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Imagery and Symbolism as the Tone of Loss and Despair in the Raven

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Long after his death 171 years ago, literary historians have hypothesized that Edgar Allan Poe blurs the lines between fact and fiction in his literary work. Considered one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best works, The Raven is one of the best narrative poems written in the first person, including descriptions of madness, disappearance, and grief. The Raven personifies intense grief and loss while using symbols throughout the poem to enforce the gothic mood that depicts the story of the character’s grief. The poem takes the reader on a journey where the battles are not physical but mental. In The Raven By Edgar Allen Poe, he writes a poem about death and loneliness, where he uses symbolic and descriptive imagery to set the tone of loss and despair.

The Raven by Poe uses symbolic imagery to illustrate to the reader what the depths of despair someone goes through a loss. Poe sets a dramatic tone in The Raven when he uses ‘once upon a midnight dreary’ ( 1.1) instead of the classic line, ‘once upon a time’; this gives the audience an image of what to expect while reading the poem and hooks their interests. In the first stanza alone, Poe uses imagery to pull in the reader by narrating what the character’s state is doing line by line. Poe describes the character nodding off into a nap while they are tapping. Poe places the setting as being a bleak December and talks about his lost Lenore. December is used as imagery because of how hard and cold the weather can be. He finds out that Lenore was a rare and radiant maiden. The line, ‘Nameless here for evermore,’ we can conclude that Lenore had died, and the main character is mourning her death. The character is just trying to pass through the night, without his love by his side. The second line in stanza two describes the dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor (2.2). This line shows how the character and the embers are alike and symbolize how death follows him around throughout the poem. Poe provides details of the room and its belongings throughout the poem to symbolize and distinguish the character’s feelings. The room demonstrates the focus on the emotional state of the character. Poe gives the reader added symbols within the room to set the tone and pace of the poem.

The symbolism of darkness and despair grows as the poem progresses. We see the character going closer and closer to the door. The darkness in this stanza represents the fear the character has when he is alone. The lines, ‘That I scarce was sure I heard you’—here I opened wide the door;—Darkness there and nothing more’ (4.5) illustrate how genuinely alone he is on this bleak December night. This is another example of how darkness is used as descriptive imagery. Poe uses darkness to descriptively show the character’s isolation at this point in the poem; at this point, he is calling out sir and madam, but it is only himself in the pitch-black room. After the character opens the door, he realizes there is no one there but him and the darkness. The character calls out to Lenore but hears nothing, and one can feel how Poe is setting the scene of self-doubt the character will be facing. The character’s loss of Lenore is making him indeed suffer, perhaps go slightly mad. At this point, one wonders if the isolation and despair are finally getting to him.

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Regarding other symbols and descriptive imagery used in the poem, Poe illustrates tapping on the window to show the character’s isolation. He keeps checking the window to see who is out there, and you can sense the anxiety the character is facing internally. The character opens the window. In stanza seven, ‘Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many, a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; (7. 1-3). The Raven is the most symbolic emblem in the poem, the first time we imagine the Raven, it is flying through the window, and it is hitting the character in the face full force. The Raven flies on top of the Pallas statue. Pallas is the greek goddess of wisdom and can be a metaphor for the heaviness of death, sitting on top of the character’s mind.

The Raven is widely considered the most prominent symbol in the poem; the Raven represents death, loneliness and conveys what the character is feeling towards the end of the poem. The character goes on to ask Raven’s name, and the Raven speaks back and announces, ‘Nevermore!’ The significance of nevermore is telling because it is never going to happen again. Lenore is no more. She is forever gone. The character must face his isolation and that death and loneliness are around him because Lenore will not come back. The only words the Raven utters is nevermore. That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—( 10. 3-4). He sees that the Raven is just sitting there. At this point, the character gives up knowing the bird will be there forever with him, just like the feelings of loneliness he has. The character’s feelings have to consume him because it scares him and doubts his feelings. Poe describes the cushion with velvet lining, and he takes on the loneliness the character must feel, knowing she will be the only one sitting on the chairs from now on. The character sits with his feelings falling into deep despair and loneliness. Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen ( 14.1 ), you can feel the character’s air leaving his body by the scent of perfume around him. The panic he has is settling, and the grief he has subsides that he will never forget his love.

Concerning the end of the poem, Poe uses imagery to convey madness the character has fallen into; by the end of the poem, the character comes to terms with his despair feelings. The character continues to feel the loss and grief of his love, but learns that he realizes he is not entirely alone when he opens the window to let the Raven in. The window was the realization the character had to face and try to overcome. Poe used symbolism and descriptive imagery to set the tone of loss and despair. The Raven’s emotions appear to him as demonic. Furthermore, the Raven shadow casted over the character shows how heavy grief can be; meaning the mood created from these feelings has a permanent hold on his soul. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven takes you on a literal and figurative ride to show how grief and isolation from the death of a loved one can drive someone mad.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the tone of "The Raven"?

The tone of the poem “The Raven” is gloomy and mysterious. It is filled with melancholy and despair, which reflects the speaker’s grief over his lost love.

How Does Poe Use Symbolism and Imagery to Describe Growing Up and Falling in Love?

Poe uses symbolism and imagery to represent growing up and falling in love in a variety of ways. He often utilizes the idea of a journey to represent the process of maturation and finding love. For example, in his poem “A Dream Within a Dream,” he writes about a journey to a distant shore, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for the journey of life. He also uses the image of a star to symbolize hope and promise, which is often seen in his works as a representation of falling in love. By using imagery of sunsets, storms, and the moon, Poe can also illustrate the ups and downs of growing up and the power of love. Finally, he often uses the idea of a dream to represent the idea of finding one’s purpose in life and true love. By combining these symbols, Poe is able to effectively describe the process of growing up and falling in love.

Which Statement Best Describes How Poe’s Use of Imagery Contributes to the Mood of This Stanza?

Poe’s use of imagery creates an eerie, sinister atmosphere by evoking an image of a ghostly, silent figure lurking in the darkness. The imagery adds a sense of dread and foreboding to the stanza, heightening the suspense and uneasiness the narrator feels.

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Imagery and Symbolism as the Tone of Loss and Despair in the Raven. (2021, September 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“Imagery and Symbolism as the Tone of Loss and Despair in the Raven.” Edubirdie, 21 Sept. 2021,
Imagery and Symbolism as the Tone of Loss and Despair in the Raven. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Imagery and Symbolism as the Tone of Loss and Despair in the Raven [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 21 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from:
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