The Raven

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Themes and Colors
Death and the Afterlife  Theme Icon
Memory and Loss  Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious  Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality  Theme Icon
Ancient Influences  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Raven, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Ancient Influences  Theme Icon

Throughout the poem, Poe makes repeated references to classical mythology and the Bible — “ancient lore” such as what the narrator might have been studying at the beginning of the text. “Pallas,” the bust on which the Raven perches, is a reference to “Pallas Athena,” the Greek goddess of wisdom. Like Pallas Athena, the Raven hails from “the saintly days of yore.” The bird’s choice of landing place illustrates its relationship to ancient, divine, omniscient authority, solidifying a connection that the speaker makes explicit when he dubs the bird a “Prophet.” Further, “Nepenthe” is described in Homer’s Odyssey as a drug that erases memories, while the “Plutonian shores” are a reference to the god Pluto, the Roman equivalent of Hades in Greek mythology, who reigns over the underworld. The mention of “Gilead” refers to the Old Testament line in Jeremiah 8:22: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” and “Aidenn” refers to the Garden of Eden.

While these references help to establish the narrator as a scholar, they also allow Poe to anchor his poem to the classic literature of antiquity, lending “The Raven” the authoritative weight of Western literature’s foundational texts. These references also suggest that what the narrator experiences is universal and timeless across all humanity, from the present back to the founding texts of Western literature. At the same time, the narrator’s continued references to ancient literature suggest that — just as he is unable to divert his attention from his past with Lenore — he is mired in the past at large. His impulse to view his experiences in the context of these works is echoed by his impulse to view the Raven and its antics in the context of Lenore. The past becomes the lens through which he perceives the present.

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Ancient Influences Quotes in The Raven

Below you will find the important quotes in The Raven related to the theme of Ancient Influences .
The Raven Quotes

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Lenore
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is studying “quaint,” “curious” and “forgotten” books in an effort to forget his misery over losing Lenore. Given that the narrator is a man of letters, that he would turn to old books for relief from his emotions might not come as a surprise. But the poem’s supernatural elements leave open the possibility that these books may be more than they seem. Though it’s never mentioned explicitly, the narrator might be searching their pages for some way to circumvent the finality of death and bring his beloved back to life. Despite the learned narrator’s rational bent, losing Lenore may have prompted him to explore magical means for dealing with grief. Either way, his tendency to delve into ancient literature in the face of his grief shows how focused he is on the past, whether in his scholarship or in his memories of his beloved.

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Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: “Night’s Plutonian shore”
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is amused upon first encountering the Raven, and speaks to it candidly before he realizes it has the ability to respond. He treats it like a distinguished guest, and asks it for its name on the “Night’s Plutonian shore” — Plutonian refers to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld —jokingly accusing the bird of having emerged from hell or the world of the dead. Amusement fuels this question, but the narrator’s subsequent interactions with the Raven stem from anxiety and desperation. By the close of the poem, the narrator shouts at the bird to return to the “Night’s Plutonian shore,” having realized that his nightmarish jest has actually come to pass.

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In Homer’s Odyssey, “nepenthe” is a drug that erases memories. The narrator, citing Homer, evokes the opening scene in which he is poring over “forgotten” lore, potentially in search of some ancient cure for his devastation. While here he desires to simply ingest something and wipe Lenore from his memory, this wish is at odds with his other desire to see Lenore again, whether in some supernatural form on earth or in the afterlife. Ultimately, the narrator can neither forget Lenore nor accept that he and she will never cross paths again.

“Is there—is there balm in Gilead?”

Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

The “balm in Gilead” is a reference to the Bible, in which the prophet Jeremiah asks “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jeremiah 8:22), with “Gilead” here (in some interpretations) being a stand-in for heaven. As there seems to be no hope of seeing Lenore again on earth, the narrator, in his desperation, asks the Raven if heaven might allow him to see Lenore once more. Like in the previous stanza, this balm might be in the form of forgetting, but just as probable is that the narrator hopes to see Lenore once more after he himself has entered the afterlife. But to this, too, the Raven says only “Nevermore.” The bird’s response doesn’t make perfect grammatical sense after the narrator’s question, but the narrator is nevertheless unnerved when he hears it again.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pallas , The Raven
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has screamed at the bird to leave, but to no avail: the Raven sits and sits upon the bust of Pallas, continuing to haunt the narrator. In lingering on the bust, the Raven indicates the triumph of dark supernatural forces over those of cool, calm, and collected rationality. As the poem is told as a recollection, the last scene continues until the present day, meaning that the Raven “still is sitting” then, now, and potentially forever. Like the narrator’s memories of Lenore, the Raven refuses to leave the plagued narrator’s mind, causing him misery until the bitter end.

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: The Raven
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

With the Raven and thoughts of Lenore looming over him for time immemorial, the narrator imagines that his soul will never be lifted, that he will never be cheerful, again. The narrator describes his soul as emerging from the shadow of the bird, as though the two entities had been made one by his inability to escape from the bird’s nefarious influence. Tightening the relationship between man and bird is the fact that “Nevermore,” the Raven’s refrain, has now made its way into the narrator’s vocabulary. Having internalized the Raven’s refusal of all his hopes, the narrator now inflicts the word on himself, closing the poem on an appropriately dark and pessimistic note.