What are the poetic devices used in "A Dream within a Dream" and "A Paean" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A poetic device used in each poem is personification.

Personification is one of the poetic devices used in “A Dream within a Dream” by Edgar Allen Poe. Personification is a description of something nonhuman that gives it humanlike qualities. For example, “hope has flown away” in the first stanza and “pitiless wave” in the second stanza are two different examples of personification. In the first example, we have hope being described as flying away, as if hope had a choice and could leave. In the second example, waves are described as having no pity, as if they have feelings like a human and can care or not care how we feel. There is another example of personification in the first stanza of the poem.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore

In this case, the shore is described as being “tormented” by the waves, the way a person would be tormented by feelings. Torment is something you feel. It is a description of how a person feels when someone’s emotions wrack them, not when waves wrack a shore.

In “A Paean” there is a description of a funeral. A paean is a hymn of praise. Here we also have personification.

From more than friends on earth,
Thy life and love are riven,
To join the untainted mirth
Of more than thrones in heaven.--

Here live and love are “riven” (divided) and personified as if they were physically going to Heaven to the mythical mirth (joy) in Heaven. The young girl will be happy once she is in Heaven, even though she died young.

Both poems talk about love and loss, familiar territory for Poe. In each case, there is a young girl who died too young. In “A Dream within a Dream” the speaker is desperate for his lost love: “Through my fingers to the deep/ While I weep--while I weep!/ O God! can I not grasp/ Them with a tighter clasp?” and in “A Paen” we get the sense that other than her lover, most of the people at the funeral are jealous of the girl and happy to see her go. The desperation of “A Dream within a Dream” is not felt, and the poem is not as private or as personal. It is more distant, and even humorous or farcical. The tone of each poem therefore varies, despite the familiar subject matter.