The Raven for ESL Class

Ravens are extremely intelligent creatures. Here, on the 4th of February 1938 London Zoo worker is training a raven to talk. Fox Photos / Getty Images

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe is a classic American poem. It's quite popular to read this poem around Halloween, but it's a glorious one to read aloud at any time of year, with a compelling rhythm and fantastic story that will send shivers up your spine.

This version of The Raven defines the more challenging words after each section of the poem. The poem can be read on many levels; on your first reading you may want to try to understand the literal meaning of the poem, rather than getting bogged down in symbolism or trying to define every individual word.

For more on The Raven, you may want to check out these questions for discussion.

Read on if you dare! 

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this and nothing more."

pondered = thought
lore = story
rapping = knocking
muttered = said

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; -vainly I had sought to borrow
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.

bleak = sad, black and cold
ember = burning piece of wood glowing orange
wrought = presented
morrow = the next day
maiden = woman, girl

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me -filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;
This it is and nothing more.

rustling = movement that makes noise
entreating = asking for

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," I said, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you" -here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there and nothing more.

implore = ask for
scarce = hardly

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word "Lenore" -
Merely this and nothing more.

peering = looking into
gave no token = gave no sign

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what threat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

window lattice = frame around the window

Open here I flung a 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 an minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched and sat and nothing more.

flung = threw open
flutter = movement of wings, noise
stately = magnificent
obeisance = gesture of deference, respect
mien = manner of
perched = how a bird sits

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore!"

beguiling = charming
countenance = bearing, manner
crest = head
thou = old English for you
art = are
craven = cowardly, mean-spirited
thy = old English for your

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning -little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such a name as "Nevermore".

marvelled = was surprised
ungainly = ugly
fowl = bird
discourse = speech
bore = contained, had

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
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 -
Till I scarcely more than muttered: "Other friends have flown before
- On the morrow he will leave me as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore".

placid = peaceful
uttered = said

Startled at the stilless broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of `Never -nevermore'."

aptly = well
stock and store = repeated phrase
dirges = sad songs

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust, and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore".

betook = moved myself
fancy = here used as noun meaning imagined story, thought
yore = from the past
croaking = the sound a frog makes, usually a very ugly sound coming from the throat

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

bosom = chest, heart
divinig = guessing

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried "thy God hath lent thee -by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite -respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore".

methought = old English for "I thought"
censer = a container for burning incense
wretch = horrible person
hath = old English for has
thee = old English for you
respite = rest from
nepenthe = a drug providing a way of forgetting something
quaff = drink quickly or recklessly
Quoth = quoted

"Prophet!" said I "thing of evil! -prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted, -tell me truly, I implore -
Is there -is there balm in Gilead? -tell me -tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore".

Tempter = Satan
tempest = storm
balm = liquid that eases pain
Gilead = biblical reference

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting -
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! -quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore".

parting = separation, leaving
fiend = monster
shrieked = shouted, screamed
plume = type of feather
quit = leave

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that is floating on the floor
Shall be lifted -nevermore.

flitting = moving
pallid = pale

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "The Raven for ESL Class." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). The Raven for ESL Class. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "The Raven for ESL Class." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).