Onomatopoeia in the Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Onomatopoeia in the Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
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  • 0:00 What Is Onomatopoeia?
  • 1:08 Whispered and Murmured
  • 1:55 Rapping and Tapping
  • 2:12 Nevermore
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Boom! Crash! Bang! These are onomatopoeia. Like many other writers, Edgar Allen Poe used this literary device to help his readers 'hear' his poetry. This lesson explains how onomatopoeia is used in the poem 'The Raven.'

What Is Onomatopoeia?

Have you ever read an old-school comic book or watched the original television version of Batman? If so, then you may be familiar with some of these words:

  • Boom
  • Bang
  • Crash
  • Kapow
  • Zoink
  • Bam

What do all of these words have in common? They're all examples of onomatopoeia, or when a word sounds like the sound it describes. You use onomatopoeia every day and probably do not even realize it. What sound does a cat make? Meow. What sound does a dog make? Woof. Both 'meow' and 'woof' are similar to the sound they represent.

Onomatopoeia is a very common literary device found in both literature and poetry. Writers use it to draw their readers into the story or poem. Onomatopoeia can set the tone or create a certain sense or feeling. It can also engage the reader's sense of hearing. Even though they cannot literally hear what's happening in the story or poem, it helps readers to imagine it. Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven' is rich with onomatopoeia. Let's look at some examples from the poem.

Whispered and Murmured

The poem is told from the perspective of a first-person narrator. The guy is sitting in his room alone at night, mourning his lost love (a woman named Lenore). As he sits and thinks, the narrator repeats the name of his love:

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, 'Lenore?'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, 'Lenore!'

This is the reader's first encounter with onomatopoeia in 'The Raven'. Both 'whispered' and 'murmured' describe the hushed tones of someone talking. The word 'whisper' sounds much like someone speaking in breathy tones, while 'murmured' reflects the almost humming nature of someone speaking in a low and indistinguishable voice.

Rapping and Tapping

Suddenly, the sad narrator hears a sound:

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door--

'Rapping' and 'tapping' resemble the sound of knuckles against a wooden door.

Nevermore

When he opens the door, the narrator doesn't see anyone or anything. He walks back inside but hears the noise again. This time he opens the window. Much to his surprise, a large black raven flies into the room. The narrator goes on to explain his sadness to the raven. He asks it a number of questions about his lost love. In response, the raven has only one thing to say: 'Nevermore.'

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