Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

During the Romantic period in both British and American literature the attention of many writers—especially poets—turned to the issue of creativity itself. By the end of the eighteenth century an emphasis on individualism prevailed, and creativity was seen as an expression of the imaginative spirit of an intensely feeling and expressive soul. In “Israfel,” Poe displays many of these attitudes about creativity, creative genius, and art. In his very concern with what makes a superior artist, he finds himself in harmony with other poets and writers of the Romantic age.

Israfel represents the ideal Romantic artist for many reasons, the first of which is that his very heart is his instrument. He plays and sings, in other words, “from the heart,” from his passions and his emotions. The Romantic writer trusted emotions; he had turned from the eighteenth century’s emphasis on the mind, on logic and reason, to a veneration of feeling, sensitivity, and even sensation. Thus, not only does Israfel play with passion, but he also sings “wildly” with “fire.” He is not held back by decorum or inhibition; he sings what he feels.

Like the consummate artist that he represents, Israfel commands respect from the rest of the universe; somehow, what he does when he sings causes all of creation to take notice. Even the inhabitants of the heavens take notice, for Israfel’s art is so perfectly an expression of his singing heart that all...

(The entire section is 523 words.)