Poe's Philosophy of Composition and the Raven

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In 1846, Edgar A. 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. 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...
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