The Raven – Stanza XIV explained

by Jakub Marian

Tip: You can read a detailed explanation of all stanzas in my book about The Raven for English Learners (there is also a PDF version).

Stanza XIV of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven is one of the hardest pieces of English literature to understand for a non-native speaker. The following explanation is based on my book about the whole poem. Note: The whole stanza is divided into “half verses”.

You can read the whole stanza rewritten in simpler English as well as the original at the end of the article.

Then, methought1, the air grew denser2,

US ˈðɛn mɪˈθɔːt ði ˈɛr ɡruː ˈdɛnsɚ

UK ˈðɛn mɪˈθɔːt ði ˈɛə ɡruː ˈdɛnsə

1methinks” means “it seems to me”. This word, found in abundance in the works of Shakespeare, is only used in modern English as a humorous way to express an opinion.

2grew denser” means “became denser”.

perfumed from an unseen1 censer2

US ˈpɝːfjuːmd frəm ən ʌnˈsiːn ˈsɛnsɚ

UK ˈpɜːfjuːmd frəm ən ʌnˈsiːn ˈsɛnsə

1 that cannot be seen.

2 a container used to burn incense (a ritual perfume) during religious ceremonies.

Swung by Seraphim1 whose foot-falls2 tinkled3

US ˈswʌŋ baɪ ˈsɛrəfɪm huːz ˈfʊtfɔːlz ˈtɪŋkld

UK ˈswʌŋ baɪ ˈsɛrəfɪm huːz ˈfʊtfɔːlz ˈtɪŋkld

1 seraphs or seraphim (both being the plural of “seraph”) are angelic beings belonging to the highest order of the celestial hierarchy.

2 a footfall (alternatively spelled foot-fall) is the sound made by footsteps.

3 made a light metallic sound.

on the tufted1 floor.

US ɔn ðə ˈtʌftɪd ˈflɔːr

UK ɒn ðə ˈtʌftɪd flɔː

1 having tufts. A tuft is a bunch of feathers, grass, hair, moss, or another soft material joined at the base. Here, “tufted floor” probably refers to the tufts found on a mat on the floor.

Note: Tufts also refer to the clusters of threads with buttons at both ends that are often used in mattresses, cushions, etc., to strengthen the padding (the filling material), and the adjective “tufted” is mostly used when talking about types of mattresses and cushions.

Wretch1,” I cried, “thy God hath2 lent thee3

US ˈrɛtʃ aɪ kraɪd ðaɪ ˈɡɑːd hæθ ˈlɛnt ðiː

UK ˈrɛtʃ aɪ ˈkraɪd ðaɪ ˈɡɒd hæθ ˈlɛnt ðiː

1 an unfortunate and miserable person, here referring to the speaker himself.

2 archaic third person singular of “have”, i.e. “has”.

3 accusative of “thou”, an archaic form of “you”.

by these angels he hath sent thee

US+UK baɪ ðiːz ˈeɪndʒəlz ˈhiː hæθ ˈsɛnt ðiː

Respite1respite and nepenthe2

US ˈrɛspɪt ˈrɛspɪt ˈænd nɪˈpɛnθiː

UK ˈrɛspaɪt ˈrɛspaɪt ˈænd nɪˈpɛ

1 a brief interval of relief.

2 a mythological Greek drug that provides relief from grief or sorrow.

from thy memories of Lenore;

US frəm ðaɪ ˈmɛməriz əv ləˈnɔːr

UK frəm ðaɪ ˈmɛməriz əv ləˈnɔː

Quaff1, oh quaff this kind2 nepenthe

US ˈkwæf oʊ ˈkwæf ðɪs ˈkaɪnd nɪˈpɛnθiː

UK ˈkwɒf əʊ ˈkwɒf ðɪs ˈkaɪnd nɪˈpɛ

1 drink a large amount quickly; overindulge in drinking.

2 benevolent, nice.

and forget this lost Lenore!”

US ˈænd fɚˈɡɛt ðɪs ˈlɔːst ləˈnɔːr

UK ˈænd fəˈɡɛt ðɪs ˈlɒst ləˈnɔː

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

US ˈkwoʊθ ðə ˈreɪvn ˌnɛvɚˈmɔːr

UK ˈkwəʊθ ðə ˈreɪvn ˌnɛvəˈmɔː

* * *

In a moment of madness, the speaker is talking to himself, imagining that angels brought him relief from his sorrow. Here is the whole stanza in simpler language:

Then I thought the air got denser perfumed by an invisible censer
Which was swung by angels whose footfalls tinkled on the floor.
“You poor thing,” I said, “your God has lent you relief and medicine
(which he sent you by these angels) from your memories of Lenore
Drink, oh drink this good medicine and forget this lost Lenore!”
          The Raven replied: “Nevermore.”

Now, read the original again:

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 theeby these angels he hath sent thee
Respiterespite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
          Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

This article was based on my ebook about The Raven. It explains vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar used in the ebook in detail—why don’t you check it out?