At a Glance
- Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Raven" as a ballad with eighteen six-line stanzas. It employs trochaic octameter, a dramatic form of meter, to emphasize its heavy use of rhyme.
- The poem's first-person point of view allows readers to track the speaker's progression from weary scholar to grieving lover. The loss of his great love, Lenore, haunts him throughout the poem.
- The raven itself symbolizes death. It forces its way into the room, standing as a reminder of Lenore's untimely death.
A year after he published “The Raven,” Poe published an essay titled “The Philosophy of Composition.” True to its title, the essay serves as a statement of Poe’s creative principles. In Poe’s view, the ideal poem or story is brief, beautiful, and musical. More specifically, it ought to be digestible in a single sitting, deliver aesthetic impact over morals, and captivate the ear. Poe then illustrates these principles by outlining his composition of “The Raven,” a poem that exemplifies his values, because he wrote it with his values in mind.
According to Poe, he began writing “The Raven” with the aim of producing a singular emotion. He then chose melancholy as the most persuasive emotion, death the most melancholic experience, and the death of a beautiful woman the most heart-rending variety. From there, the musical architecture of the piece coalesced. Poe decided to structure the poem around a short refrain, for which he chose “Nevermore,” deeming it a richly sonorous word. From “Nevermore” followed the raven, an apt utterer of the refrain, and the rhyme “Lenore,” the name of the beautiful deceased woman. At that point, the poem had found its wings, and Poe let it fly. “The Philosophy of Composition” remains an essential window into “The Raven” as well as Poe’s methods as a poet and writer.
Form and Structure
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a highly musical composition. With its eighteen uniformly measured sestets, its unvarying ABCBBB rhyme pattern, its internal rhymes and rich alliteration, the poem weaves a distinctive sonic tapestry. The primary thread in the tapestry is the string of words that contain a sonorous “-ore” syllable at their core, most notably the words “Lenore” and “Nevermore.” This combination of devices make the poem’s lines easy to remember and, indeed, difficult to forget. The speaker’s language shifts back and forth from direct, conversational English to an elevated, erudite pitch as his mind moves from his familiar surroundings to the imagined realms of heaven and hell.
Poe employs a distinctive stanza structure in “The Raven.” In each stanza, the first five lines are octameter, carrying eight beats, and the final line is tetrameter, only four beats. The final line thus leaves a conspicuous space in its wake. Readers cannot move freely from the end of one stanza to the start of the next. Rather, the pause of the final line forces a moment of meditation and allows the previous stanza to sink into the mind. Many stanzas end with the word “Nevermore,” and so the subsequent silence may suggest the speaker’s stunned reaction. In his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe also credits the shortened final line for making the refrain—the raven’s answers of “Nevermore”—more pliant and ready to incorporate throughout the poem.
Poe devised “The Raven” out of neat chains of trochees. The trochee is a metrical foot in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed counterpart. (“Once upon a midnight dreary…”) The trochaic tone is rushed and frantic compared to that of the statelier iamb. Given the poem’s story—the anxious questionings and yearnings of a grief-stricken man—Poe’s metrical choice is apt.
Rhyme & Alliteration
On its surface, “The Raven” follows an ABCBBB rhyme scheme, with each of its eighteen stanzas cohering to the plan. However, Poe treats the trochaic octameter of each line as a pair of tetrameter lines,...
(The entire section is 1,214 words.)