Probably the first aspect of “The Raven” to strike most readers is the phonetic devices employed by the poet to achieve what he calls “sonorous” effects. Certainly, these devices make the lines memorable. Few readers can forget the internal rhymes and alliterations of the opening lines: 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 someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
The general rhyme scheme of the poem was devised so as to provide plenty of rhymes for the key syllable: “ore,” found both in the name of the lost love, Lenore, and the bird’s constant “Nevermore.”
These sound patterns persist throughout the text with occasional variations, as in “On this home by Horror haunted” and “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!” At first, the student tries to interpret the bird as a source of humor. But his failure to do so helps establish the prevailing tone of the poem. As the mood of the poem darkens (exactly in the middle of the text, as Poe intended), the choice of words becomes intense and more extreme. The young man starts out by referring to his visitor as “this ebony bird” but later calls it a “fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core.” So, the diction of the poem reflects the growing misery in the heart of the unhappy lover.
In his essay, Poe makes much of the structure of the poem. His claim with regard to his careful selection of every feature of the construction makes a great deal of sense—especially considered in light of the final product. There are eighteen stanzas, each six lines long. The lines are of a length calculated to draw out the possibilities for internal rhyme and fully developed metaphors and other figures of speech. Most of the lines contain fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen syllables, making them of unusual length for a lyric poem. Such length is needed, however, to allow room for such a forceful passage as “get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
The most important aspect of good poetry often proves to be those images and figures of speech that remain in the reader’s mind to press home the central effect of the poem. One such stands out in the closing lines of “The Raven.” As the young lover begins to realize that his position is completely desolate, he pleads with the now ghostly symbol of his despair, “quit the bust above my door!/ Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” As always, the raven answers, “Nevermore.”
Taken together, the poem’s symmetry, phonetic qualities, figures of speech, and artful progression of psychological analysis (some readers have noted the accuracy of this vision of almost clinical depression) provide the reader with a moving experience.