The Isolating Power of Grief
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
These lines appear in Stanza 2 as the speaker describes his actions before the raven’s intrusion. It’s the first time the speaker mentions Lenore in the poem, and he immediately establishes that she weighs on his thoughts, creating a sadness that not even books can distract him from. The prominence of Lenore in the speaker’s thoughts demonstrates how his grief has disrupted his daily life.
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!”
These lines appear in Stanza 13. As the speaker considers what the raven might mean by “nevermore,” he’s reminded very sharply that he’ll never see Lenore in person again, which creates the intense emotion that overcomes him in the last five stanzas of the poem. The visceral image of Lenore’s body compressing the velvet of the chair emphasizes her physical presence, making her loss almost tangible. Faced with the finality of Lenore’s absence from his life, the speaker falls into a spiral of grief.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before . . .
These lines appear in Stanza 3, emphasizing the haunted and suggestible nature of the speaker’s mind. Before the raven appears, the noises of the stormy night already have the speaker jumping at shadows and imagining monsters. The speaker’s mind plays tricks on him, and he is so frightened, he expects the worst.
‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore . . .’
These lines appear in Stanza 15 when the speaker begins asking the raven directly about his beloved Lenore after realizing that he will never forget her. Previously, the speaker had treated the raven as a real, albeit strange, bird, but now he imbues it with the mystical power of a prophet. This moment demonstrates that the speaker has begun to let his fears overwhelm him. Because he has no actual evidence that the bird is a supernatural creature, the power and fear he ascribes to it may lie entirely in the speaker’s mind.
‘Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!’
This line appears in Stanza 15 when the speaker begins to ask the raven questions about Lenore for the first time. Here he pleads with the bird to tell him whether he will ever find relief for the anguish Lenore’s loss has caused him. Because as far he knows, the raven will only say, “Nevermore,” the speaker actually dooms himself to receive a negative, ominous answer. The speaker imbues the raven with the power of prophecy, knowing that it will only prophesy in a way that increases his despair.
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
These final lines of the poem show the speaker left in unending despair. The shadow here refers to the raven’s shadow, symbolizing how the speaker’s grief over Lenore’s death will never leave him. The way the speaker describes his soul as being under a shadow “on the floor” creates a sense of heaviness and finality. The speaker feels trapped in his hopelessness with no sign of reprieve.