The Philosophy of Composition

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is Poe's theory of poetics in "The Philosophy of Composition"?

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Poe's theory of poetics in "The Philosophy of Composition" encompasses three main elements. First, a work should be structured around the emotional effect the writer hopes to elicit. Additionally, a work should be short, and it should be planned in a methodical way.

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In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe discusses the ideas underlying his writing method. A chief concept he explores is the idea that writers should think first and foremost about the emotional effect they hope to elicit from an audience. Using his poem "The Raven" as an example, he shows how all the elements of the work support the effect of mourning the loss of a beloved. For modern readers, some of the short stories might act as better examples: every element of "The Cask of Amontillado," for example, relentlessly builds an atmosphere of growing terror.

Poe also asserts in this essay that a work of literature should be short, which helps with sustaining the unity of effect described above. He suggests being able to write a piece within the "limit of a single sitting."

Poe additionally argues in this essay that a writer should proceed methodically and that method and discipline are behind good art. This pushes back against the Romantic idea common at that time of the spontaneous genius creating works merely from inspiration.

Poe's essay is valuable in emphasizing the role of planning and method to poetics, and he focuses on the emotional effect of a piece of literature as the most important element, more important than plot or characterization.

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