Pit and the Pendulum
An Evening With Poe
Of Edgar Allan Poe
And Enlightening Look
By Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2004
Revised in 2010..©
Type of Work
......."The Raven" is a narrative poem presented by a man lamenting the death of the woman he loved. While he mourns her, a raven enters his room through a window, perches on a bust of the goddess Athena, and repeatedly speaks the word nevermore.
......."The Raven" was published on Jan. 29, 1845, in The New York Mirror from a copy prepared for The American Review.
.......The scene is set in a chamber of a house in an undisclosed locale in the United States, circa 1845. The time is midnight. In a fireplace, embers are turning to ash. The narrator uses the word chamber rather than bedroom apparently because chamber has a dark and mysterious connotation.
.......Poe was inspired to write his poem after reading about the raven in Charles Dickens's 1841 novel, Barnaby Rudge, a historical novel in which a mentally retarded person (Barnaby) is falsely accused of participating in anti-Catholic riots in 1780. Barnaby owns a pet raven, Grip, which can speak. In the fifth chapter of the novel, Grip taps at a shutter (as in Poe's poem). The model for Grip was Dickens's own talking raven, which was the delight of his children. It was the first of three ravens owned by Dickens, all named Grip. After the first Grip died, it was stuffed and mounted. An admirer of Poe's works acquired the mounted bird and donated it to the Free Library of Philadelphia, where it is on display today.
narrator tells the story in first-person point of view. He is depressed,
lonely, and possibly mentally unstable as a result of his bereavement.
.......A raven, which can be up to two feet long, is a type of crow. Ravens eat small animals, carrion, fruit, and seeds. They often appear in legend and literature as sinister omens.
.......As in his short stories, Poe is careful to use words that contribute to the overall atmosphere and tone of the poem. These words include weary, dreary, bleak, dying, sorrow, sad, darkness, stillness, mystery, ebony, grave, stern, lonely, grim, ghastly, and gaunt.
.......The melancholy tone of "The Raven" relies as much on its musical sound and rhythmic pattern as on the meaning of the words. To achieve his musical effect, Poe uses rhyming words in the same line (internal rhyme), a word at the end of one line that rhymes with a word at the end of another line (end rhyme), alliteration (a figure of speech that repeats a consonant sound), and a regular pattern of accented and unaccented syllables.
of the lines in "The Raven" each contain eight pairs of syllables, for
a total of sixteen syllables. Each pair, which makes up a unit called a
foot, consists of an accented (stressed) syllable followed by an unaccented
(unstressed syllable). Whenever a foot contains an accented syllable followed
by an unaccented one, it is called a trochee (TRO ke), or trochaic foot.
And whenever a line contains eight feet, it is said to be in octameter.
means eight; meter means rhythmic pattern. Thus, the meter of the
line is trochaic octameter.
.......As you can see, the first syllable pair, or foot, contains an accented syllable (AND) followed by an unaccented syllable (the) to make up a trochaic foot. The remaining feet repeat the pattern to achieve trochaic octameter. Note, however, that the last line of each stanza is short, containing only four feet, as in the sixth line of the third stanza:
You may have noticed that the fourth foot is incomplete, containing only an accented syllable. An incomplete foot is called a catalectic foot but is still regarded as one foot. Now, since the feet in the line are still trochees but contains only four feet, the line is said to be in trochaic tetrameter. Tetra- means four.
.......In each stanza, lines 2, 4, 5, and 6 rhyme. Also the second line of any stanza rhymes with the second line of any other stanza. For example, lore in the second line of the first stanza rhymes with floor in the second line of the second stanza, before in the second line of the third stanza, and implore in the second line of the fourth stanza. Following is another example, the fourth stanza:
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,Internal Rhyme
.......To support the rhythm and musicality of the poem, Poe also uses internal rhyme in the first and third lines of each stanza. Here are examples.
Stanza 1Sometimes Poe extends the internal rhyme into the following line. Here are examples:
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Summary of the Poem
It is midnight on a cold evening in December in the 1840s. In a dark and shadowy bedroom, wood burns in the fireplace as a man laments the death of Lenore, a woman he deeply loved. To occupy his mind, he reads a book of ancient stories. But a tapping noise disturbs him. When he opens the door to the bedroom, he sees nothing–only darkness. When the tapping persists, he opens the shutter of the window and discovers a raven, which flies into the room and lands above the door on a bust of Athena (Pallas in the poem), the goddess of wisdom and war in Greek mythology. It says “Nevermore" to all his thoughts and longings. The raven, a symbol of death, tells the man he will never again ("nevermore") see his beloved, never again hold her—even in heaven.
upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered,1
weak and weary,
distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt13
my sad fancy into smiling,
I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly27,
the raven, sitting lonely on the placid30
bust, spoke only
at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer37
said I, "thing of evil!— prophet still, if bird or devil!
said I, "thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or devil!
that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting-
the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
The theme of the poem is the abject grief the narrator suffers after the death of his beloved. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot gain "surcease of sorrow . . . / For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore" (lines 10-11).
Finality of Death
The narrator, heartsick at the loss of Lenore, finds it extremely difficult to accept her death. When he hears the tapping, he even calls out her name, perhaps thinking that her spirit has come to visit him. But the raven, repeating the word "Nevermore," reminds him that Lenore will not return. Death is final and irreversible.
So grief-stricken is the narrator with Lenore's death that he appears to become mentally unstable. The raven may be a hallucination--a manifestation of what he wishes to deny, the death of Lenore.
It is possible that Lenore, the idealized deceased woman in the poem, represents Poe’s beloved wife, Virginia, who was in poor health when Poe wrote "The Raven." She died two years after the publication of the poem, when she was only in her mid-twenties.
.......Alliteration is an important figure of speech in "The Raven" because of its ability to impart rhythm and musicality. Following are examples of alliteration in the poem, as well as other figures of speech.
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten loreAnaphora
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sittingMetaphor
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.Onomatopoeia
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tappingPersonification
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er.