The poem is fascinating at several levels. The imposed anthropomorphic characteristic on the Raven, whereby it serves the role of a counsellor to the aggrieved youth, is conceptually brilliant on part of the author. The author does not make it clear if the Raven can make sense of what it is uttering or that if it is contextually responding to the question posed by the young man. Hence the repeated uttering of ‘Nevermore’ can be interpreted as the self-defeating neurosis transpiring within the narrator’s mind or as factual assessment of reality objectively seen from the outside. It is this ambiguity to the authorial intent that gives so much scope for reading between the lines. This aspect of the poem lends it intellectual beauty too.
Although the poem resonates with tragic verse forms in ancient Greek and Roman literature, the device of a predatory bird as fortune teller is original and brilliant. An equally impressive quality of the poem is its cool and pragmatic acceptance of separation, longing and loss, without resort to tragic melodramatic overtures. There is virtue and strength even in the gradual descent into madness, Poe seems to suggest. Moreover, the relative lack of didacticism in the poem is a merit.
The references to Greek and Roman mythology, as well as to several classical texts, lend color and richness to the poem. For example, the device of the bust of Pallas (upon which the Raven sits), the reading of books by the narrator (“reading many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”), and the reference to the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena add layers of interpretation and historical context.
The extension of the gloomy state of the narrator’s mind is suitably reflected in the choice of the bird and the climatic setting. For example, the predatory bird Raven as well as the harsh winter associated with the month of December, both represent the state of gloom and conflict engulfing the young man’s psyche. It is for all these poetic merits that The Raven will continue to remain central to not just American literature but to Western intellectual tradition.
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven [Text-02], American Review, February 1845, 1:143:145, retrieved from <http://www.eapoe.org/works/poems/ravena.htm>