Study Guide

The Raven Love

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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."

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