Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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."
- Poe jumps right in here and begins to create the atmosphere that is so important in this poem.
- In the first two lines, we find out that it's late on a "dreary" night, and that our speaker is reading weird old books and feeling "weak and weary."
- Do you get a feeling for this already? Do you know those nights where you're tired and maybe a little depressed, but you can't quite go to sleep? You turn things over in your mind, and as you do, you start to feel worse? Maybe you're reading a scary book or watching a spooky movie, and suddenly the whole world seems a little dark and scary? That's exactly where Poe wants to put us.
- In line 3, the speaker is just starting to nod off, and then…tap, tap, tap. Just a little noise, but suddenly he's jolted awake, and he's a little nervous.
- He tries to calm himself down, telling himself that "tis some visitor" (6) who has dropped by unexpectedly. But, just like in a horror movie, we know it won't be that easy…
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.
- Just as we're wondering whom that visitor might be, as we start to feel the suspense, Poe steps back. He almost starts the poem over again, telling us a little bit more about the speaker and more about that already spooky atmosphere.
- In line 6, we find out that not only is this a dark, late, dreary night, but it's December too. Poe is really piling it on here: dark, late, cold, and "bleak."
- It sure doesn't sound like anything happy is going to pop up here. Even the fire is going out, and the last coals, the " dying embers," are making creepy, ghost-like shadows on the floor (8).
- The room almost starts to feel haunted, and in a way, it is.
- In the next four lines we learn that there's a reason why our speaker is sitting up late, trying to distract himself with these old books.
- He's grieving for a lost woman, someone named Lenore. This woman (His wife? His girlfriend?) is among the angels and has left him behind, alone.
- He hopes for an end to the pain, what he calls "surcease from sorrow" (10), but maybe staying up and reading late in December isn't the best way to get your mind off of a loved one's death.