Why is "The Raven" important and why did Poe write it?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Edgar Allan Poe was extraordinarily concerned with the technical aspects of writing. In addition to his poems, stories, and novels, Poe wrote several essays about the art and craft of writing. “The Raven” occupies a central place in his theorizing.

Highly concerned with the aesthetic aspects of literary creation, Poe elaborated these ideas in his essay, “The Philosophy of Composition.” Recommending that the ending be revealed at the outset so the poet could show the causes that led up to it, Poe emphasizes the aura of inevitability that the poet should create. His preferred method was to establish a notable “effect” at the outset; from there, he would work out how best to support that creative goal. He then uses “The Raven” to explain how he works out these theories; along with the intended effect is his assertion that a poem should be short, claiming that he had arbitrarily chosen 100 lines before he began to write. (It turned out to be 108 lines.) For the effect in this case, sound was the primary quality, and “nevermore” has the tones he wanted so he repeated it.

“The Raven” fit well into the popular sensibilities of his day. Following its 1845 publication, it was very well received and even called the best American poem of all time. Critic John M. Daniel, apparently understanding Poe’s goal, called it a work of “pure art” and compared it to a Beethoven overture.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Raven" is generally not considered by critics to be one of Poe's best poems, but it is a very popular poem. Readers of poetry are engaged by its musical nature, vivid imagery, and dramatic story with supernatural elements. The narrator is compelling in his grief as he responds to the ebony bird who comes into his dark study at midnight. The atmosphere of the poem pulls the reader into the mystery of the raven. The dark night, dying fire, shadowy room, and rustling curtains contribute to this atmosphere, creating also a tone of sadness and suspense.

We cannot know what was in Poe's mind specifically when he wrote the poem, but we do know that in writing his short stories, Poe strove to create a single emotional effect within the reader. Since "The Raven" is a dramatic narrative poem, it seems reasonable that he was attempting to do the same thing. The single emotional effect in "The Raven" is despair.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial