TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Critics have suggested that, by taking the bird as such an omen and by reacting to it as he does, the student actually loses his chance of seeing the lost Lenore. Is this reading justified by the text?
2. Are there any violations of the prevailing rhyme scheme of the poem? Can a reason be found for the poet’s allowing such aberrations?
3. Could the entire poem be interpreted as a nightmare in the mind of the young lover, who, it must be remembered, admits that he was nearly asleep at the start of the text? What evidence can be adduced to support such an interpretation?
4. Was Poe’s choice of a raven as the force that would push the student to despair a wise one? Was it a better choice, for instance, than another person would have been?
5. Does the division of the poem into stanzas, each with its final refrain, advance the theme and impact of the poem? Would some other design have been more effective? Why or why not?
6. Do the “sound effects” that appear throughout the text ever distract one’s attention from the substance of the lines? Cite examples.
7. What are the three or four most striking figures of speech in the poem? How would each be categorized (metaphor, simile, and so on), and why is each so impressive?
8. Since much of the poem is quoted speech, do these passages seem too unrealistic, or do they sound like what such a person might say when in a frenzy of emotion?
IDEAS FOR REPORTS AND PAPERS
1. Poe, as he often did, revised “The Raven” for book publication. Research these changes. Do they improve the poem?
2. Poe was always fearful of plagiarists of his own work, but a number of scholars have pointed out that “The Raven” was very strongly influenced by at least three authors; Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and an obscure American writer named Thomas Holly Chivers. Chivers was a friend of Poe’s, but later claimed that Poe had plagiarized one of his poems in “The Raven.” Does an examination of Chivers tend to indicate that Poe was guilty of plagiarism?
3. Most biographies of Poe note that he had a good education. Does a careful review of a couple of such studies, along with an attentive reading of some of his poems, support that view?
4. “The Raven” contains several allusions of a clearly literary-cultural nature. Which ones are they, and how do they enhance the effect of the poem?
5. Poe’s influence on foreign literature has often been observed. Does a study of some of the more prominent poems by such foreign masters as Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé reveal these influences?
6. Poe has been called the real initiator of the Symbolist movement in poetry in American literature. Research that movement and its central symbols. How does Poe’s work compare with that of the Symbolists?
7. Does Poe’s explanation in “The Philosophy of Composition” of how he structured the lines of his poem (including verse forms and syllabic configurations) seem reasonable in view of his other poetry and his intended effects? Consider especially Poe’s other major essay, “The Poetic Principle.”
8. Could Poe have been thinking of the inevitable loss of his beloved wife when he wrote this poem? What evidence can be found in his poem and in his biography?