Lenore is gone forever.
By the end of the poem, the speaker realizes how fully cut off he is from Lenore, both physically and spiritually. When the speaker first discusses Lenore in Stanza 2, he notes that, in his world, she’s now forever “nameless,” indicating that she has died. When he hears the knock on the door, he describes himself as “dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” That is, he harbors an impossible hope that Lenore has returned from the grave. In Stanza 13, he again thinks of how he will never see her again, focusing on her physical absence by considering that she will never again “press” into the velvet of his chair.
From here, the speaker’s thoughts turn to spiritual matters, namely angels and seraphim, as he imagines forgetting Lenore, shutting himself away from memory. Although the speaker cannot forget, as the raven echoes, he believes himself spiritually alienated from Lenore. When the raven tells him he will never embrace Lenore in Heaven, it implies that the speaker is damned. Because the raven only appears to say one word, it remains ambiguous whether this curse merely reflects the speaker’s darkest fears or whether the raven truly knows his grim fate. Either way, the speaker ends the poem with the belief that he has lost Lenore in both this life and the next.
The speaker’s grief will never fade.
The poem follows the speaker as he comes to terms with the fact that Lenore’s memory will always haunt him. Although he states at the beginning of the poem that he’s reading books to distract himself from memories of Lenore, this approach clearly hasn’t worked because when he first opens the door to investigate the tapping, he calls out her name. In Stanza 2, the speaker states that Lenore will forever be nameless in his world, implying that he cannot even bear to mention her name; however, he repeats her name over and over throughout the poem, highlighting the futility of forgetting her. Even the novelty of seeing a talking raven in his room cannot fully distract him, as we see in Stanza 13, when he thinks about how Lenore will never sit in the chair in his chamber again. After admonishing himself to forget Lenore, the speaker takes advantage of the raven’s refrain to wallow in his grief, asking questions that he knows the bird will have one response to: “Nevermore.” This demonstrates that the speaker doesn’t truly desire to forget Lenore. He opts to dwell in his grief and uses the raven’s presence to do so.
Read about how Poe explores the way the dead hold power over the living in his short stories.
In addition to the events of the poem highlighting the endlessness of grief, the poem’s structure urges the reader to remember Lenore’s name. In the rhyme scheme—ABCBBB—the B rhyme that repeats for more than half of each stanza is always “Lenore” or a word that rhymes with it. The sound of her name echoes throughout the poem, reminding the speaker and the reader of the unending nature of the speaker’s grief. Ultimately, by the end, the speaker knows that he will forever have the cloud of Lenore’s loss hanging over him.
Madness triumphs over sanity.
Throughout the poem, the speaker’s grief and guilt overcome his rational thought, drowning out his sanity. At the beginning, the speaker appears rational, yet melancholy. He is reading books, which is usually an act of expanding one’s mind, and sits in a room that has a bust of the Greek goddess of wisdom on display. We can infer that he is a person who values rational thought and education. Furthermore, throughout the early stanzas, the speaker attempts to find rational explanations for the eerie sounds he hears—telling himself it’s a visitor or the wind. These are signs of a mind still operating on the basis of logic. Although asking a bird its name seems odd, the speaker’s amusement and relief suggests that he initially begins talking to the bird as a kind of joke.
However, the raven’s first word represents a turning point for the speaker. Once the bird says, “Nevermore,” the speaker asks increasingly desperate questions that he has no evidence the bird will have the true answer to. Indeed, as far as he knows, the bird can repeat only one word, implying that the speaker imbues this word with his own dark meanings. Finally, he calls the bird a liar for repeating the very word he knew it would say, projecting his own guilt and fear onto the raven. At the end of the poem, the dark, ominous bird, associated with death and perched upon the bust of Athena, serves as a visual representation of madness and grief clouding sanity and allowing the very worst and darkest recesses of the mind to take over.
Read about another character who succumbs to the madness in her isolation, the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”