The Poem

“Israfel” is a lyrical poem of eight uneven stanzas, each stanza ranging from five to eight lines in length. The title is the name of an angel mentioned in the Koran, the sacred book of the Muslims. Edgar Allan Poe appended a note to this poem to make sure that his readers understood Israfel’s significance; the note read: “And the angel Israfel, whose heartstrings are a lute, and who has the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures—Koran.” Israfel’s importance as a singer or artist is central to the poem, and Poe’s consideration here of creativity—singing and music making—reflects a typical concern of other Romantic poets such as George Gordon, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. The poem is written in the first person from the point of view of someone—perhaps Poe himself—who is also a singer or creator of some sort, but readers do not discover this important information until the last stanza of the poem. The poem begins by stating that an angel lives in heaven and that his name is Israfel. Israfel, who is so creative that his very heart is a musical instrument, is such a wonderful singer that, according to legend, the stars even stop their own “hymns” to listen to him. The moon is, moreover, in love with him, while the lightning and constellations such as the “Pleiads” listen as well.

In the third stanza, Poe begins to explain what makes Israfel’s music so lovely that even the...

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Forms and Devices

At the center of “Israfel” is the figure of the angel, Israfel. Since Israfel sings and plays music, since he is referred to as a “bard,” and since—by the end of the poem—he is compared to the speaker of the poem who is himself a poet, one can safely assume that Israfel serves as a representative for the artist or the creative spirit. As such, one might refer to Israfel as a metaphor for the artist, as a stand-in which allows Poe to develop his ideas about art, writing, and creativity. Involved in this metaphorical framework are other important aspects of the poem. First, Israfel’s instrument—or his means to create—is represented variously by a lute, a lyre, and his human heart. The fruits of Israfel’s creativity are rendered as singing and as music so that these two creative efforts become emblematic for all creative efforts. Finally, those who listen to Israfel’s music are the heavens; his audience includes the highest and most unreachable elements in the physical world—stars, lightning, the moon, constellations.

Although the rhymes in “Israfel” are unpredictable, conforming to no particular formal pattern, each stanza is intricately and skillfully set to rhyme. Most stanzas have only two distinct end rhymes (the first stanza rhymes “dwell,” “well,” “Israfel,” “tell,” and “spell” as the first rhyme and “lute” and “mute” as the second), but occasionally a stanza has three different rhymes (the...

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