Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
The opening lines of the poem set an eerie scene. The “dreary” night and tomes of “forgotten lore,” which many scholars interpret to mean books on the occult or dark magic, add a sense of gothic horror. That the tapping rouses the speaker from his dozing suggests that the room is silent.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
This description begins Stanza 2, continuing the gothic and eerie mood set in Stanza 1. The speaker describes his fire that is slowly fading, and with each “dying ember,” the chamber grows more dim. The use of “ghost” here implies that the flickering embers produce spooky shadows, furthering the creepy atmosphere.
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
These lines appear in Stanza 7 when the raven first enters the room. The bust of Pallas Athena is one of the few concrete details we have of the speaker’s chamber, and the presence of the bust suggests that he may be a scholar, since Pallas Athena was the goddess of wisdom. This quote also sets the physical scene for the ensuing conversation: a dark bird perched on a sculpture, staring down at the speaker.
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
These lines come in Stanza 14 just after the speaker connects the word “nevermore” to Lenore’s absence. Although the speaker compares the growing denseness of the air to angelic incense, here it seems to suffocate and increase his tension instead of soothing him. This shift in atmosphere coincides with the spiraling shift in the speaker’s mental state toward desperation.