Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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.
- Here it comes! You knew from the title that there was a raven in here somewhere. Now, in the first two lines of this stanza, it shows up. And not just any raven, but a really impressive, capital-R kind of Raven. A "stately" (that just means royal-looking) raven, one that makes the speaker think of older, nobler times, "the saintly days of yore" (38).
- This important-looking raven just prances in through the window. He doesn't even stop to say hi or to make a gesture of greeting (that's an "obeisance") to our speaker (39).
- He acts like an aristocrat ("with the mien of lord or lady") and doesn't waste any time making himself right at home. (40). In fact, he heads straight for that chamber door we've heard so much about and sits above it, on a statue.
- That statue is actually pretty important, and Poe definitely wants us to notice it, so let's take a moment to check it out.
- He describes it as a "bust" which is a statue that goes from the head to the middle of the torso. It's a statue of Pallas, another name for the ancient Greek goddess Athena. She is known primarily as a goddess of Wisdom.
- When a major symbol like this shows up, we know to be on our guard. It's a lot different from the speaker saying, "the raven perched upon my crappy old lamp," or something like that. Poe might be trying to get us to think about whether this bird is wise or not, whether it's a thinking thing or just a mimic.
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."
- At first, our speaker seems rather amused by his unexpected visitor.
- Poe gets a little fancy when he describes the raven, so we'll break it down: "Then this ebony [really black] bird beguiling [distracting him, capturing his attention] my sad fancy [imagination] into smiling,/By the grave [serious] and stern [serious again] decorum [proper way of acting] of the countenance (look on its face) it wore" (43-44).
- Fancy words aside, you might recognize this feeling. You're feeling down about something, and suddenly the sight of something strikes you as funny, and pulls you out of your funk a little.
- Our speaker really gets into this feeling of amusement, talking to the raven as if it were some noble person.
- He also goes out of his way to throw in some flourishes. The bit in line 45 refers to the way that a cowardly (craven) knight would sometimes have his head (crest) shaven to humiliate him. "Plutonian," in line 47, refers to the Greek god Pluto, who rules the Underworld. The adjective is meant to make us think about dark, scary, hellish things, like this particular dark, dreary night.
- If you're keeping score, that's two Greek god references in seven lines. We're starting to feel like our speaker might be a touch on the pompous side.
- All he really wants to know is the Raven's name.
- Of course the really big deal in this stanza doesn't come until the last line. The speaker runs his mouth with this jokey question and then, amazingly, the Raven answers him. He only speaks a single word: "Nevermore" (48).