Study Guide

The Raven Madness

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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.

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