Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Raven” objectifies Poe’s belief that the artistic experiencing of a poem is an end in itself. As both poet and critic, Poe attacked two trends that he found equally disastrous: what he called “epic mania” (using the length of a poem as an index to its power and significance) and the “didactic heresy” (taking the explicit moral or philosophical meaning of a poem as its chief value).
Although Poe’s aesthetic theories, set forth in such essays as “The Poetic Principle” and “The Philosophy of Composition,” rely on a romantic theory of the imagination (as filtered through the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the temperament of Poe), the gist of his art is targeted toward the poem as experience. According to Poe, the intellect craves truth (the sphere of philosophical, rational discourse), and the moral sense craves duty (the domain of didactic writing), whereas taste thirsts for beauty (quenched only by poetry with its musicality and, therefore, its indefinite pleasure, and by romance with its more definite pleasure). Hence, a poem, in providing an indefinite, pleasurable aesthetic experience, requires a sense of complexity (all means including rhythm and sound adapted to a predetermined end) and a suggestive undercurrent of meaning.
In speaking of “The Raven,” Poe declared that an intended undercurrent of meaning first becomes apparent in the metaphorical “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
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