Study Guide

The Raven The Supernatural

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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."

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