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Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven has the narrator mourning the loss of his love Lenore. But it's actually not entirely clear to me if Lenore merely left the narrator (for whatever relationship-related intricacies) or if she is dead altogether.

When the eponymous raven appears, the narrator repeatedly asks him if he will ever see Lenore again, to which we know the Raven's answer isn't particularly satisfying. But still, it's unclear to me if he is talking about an actual real meeting and return of Lenore to him, or the chance of reuniting with her in the afterlife, or even the chance of her returning from the dead. It's all left ambiguous to me.

Now, while getting along in the English language rather well, I'm not a native speaker and I won't deny that some parts of the poem might go beyond my understanding. So did I just miss something more obvious in the text? Or is it only secondary information that gives a really conclusive answer on the matter? Or has it never been resolved at all?

Is Lenore actually dead or did she just leave the narrator?

  • 1
    Are you asking for answers which restrict their analysis to the poem's text, or would statements by the author be a welcome addition to answers? – BESW Jan 20 '17 at 4:04
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    @BESW Anything that sheds a clear light on the matter is welcome. – Cahir says Reinstate Monica Jan 20 '17 at 4:06
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She's dead.

As Poe writes himself in his Philosophy of Composition, an essay about competent poetic writing based on his own analysis of The Raven (full text available here):

I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven, the bird of ill-omen, monotonously repeating the one word "Nevermore" at the conclusion of each stanza in a poem of melancholy tone, and in length about one hundred lines. Now, never losing sight of the object- supremeness or perfection at all points, I asked myself- "Of all melancholy topics what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?" Death, was the obvious reply. "And when," I said, "is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?" From what I have already explained at some length the answer here also is obvious- "When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover."

(emphasis mine)

It should be noted, however, that the authenticity of "The Philosophy of Composition" has been called into question, with one biographer describing it as "a rather highly ingenious exercise in the art of rationalization than literary criticism." (Hat-tip to BESW for informing me of this.) So, although other critics do believe "The Philosophy of Composition" is what it pretends to be, we must acknowledge that it's not necessarily reliable as a source, and look additionally to the poem itself.

  • From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
    For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
    Nameless here for evermore.

    It's only the angels that speak her name now, and "here" (in the mortal world?) she is nameless for evermore. This suggests she's with the angels, i.e. dead.

  • Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
    Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"

    The speaker believes the raven has come from Pluto, and asks it about Lenore. This suggests she too is there, in the "Plutonian" land of the dead.

  • Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
    Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."

    He speaks of seeing Lenore again only in Aidenn, or Paradise.

None of these quotes quite confirms that Lenore is dead - she could be gone and yet the speaker hopes to see her again when both are dead - but it's at least strongly suggestive. Together with the Philosophy of Composition, I'd even venture to say it's conclusive.

15

LENORE IS DEAD.

The following confirms that Lenore is dead:

  • The narrator expresses grief for the "lost Lenore" Lost is defined as "something that cannot be recovered." Lenore cannot be recovered, proving that she is dead.
  • The angels have named a rare and radiant maiden that of Lenore. This is an obvious reference to Lenore being dead due to the mention of angels naming her.
  • The narrator wants respite from the memories of Lenore. He begs the angels in heaven (the same ones who named Lenore) to help him relieve him of his memories.
  • The fact that Lenore will never again sit in the chair in which the narrator inhabits with it's cushioned seat.
  • The raven continually proclaims "Nevermore." Nevermore is defined as "at no future time; never again" This should be self-explanatory as to the fate of Lenore as well as the narrator's state of mind at the end of the poem.

If Lenore were still alive, the narrator would have mentioned finding her again. He is so consumed with her loss, that if she were still alive, he would certainly be searching for her.

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