The Philosophy of Composition Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

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Is "The Raven" a good poem? Please analyse it based on its form and content, and offer your critique in relation to Poe's "Philosophy of Composition."

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The first level on which we judge a poem "good" is technical competence. On this level, one looks at whether the poet can, for example, work within a metrical scheme without distorting syntax and whether words contribute to the poem's meaning or whether they are just used as metrical filler. One also looks for whether the imagery and ideas are original or cliched. By these standards, "The Raven" is a well crafted poem, displaying great skill in use of poetic form. The meter, trochaic octameter, is an especially difficult one to write in English, and poem manages to use this meter and a demanding pattern of word repetitions with great virtuosity.

The next way we judge whether a poem is good is by its history of reception. In other words, people have been readings, studying, and republishing "The Raven" since its initial publication in 1849. This suggests a general consensus of positive judgement about the poem.

Finally, Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" suggests additional criteria for what Poe considers a good poem, using his own "The Raven" as an example for analysis. He argues that a poem should be short enough to be read at a single sitting, ideally consisting of no more than 100 lines. "The Raven" meets this criterion (it is 108 lines long). Next, he argues that there should be a strong and dominant mood or effect that is introduced in the beginning of the poem. The first two lines of the poem introduce the note of melancholy:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

The poem develops in a linear narrative, with the mystery of the tapping being resolved upon the discovery of the bird, and the question of whether the young man's dark melancholic mood (symbolized by the raven) shall be lifted resolved by the answer "nevermore." Thus the poem does follow the criteria for a good poem set out by Poe in his essay.

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