Study Guide

The Raven Quotes

By Edgar Allan Poe

  • Madness

    Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; (line 14)

    The possibility of madness creeps into this poem slowly. Here perhaps the speaker seems like he might just be having a weird night. We might say that he's perhaps a little hypersensitive, a little more imaginative than is really good for him. But remember, all it takes to thrill him and terrify him is the "rustling of each purple curtain." Kind of a strange thing to set you off. We can feel him teetering on the edge already.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, (line 31)

    Now the panic starts to build. Before he was just thinking some scary thoughts; now he feels like his soul is on fire. Again, nothing has really happened yet, just a mysterious knock and the empty darkness outside. Someone in a better mental state might just head back and take a nap. This guy, though, is already pretty unbalanced by his grief and his weird night. Just think how much worse it will get once he meets the talking bird.

    To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core; (line 74)

    More burning here, and again, it's hard for an outside observer to see exactly why our protagonist is so upset. Have you ever looked at a raven's eyes? They can be a little intense in a beady, birdlike kind of way. We'll even give you spooky, if you like. But fiery? We just don't see it. Of course, this is clearly an unusual bird, and it might have unusual eyes. Still, we feel like our speaker's already fractured mind makes him more likely to be really bothered by this bird.

    "Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting (line 97)

    There we go! All of a sudden, you're yelling ("shrieking," actually) at a bird. What's more, it's a bird that's only said one word to you. Granted, even that's weird, but screaming at birds is generally not something that sane people are inclined to do. If you were this guy's friend, this is probably the moment where you pick up the phone and call someone. He was a little edgy before, but now he seems to have tipped over the edge and seems to be truly insane.

    And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted – nevermore! (lines 107-8)

    For us, this whole last stanza sort of seals the deal. The narrator was feeling tormented by the bird; now he feels like its shadow is keeping his soul prisoner. Frankly, that's a pretty strange thing to say. We get the feeling that he's locked in some kind of insane eternal struggle with this bird. Finally, it's a bird he doesn't know anything about. He has no reason to assume it hates him, or that is has been sent by the devil, or whatever else he might think. This prison he has built seems to come directly from his shattered mind. Over the course of this poem, he has gone from feeling a little nervous, to screaming at an animal, to becoming the eternal prisoner of a bird. While madness may be in the eye of the beholder, we think this pretty much passes the test on all possible criteria.

  • Love

    From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
    For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore – (lines 11-12)

    We learn a lot about the speaker in these two lines. A lot about his background, and a lot about why he's in this unusual state. Poe reveals the back-story in stages. First we learn that the speaker is sad, then that he's sad about a woman, and finally that he's sad because she's dead. One thing we don't learn here, or anywhere else in the poem, is the identity of this woman. Was she the speaker's lover? His wife? His sister? He doesn't say in what way he loved her, but it's very clear that he did, and still does, and that losing her has shattered him.

    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
    This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" – (lines 28-29)

    The loss of Lenore so affects our protagonist that he sees and feels her everywhere. Even the darkness makes him think of her. In fact he almost thinks he hears her name, but we realize it's nothing but the echo of his own voice. Frankly, he's not in very good shape. He's motivated by love, but in this poem, love and grief are impossible to separate.

    But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
    She shall press, ah, nevermore! (line 77-78)

    Now this is moment when his love start to look a little stranger, maybe a bit more like obsession. He looks at the cushions of the couch, and immediately thinks of Lenore, whose saintly posterior used to press those cushions. It's poetic and sweet to hear your love's name on the wind, but it's weird and a little ridiculous to see your love in a couch cushion. Maybe we're just being cynical, and this is a really sweet moment, but we think Poe wants us to see that this guy's grief is maybe going a little far. His love, as it mixes with grief, has turned a little bit odd.

    Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!" (line 83)

    This is the height of his grief. Here, love loses the battle for a moment, and he only sees despair. In that moment he imagines a magical solution to his pain, a potion (nepenthe) that would take away his sorrow, make him forget forever. This is sort of depressing, isn't it? He seems a little hysterical sometimes, or maybe a little self-absorbed, but in moments like this, it's hard not to feel bad for our speaker.

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore – (lines 93-94)

    Then, just as we feel like we're headed straight to the bottom, like nothing will ever get better at all, we get a little ray of hope. Suddenly, the possibility of love comes back. What if maybe, in heaven, grief will end, love will triumph, and he and Lenore can be happy and "clasp" each other forever? This is as close as he gets to saying not just that he misses Lenore, but that he loves her too. Of course the Raven goes ahead and squashes this tiny bit of hope like a cockroach. It requires only his favorite line: a single, devastating "Nevermore."

  • Man and the Natural World

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, (line 25)

    The natural world is definitely part of what makes this all so spooky. There's this one safe, warm little room, surrounded by a big scary outside world. In lines like this one, we can almost feel the outside pressing in. When the speaker opens the door into the darkness, he nearly gets lost in it for a moment, hypnotized by the mystery of what might be out there. He's always looking for clues in the natural world, trying to learn the answers to impossible questions. As hard as he looks into the darkness, he doesn't see a thing, and when he hears a whispered word, it's only his own voice being echoed back.

    'Tis the wind and nothing more!" (line 36)

    Faced with a scary, mysterious natural world, the speaker tries to comfort himself by coming up with a logical explanation. Have you ever lain awake in bed at night and heard a sound from outside? If it starts to freak you out, what do you say to comfort yourself? Probably something like what our speaker says: you try to imagine a normal, non-scary source for the sound. To do this, you have to convince yourself that the natural world outside isn't evil and out to get you. Instead, it's just a place where things happen randomly, and where every now and then things make unexpected noises. Good luck, though, if you happen to be a character in a Poe story, because when you hear a strange noise, you know by now that you're in real trouble.

    In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; (line 38)

    If this struggle between man and nature were a boxing match, our speaker's opponent would have to be…the Raven. This creepy bird symbolizes the intrusion of nature into the speaker's safe little world. He's also full of all the mystery that's out there in nature. It might be that he's pure evil. It might also be that he's just a bird, and a "saintly" one at that. Whatever the truth, this doesn't turn out to be a fair fight. The Raven only has one punch, but it knocks our poor speaker out pretty fast.

    "Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster (lines 62-63)

    So this is the equivalent of saying, "Oh, that's just the wind." Faced with (and freaked out by) something as weird as a talking bird, our speaker pushes back. He imagines that this bird is like a trained parrot, who has only learned one word because it has only ever heard one word. If that's true, then the natural world isn't trying to destroy him, and this bird is more like a circus act than anything else.

    "Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore! (line 98)

    After trying a bunch of questions on this bird, the speaker finally gets fed up with him, and tries to throw him out. Maybe not too surprising, but check out the way he does it. He tells him to head back out into the storm, and to "the Night's Plutonian shore." He's trying to force the bird back into the chaos of the natural world. His mistake was to open the window in the first place, to let the outside in. Now he's trying to fix that by sending the outside back out again. He's also decided that the stormy night outside is evil, black and hellish, or "Plutonian," as he poetically puts it. Unfortunately, the natural world and all its horror are here to stay. That raven isn't going anywhere.

  • The Supernatural

    Quoth the Raven "Nevermore." (line 48)

    It's a bird that talks, which is weird. It's important not to lose sight of that, since by the end of this poem it almost seems natural. We know that parrots can talk; Poe could have used a parrot in his poem instead of a raven, but it might have been more silly than spooky. We could have a pirate themed version of "The Raven." Quoth the parrot, "Shiver me timbers!" Anyway…ravens aren't supposed to talk; that this one does makes it seem supernatural.

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
    Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor. (lines 79-80)

    Here the speaker starts to have some kind of hallucination. He imagines the room filling up with scented smoke or perfume, the air getting thick with it. From there he starts to imagine angels, hearing the sound of their feet on the floor. For a second, this supernatural vision takes over all of his senses. Do you feel how closely this poem resembles strange other-worlds? It almost seems like those angels could really break in at any moment. If a bird can talk, why can't angels walk into the room and why can't Lenore come back and put our speaker out of his misery?

    "Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
    Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, (lines 85-86)

    Here's the big question for our speaker. Is this just a bird? Did it just happen to get blown off course in a storm? Or is it an evil creature, sent by the devil (the Tempter) himself? Either way, he's decided that it has supernatural powers, that it is a "prophet," that it can see the future. Since Lenore has gone beyond the reach of nature, he knows he can only be helped by some supernatural power. So he convinces himself that the Raven's single word has supernatural meaning. He knows what the answer will be, but tortures himself by feeding the bird more and more important questions.

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore – (lines 93-94)

    This is maybe the most hopeful, but also the saddest, moment in the poem. For a second, the speaker allows himself the dream of a reunion with Lenore in heaven ("the distant Aidenn"). For that instant he sees a supernatural solution to his problems. But of course he's asking the bird about this possibility, and the bird says only one thing, "Nevermore."