“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A Hidden Anagram?

RavenLast night I volunteered to work at the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughter’s school. While I was there, I had a discussion with Laura, the school librarian, about why it’s important to re-read books and poems that you have not read in a while, how your perspective changes and you notice nuances that you missed previously. After that discussion, I knew it was high time for me to read “The Raven” again, even though I had read it so many times before. It was no surprise that I discovered things about the poem I had never noticed before.

This is the quintessential work by Poe. Whenever someone mentions Edgar Allan Poe, the image that usually is conjured is that of the raven. In fact, I would argue that “The Raven” is probably the most recognizable American poem ever written.

The first thing that struck me on this reading is the fact that the protagonist suffers from insomnia. He is up at midnight, deep in thought, and he does not mention that he almost falls asleep. He clearly says that he nearly napped, implying that he no longer sleeps at night, but only catches brief moments of napping during his long nights of obsession.

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 someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

The long, sleepless nights and the obsessive thoughts begin to take their toll on the person’s mind. Fantasy and imagination begin to flood the psyche and affect his sense of reality. At first, it is exciting. One almost gets a sense of an adrenaline rush as the speaker succumbs to his imagination.

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—

He then becomes trapped within his own mind. In the fifth stanza, he describes staring into the darkness. This darkness represents the shadow part of his consciousness, where his dark thoughts lie hidden from himself.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared dream before;

By this point in the poem, Poe has already begun using alliteration in conjunction with his rhyming, which works very well. But as the poem begins to climax near the end, the alliteration becomes more pronounced, adding to the frenzy that the protagonist is experiencing as he loses himself in the fear and obsession which he creates within his own mind.

“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.”

So this seems like the appropriate place to unveil what I think is the coolest discovery I made regarding this poem. As I was looking at images of covers and trying to pick one for the post, something about the word “Raven” was gnawing at me, and I kept looking at the word, trying to figure out what it was. Then it struck me—Raven spelled backwards (nevar) is phonetic for “never.” It is not a perfect anagram, but I would consider it a phonetic anagram. I have no idea whether this was intentional on the part of Poe, but it does seem more than a coincidence to me. It is like the Raven is the physical manifestation of the word Never. I feel like I have stumbled upon an aspect of this poem that has gone unnoticed. I for one have never heard a mention of this before, even when we studied this poem in my American Literature class in college.

I admit feeling ambivalent about covering this poem on my blog, since I feel it has been analyzed to death, but I am glad that I did. I feel like my understanding of this poem has reached a new level. So to conclude, I will once again quote the Raven, “Nevarmore.”



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19 responses to ““The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A Hidden Anagram?

  1. laurathelibrarian

    It’s definitely time to re-read The Raven!

  2. I am never tired of this poem, it is sheer brilliance. Cool discovery!

  3. Brilliant. The anagram aspect deepens the sense of inversion and the dark descent into psychic hell-realm where Poe is victim to his own fevered imagination. Thanks for fresh look at this classic. It’s haunting music shall ever echo over the wreckage of cyber-lingo and the distracted tripe of the media.

    • Stuff Jeff Reads

      Thanks for your comment! It is such a classic poem, and I love your phrasing: “the dark descent into psychic hell-realm where Poe is victim to his own fevered imagination.” Well put!!

  4. Just reading the passages you quoted made me remember what a wonderful piece The Raven is, and want to grab my copy of Poe’s works and reread it. The language is absolutely luscious and intoxicating (especially love “the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain,” a phrase which certainly “thrills” this particular reader).

    I hadn’t thought of the psychological aspects before, but it makes perfect sense, and goes along with the narrators of “The Black Cat” and “The Telltale Heart.” Love your discovery of “Raven” and “Never.” Whether intentional or not, it makes perfect sense.


    • Stuff Jeff Reads

      Thanks for your comment, Nancy! I agree with you that it is similar in narrative style to The Black Cat and The Tell Tale Heart, but the poem’s cadence is what really makes it such a unique and powerful piece. Cheers!!

  5. laurathelibrarian

    A free mini-book of The Raven for #allhallowsread. Perfect timing!

    • Thanks for sharing, and yes, I did find it interesting. I appreciate that you made the connection between Poe and Baudelaire, who is one of my favorite poets. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your post.


      • ur welcome ! Its always a pleasure to share with others and to have reviews 🙂 Don’t hesitate to read more articles in my blog ^^
        Good luck in the blogosphere and enjoy ur readings !


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  8. Yes, you are very passionate about unravelling the unending mystery of the Raven.

  9. Charles Potter

    Hello, my name is Charles Potter in Overland Park, Kansas. I wanted to let you know that I have been pondering this poem FOR YEARS and as you are the only person to write an article on it ( via my google search) I wanted to share with you my additional findings! I notice, in my opinion, Nevermore, is “I am Raven”. If you play it backwards it’s annunciated similarly and when written ( as I did in 9th grade ) it’s written like EROM – I am REVEN Raven. Which in my eyes, tells the basis of this poem. I figured nevermore was the odd word out in this poem in high school and I go into my own personal investigation on Poe’s creativity and I think the bird saying Nevermore is Himself also saying he is the Raven in his distraught mind and Poe is a genius.

    • Hi Charles. Sorry for the late reply. Been very busy. Seems like you have spent a considerable amount of time contemplating this poem. You have some great insights into some of the hidden meaning encoded into the text. I appreciate you taking the time to share your discoveries. Hope you have an excellent day.