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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Alienation and Loneliness
Near the end of this poem, when the fear of the poem’s speaker has reached a level of near hysteria, he shouts “Leave my loneliness unbroken!” In one sense, this could just be an emotional outburst, like the lines that lead up to it, but the interesting thing about this particular line is that the speaker, in his terror, is for once reflecting upon himself. This, and the line’s location at the climax of the poem, indicates to us that “my loneliness” is not just another expression that he shrieks: it is the key, the secret that he has been trying to guard all along. Throughout the poem, we see the speaker being drawn out of his isolation by the raven and the one word that it speaks. Once the bird enters his chambers, nothing really changes in the scene except the speaker’s attitude, which grows increasingly nervous. And what is it that he fears? He says he fears that the bird is a messenger from hell and that it knows secrets of the afterlife that it will not give up, but the reader can see that these increasingly wild ideas are the result, not the cause, of his panic. It is just after he says that he wants to retain his loneliness that the pressure that had been mounting is finally relieved. The following stanza is mournful and eerie, but it lacks the fevered pitch that had been growing throughout the poem.
Usually, loneliness is considered such an unpleasant feeling that we could not expect...
(The entire section is 1018 words.)