.

Stanza 3

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Stanza 4

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Stanza 5

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

the raven by edgar allan poe

Stanza 6

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Stanza 7

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Stanza 8

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Stanza 9

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

Stanza 10

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

You have reached the halfway mark in The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Keep reading! If you are not reading the poem aloud, begin now. The rhythm is easy to follow. Give yourself permission to be dramatic and read it by candlelight on Halloween.

Stanza 11

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“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’.”

Stanza 12

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

Stanza 13

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

In the next stanza, Poe uses an old English word, “methought” (I thought) to enhance the sense of an old, almost ancient tale.

Stanza 14

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

In the next stanza of The Raven, Poe asks if there is any hope of escape from this sorrow by using 2 biblical references (“prophet” and “balm in Gilead”). Poe’s poem is unquestionably autobiographical as he had, in fact, lost his own beautiful young wife to an early death.

Stanza 15

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Stanza 16

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Stanza 17

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Stanza 18

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light 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!

 

The end: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Now dive into the beautiful, brooding vocabulary of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

1. Dreary
To be very dull, and boring, and often repetitive, in a depressing way.
Example: The weather was so cold and dreary this morning, I really didn’t want to get out of bed.

2. Weary
A feeling of extreme tiredness, usually after some kind of exhausting task.
Example: He looked at the hundreds of unread emails in his inbox, and let out a long, weary sigh.

3. Lore
A collection of knowledge or tradition, typically very old, and passed down through generations.
Example: Did you know that Halloween lore began in Ireland, with the pagan festival of Samhain?

4. Rapping (to rap)
No hip-hop to be found here, this is another verb to describe the action of knocking, usually with short and sharp sounds.
Example: The trick-or-treaters were eager for their treats on Halloween, and rapped eagerly on their neighbour’s door.

5. Bleak
Similar to “dreary” above, this adjective describes something depressing; with no hope, warmth, or joy.
Example: If we don’t tackle the issue of climate change soon, the future for the planet looks bleak.

6. Ember
After the flames are finished; the final glowing remains of a fire.
Example: As the embers of the bonfire died, the excitement of Halloween was over for another year.

7. Sorrow
A deep sadness or regret.
Example: Edgar Allan Poe’s life was filled with pain and sorrow after the death of his wife.

8. Terrors
Something frightening or terrifying
Example: As an ex-soldier,  he was forever haunted by the terrors of war.

9. Raven
A large, black bird with shiny feathers. Different from the more common crow in that ravens are much larger.
Example: The raven is a symbol of great wisdom, but also of death and bad luck.

10. Obeisance
Moving the body to show respect or authority. Tip: Think of the word “obey.”
Example: The priest made his obeisances in front of the altar, before walking up the stairs and beginning to read.

11. Ghastly
Something truly terrifying and horrifying.
Example: A ghastly scream came from deep within the dark woods.

12. Grim
Gloomy and depressing.
Example: The grim tale of a murderer haunted by the heartbeat of the man he killed is another famous story by Edgar Allan Poe called The Tell-tale Heart.

13. Ungainly
Awkward and without grace.
Example: He grew several inches over a short period of time, and so his movements were ungainly for a while.

14. Melancholy
A sad mood or feeling.
Example: The long, grey winters give many people a feeling of melancholy.

15. Desolate
A place without inhabitants; a lonely, abandoned place.
Example: She shivered in fear every time she walked by that old, desolate house in the neighborhood.

16. Fiend
A sadistic demon, devil or murderous person.
Example: I have no idea who this murderous fiend may be.

17. Nepenthe
A potion used in ancient times used to make someone forget pain or sorrow.
Example: She felt so much pain and sorrow, that the old witch made her a nepenthe, to help her forget and sleep peacefully.

18. Plume
A feather.
Example: He placed a plume in his hat to make him appear more sophisticated.

19. Fiery
Full of intense, hot emotions.
Example: His fiery temper caused him to act very violently.

20. Radiant
Literally shining or exuding light. Radiant can also mean looking very happy.
Example: He fell in love instantly with her radiant smile.

21. Nevermore
At no future time, never again.
Example: We will nevermore be in this place.

Author: Clare Kelleher

Editors: Brenda de Jong & Kerry Finlayson

Do you want more Halloween words? More spooky vocabulary plus vintage Halloween film recommendations with YouTube links? Just click the Halloween! 30 Words, History and Films below and start watching.

Halloween! 30 Words, History and Films

Watch the Simpsons version of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, with narration by award winning actor James Earl Jones.

©2006-2021. The English Center

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