Poe's Philosophy of Composition and the Raven

In 1846, Edgar A - Poe's Philosophy of Composition and the Raven introduction. Poe wrote an essay: The Philosophy of Composition; his intention was to write an account of the deliberate method used when writing his successful poem The Raven. Poe discussed within the first three paragraphs of the essay what he understood as the ‘radical error’ in the usual method of creating a story, explaining: ‘Either history affords a thesis- or one is suggested by the incident of the day- or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative. [1] Poe wished to illustrate a step by step process used in completing a poem- he believed there was a common misunderstanding that poems were created in a mysterious ‘fine frenzy or ecstatic intuition’ and this misunderstanding was protected by the vanity and secrecy of the writers. [2] Poe’s essay examines in particular, his poem, The Raven and seeks to eradicate the mystery while presenting the progressive processes within.

Asserting: ‘It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition – that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem. ’[3] The poem itself is made up of eighteen; six line stanzas. It is loaded with alliteration, clever symbolism, imagery and wordplay, a lyrical trochaic octameter-rhyming scheme and a refrain finishing each stanza.

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Poe explained, when writing a poem he preferred to start with an effect; it is the mood created that is important when telling a story and originality must always be kept in view. ‘I say to myself …of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select? ’ [4] The length of a poem is important also because it disturbs the unity of effect if the poem cannot be read in one sitting. He clarified: ‘If two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and every thing like totality is at once destroyed. [5] He suggested, the length should be correlated to the intended intensity of the effect and in The Raven he choose a length of about one hundred lines (reaching one hundred and eight on completion). The next important issue he suggested was that the poem should be universally beautiful, believing beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem. He then went on to suggest that the highest manifestation of the tone of beauty is sadness. ‘Beauty, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetic tones. [6]. He then turned to a standard poetic effect by using a refrain, giving structure to the poem by repeating the word nevermore at the end of each stanza. Nevermore was chosen because, he believed, the word needed to be in keeping with the melancholy effect while being ‘sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis’; the letter ‘O’ was, to him, the most sonorous vowel, with ‘R’ as the most producible consonant. [7] Initially he had considered a parrot as the voice of the word nevermore, as it matched with the repetitive nature of the refrain.

However he decided on a raven as the mouthpiece, as it was bettered suited to the melancholy effect and equally capable of language. To extenuate the beautifully melancholy effect, Poe decided, that the death of a beautiful woman was the most poetic theme. Explaining: ‘the death 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. ’[8] The end of the poem is the beginning, Poe explained. He sought to determine the climax, the most poignant effect before building the story to this point. I composed this stanza… by establishing the climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness and importance the preceding queries of the lover – and secondly, that I might definitely settle the rhythm, the metre, and the length… as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this rhythmical effect. ’[9] To conclude: The Raven is a poem that has been carefully constructed with deliberate attention to every detail and while it tells a poignant tale of the dissent into madness, its rich language, rhyming and meter make it a linguistic treat and poetic masterpiece.

Floyd Stovall suggests: ‘ The Raven was the product of conscious effort by a healthy and alert intelligence. ’[10] Bibliography • Poe, Edgar. A, The Philosophy of Composition, Society of Baltimore, http://www. eapoe. org/works/essays/philcomp. htm • Poe, Edgar. A, The Raven, http://www. heise. de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven. html • Stovall, Floyd, The Conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe, College English, Vol. 24, no 6, pp. 417-21. http://www. jstor. org/stable/373878 ———————– [1] Edgar A. Poe, The Philosophy of Composition, Edgar Allan Poe, Society of Baltimore, http://www. apoe. org/works/essays/philcomp. htm, [accessed: 25. march. 2013. ] [2] The Philosophy of Composition. [3] The Philosophy of Composition. [4] The Philosophy of Composition. [5] The Philosophy of Composition. [6] The philosophy of Composition. [7] The philosophy of Composition. [8] The Philosophy of Composition. [9] The Philosophy of Composition. [10] Floyd Stovall, The conscious Art of Edgar Allan Poe, College English, Vol. 24, no 6, p. 421. http://www. jstor. org/stable/373878,[accessed:7. april. 2013. ]

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