The speaker of "The Raven" sounds like he's had a rough life, and most people would probably be a little shaken up to find themselves talking to a bird. Still, we think it's entirely possible that he's insane, or at least pretty far down that road. He talks a lot about wild dreams, imaginary perfume, his burning soul, etc. Of course, the possibility that he's headed around the bend raises some other questions. Is this bird really talking? Is there a bird at all? Is this just a kind of fever-dream? We'll hold off on those questions for now, but keep them in mind.
Although it describes an interaction with a talking raven, this poem is about the descent into insanity. It carefully tracks the steps from a state of nervousness to total psychological breakdown.
The speaker in "The Raven" loves a woman named Lenore. That's part of the nice balance of this poem. At times it's almost campy and over-the-top, with all the elaborate rhyming and fancy vocabulary. At its heart though, the poem is about a man who only wants one thing in the world: to be back with the woman he loves. Sadly, that's the one thing he absolutely can't have. This is a pretty depressing look at love; and, while Poe never even uses the word directly, love still pervades this poem.
In this poem, the speaker talks about his lost love, but he is really consumed by his own sadness and his strange psychological obsession. The idea of love is buried under his self-involvement.
Many of the scary things our speaker faces on this crazy night have to do with the natural world. He imagines hostile natural forces all around him, surrounding his peaceful, civilized room, just waiting to break in. The dark night, the sound of the wind…they are all threatening and unfathomable. Then nature does break in, in the form of that arrogant, talkative bird. This is the big central confrontation of the poem, and it brings the idea of a conflict between man and nature right to the front.
The raven and the rest of the natural world don't want to hurt or destroy the narrator at all. In fact, it is only his growing madness that makes the raven appear evil.
Once you've read "The Raven" through, you're probably pretty used to the idea of a talking bird. But step back from that for a second, and think about it. If we heard a bird talk, we'd probably run screaming from the room. At the very least, we think it qualifies as pretty darn supernatural. The speaker thinks a lot about where this bird came from, whether it's some kind of demon, or maybe even a prophet. He also ponders deep issues, such as the afterlife and the existence of God.
The poem carefully closes down any possibility for salvation, hope or happiness. The supernatural elements of this poem are purely evil and malevolent.