Poe Study Guides.
Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Date
Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" is an essay. Graham's Magazine,
a Philadelphia journal, published it in April 1846. Poe was
the editor of this publication between February 1841 and April 1842.
Philosophy of Composition" presents Poe's views on how to compose a poem,
a short story or another literary work. In the essay, he advises writers
to do the following:
Poe also maintains in the essay
that the "most poetical topic in the world" is the death of a beautiful
Plan a project to its conclusion
before beginning to write. You must know how a literary work is to end
before setting its tone and presenting its details.
Decide the effect you wish your
work will have on the reader.
Begin writing the literary work.
As you progress, keep in mind the conclusion you decided on.
Keep the literary work short
enough for the reader to complete in one sitting. If the length of the
work requires the reader to put it down and come back to it on another
day, the affairs of everyday life will divert the reader's attention and
diminish the effect of the literary work after he resumes reading it.
Work hard to perfect your writing.
It is a fallacy that inspiration and intuition play a significant role
in the creative process. A great work requires toil and sweat.
elucidate his ideas, he explains how he composed his most famous poem,
"The Raven," in which the narrator laments the death of his beloved.The Philosophy
By Edgar Allan Poe.......Charles
Dickens, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once
made of the mechanism of "Barnaby Rudge," saysu0097"By the way, are you aware
that Godwin wrote his 'Caleb Williams' backwards? He first involved his
hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for
the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been
cannot think this the precise mode of procedure on the part of Godwinu0097and
indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with
Mr. Dickens' ideau0097but the author of "Caleb Williams" was too good an artist
not to perceive the advantage derivable from at least a somewhat similar
process. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must
be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with
the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that
we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation,
by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to
the development of the intention.
is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story.
Either history affords a thesisu0097or one is suggested by an incident of the
dayu0097or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of
striking events to form merely the basis of his narrativeu0097designing, generally,
to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices
of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.
prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality
always in viewu0097for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with
so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interestu0097I say to myself,
in the first place, "Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which
the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the
soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?"
Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether
it can best be wrought by incident or toneu0097whether by ordinary incidents
and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident
and toneu0097afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations
of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by
any author who wouldu0097that is to say, who couldu0097detail, step by step, the
processes by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point
of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am
much at a loss to sayu0097but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to
do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writersu0097poets in especialu0097prefer
having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzyu0097an ecstatic
intuitionu0097and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep
behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thoughtu0097at
the true purposes seized only at the last momentu0097at the innumerable glimpses
of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full viewu0097at the fully matured
fancies discarded in despair as unmanageableu0097at the cautious selections
and rejectionsu0097at the painful erasures and interpolations1u0097in
a word, at the wheels and pinionsu0097the tackle for scene-shiftingu0097the step-ladders
and demon-trapsu0097the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches,
which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties
of the literary histrio.2
am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common, in which
an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions
have been attained. In general, suggestions, having arisen pell-mell, are
pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.
my own part, I have neither sympathy with the repugnance alluded to, nor,
at any time, the least difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive
steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of an analysis,
or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum,3
is quite independent of any real or fancied interest in the thing analyzed,
it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus
operandi4 by which
some one of my own works was put together. I select "The Raven," as most
generally known. It is my design to render it manifest that no one point
in its composition is referrible either to accident or intuitionu0097that the
work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and
rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.
us dismiss, as irrelevant to the poem per se, the circumstanceu0097or say the
necessityu0097which, in the first place, gave rise to the intention of composing
a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical taste.
commence, then, with this intention.
initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is too long
to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely
important effect derivable from unity of impressionu0097for, if two sittings
be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and every thing like totality
is at once destroyed. But since, ceteris paribus,5
no poet can afford to dispense with any thing that may advance his design,
it but remains to be seen whether there is, in extent, any advantage to
counterbalance the loss of unity which attends it. Here I say no, at once.
What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief onesu0097that
is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that
a poem is such, only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating, the
soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal6
necessity, brief. For this reason, at least one half of the Paradise
Lost7 is essentially
proseu0097a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with
corresponding depressionsu0097the whole being deprived, through the extremeness
of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity,
appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length,
to all works of literary artu0097the limit of a single sittingu0097and that, although
in certain classes of prose composition, such as Robinson
no unity,) this limit may be advantageously overpassed, it can never properly
be overpassed in a poem. Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be
made to bear mathematical relation to its meritu0097in other words, to the
excitement or elevationu0097again in other words, to the degree of the true
poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the
brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect:u0097this,
with one provisou0097that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite
for the production of any effect at all.
in view these considerations, as well as that degree of excitement which
I deemed not above the popular, while not below the critical, taste, I
reached at once what I conceived the proper length for my intended poemu0097a
length of about one hundred lines. It is, in fact, a hundred and eight.
next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be conveyed:
and here I may as well observe that, throughout the construction, I kept
steadily in view the design of rendering the work universally appreciable.
I should be carried too far out of my immediate topic were I to demonstrate
a point upon which I have repeatedly insisted, and which, with the poetical,
stands not in the slightest need of demonstrationu0097the point, I mean, that
Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem. A few words, however,
in elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced
a disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most
intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in
the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty,
they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effectu0097they
refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soulu0097not of
intellect, or of heartu0097upon which I have commented, and which is experienced
in consequence of contemplating "the beautiful." Now I designate Beauty
as the province of the poem, merely because it is an obvious rule of Art
that effects should be made to spring from direct causesu0097that objects should
be attained through means best adapted for their attainmentu0097no one as yet
having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation alluded to,
is most readily attained in the poem. Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction
of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart,
are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily
attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion,
a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely
antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable
elevation, of the soul. It by no means follows from any thing here said,
that passion, or even truth, may not be introduced, and even profitably
introduced, into a poemu0097for they may serve in elucidation, or aid the general
effect, as do discords in music, by contrastu0097but the true artist will always
contrive, first, to tone them into proper subservience to the predominant
aim, and, secondly, to enveil them, as far as possible, in that Beauty
which is the atmosphere and the essence of the poem.
then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its
highest manifestationu0097and all experience has shown that this tone is one
of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably
excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate
of all the poetical tones.
length, the province, and the tone, being thus determined, I betook myself
to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic piquancy
which might serve me as a key-note in the construction of the poemu0097some
pivot upon which the whole structure might turn. In carefully thinking
over all the usual artistic effectsu0097or more properly points, in the theatrical
senseu0097I did not fail to perceive immediately that no one [no effect] had
been so universally employed as that of the refrain.9
The universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic
value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I considered
it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of improvement, and soon
saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly used, the refrain, or
burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression
upon the force of monotoneu0097both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced
solely from the sense of identityu0097of repetition. I resolved to diversify,
and so vastly heighten, the effect, by adhering, in general, to the monotone
of sound, while I continually varied that of thought: that is to say, I
determined to produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the
application of the refrainu0097the refrain itself remaining, for the most part,
points being settled, I next bethought me of the nature of my refrain.
Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was clear that the
refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable
difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length.
In proportion to the brevity of the sentence, would, of course, be the
facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the
question now arose as to the character of the word. Having made up my mind
to a refrain, the division of the poem into stanzas was, of course, a corollary:10
the refrain forming the close to each stanza. That such a close, to have
force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted
no doubt: and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the
most sonorous vowel, in connection with r as the most producible consonant.
sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to select
a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest possible
keeping with that melancholy which I had predetermined as the tone of the
poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook
the word "Nevermore." In fact, it was the very first which presented itself.
next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of the one word "nevermore."
In observing the difficulty which I at once found in inventing a sufficiently
plausible reason for its continuous repetition, I did not fail to perceive
that this difficulty arose solely from the pre-assumption that the word
was to be so continuously or monotonously spoken by a human beingu0097I did
not fail to perceive, in short, that the difficulty lay in the reconciliation
of this monotony with the exercise of reason on the part of the creature
repeating the word. Here, then, immediately arose the idea of a non-reasoning
creature capable of speech; and, very naturally, a parrot, in the first
instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as
equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended
had now gone so far as the conception of a Ravenu0097the bird of ill omenu0097monotonously
repeating the one word, "Nevermore," at the conclusion of each stanza,
in a poem of melancholy tone, and in length about one hundred lines. Now,
never losing sight of the object supremeness, or perfection, at all points,
I asked myselfu0097"Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal
understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?" Deathu0097was the obvious
reply. "And when," I said, "is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?"
From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also,
is obviousu0097"When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then,
of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the
worldu0097and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such
topic are those of a bereaved lover."
had now to combine the two ideas, of a lover lamenting his deceased mistress
and a Raven continuously repeating the word "Nevermore"u0097I had to combine
these, bearing in mind my design of varying, at every turn, the application
of the word repeated; but the only intelligible mode of such combination
is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in answer to the queries
of the lover. And here it was that I saw at once the opportunity afforded
for the effect on which I had been dependingu0097that is to say, the effect
of the variation of application. I saw that I could make the first query
propounded by the loveru0097the first query to which the Raven should reply
"Nevermore" u0097that I could make this first query a commonplace oneu0097the second
less sou0097the third still less, and so onu0097until at length the lover, startled
from his original nonchalance by the melancholy character of the word itselfu0097by
its frequent repetitionu0097and by a consideration of the ominous reputation
of the fowl that uttered itu0097is at length excited to superstition, and wildly
propounds queries of a far different characteru0097queries whose solution he
has passionately at heartu0097propounds them half in superstition and half
in that species of despair which delights in self-tortureu0097propounds them
not altogether because he believes in the prophetic or demoniac character
of the bird (which, reason assures him, is merely repeating a lesson learned
by rote) but because he experiences a phrenzied11
pleasure in so modeling his questions as to receive from the expected "Nevermore"
the most delicious because the most intolerable of sorrow. Perceiving the
opportunity thus afforded meu0097or, more strictly, thus forced upon me in
the progress of the constructionu0097I first established in mind the climax,
or concluding queryu0097that to which "Nevermore" should be in the last place
an answeru0097that in reply to which this word "Nevermore" should involve the
utmost conceivable amount of sorrow and despair.
then the poem may be said to have its beginningu0097at the end, where all works
of art should beginu0097for it was here, at this point of my preconsiderations,
that I first put pen to paper in the composition of the stanza:
"Prophet," said I,
"thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends
above usu0097by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow
laden, if within the distant Aidenn,12
It shall clasp a sainted
maiden whom the angels name Lenoreu0097
Clasp a rare and radiant
maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the ravenu0097"Nevermore."
composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the climax,
I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness and importance,
the preceding queries of the loveru0097and, secondly, that I might definitely
settle the rhythm, the metre, and the length and general arrangement of
the stanzau0097as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that
none of them might surpass this in rhythmical effect. Had I been able,
in the subsequent composition, to construct more vigorous stanzas, I should,
without scruple, have purposely enfeebled them, so as not to interfere
with the climacteric effect.
here I may as well say a few words of the versification.13
My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has
been neglected, in versification, is one of the most unaccountable things
in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in
mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and
stanza are absolutely infiniteu0097and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse,
has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing. The
fact is, originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means
a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found,
it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest
class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.
course, I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of the
"Raven." The former is trochaic14u0097the
latter is octametre15acatalectic,16
alternating with heptameter17
catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating
with tetrameter catalectic.18
Less pedanticallyu0097the feet employed throughout (trochees19)
consist of a long syllable followed by a short: the first line of the stanza
consists of eight of these feetu0097the second of seven and a half (in effect
two-thirds)u0097the third of eightu0097the fourth of seven and a halfu0097the fifth
the sameu0097the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these lines, taken individually,
has been employed before, and what originality the "Raven" has, is in their
combination into stanza; nothing even remotely approaching this combination
has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination
is aided by other unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from
an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.
next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover
and the Ravenu0097and the first branch of this consideration was the locale.
For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the
fieldsu0097but it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of
space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident:u0097it has
the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in
keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded
with mere unity of place.
determined, then, to place the lover in his chamberu0097in a chamber rendered
sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The room is represented
as richly furnishedu0097this in mere pursuance of the ideas I have already
explained on the subject of Beauty, as the sole true poetical thesis.
locale being thus determined, I had now to introduce the birdu0097and the thought
of introducing him through the window, was inevitable. The idea of making
the lover suppose, in the first instance, that the flapping of the wings
of the bird against the shutter, is a "tapping" at the door, originated
in a wish to increase, by prolonging, the reader's curiosity, and in a
desire to admit the incidental effect arising from the lover's throwing
open the door, finding all dark, and thence adopting the half-fancy that
it was the spirit of his mistress that knocked.
made the night tempestuous, first, to account for the Raven's seeking admission,
and secondly, for the effect of contrast with the (physical) serenity within
made the bird alight on the bust of Pallas,20
also for the effect of contrast between the marble and the plumageu0097it being
understood that the bust was absolutely suggested by the birdu0097the bust
of Pallas being chosen, first, as most in keeping with the scholarship
of the lover, and, secondly, for the sonorousness of the word, Pallas,
the middle of the poem, also, I have availed myself of the force of contrast,
with a view of deepening the ultimate impression. For example, an air of
the fantastic u0097approaching as nearly to the ludicrous as was admissibleu0097is
given to the Raven's entrance. He comes in "with many a flirt and flutter."
Not the least obeisance
made heu0097not a moment stopped or stayed he,
In the two stanzas which follow,
the design is more obviously carried out:u0097
But with mien of lord or
lady, perched above my chamber door.
Then this ebony
bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
effect of the dénouement being thus provided for, I immediately
drop the fantastic for a tone of the most profound seriousness:u0097this tone
commencing in the stanza directly following the one last quoted, with the
By the grave and stern decorum
of the countenance it wore,21
"Though thy crest be shorn
and shaven thou," I said, "art sure no craven,22
Ghastly grim and ancient
Raven wandering from the nightly shoreu0097
Tell me what thy lordly
name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"23
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly
fowl to hear discourse so plainly,24
Though its answer little
meaningu0097little relevancy bore;25
For we cannot help agreeing
that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with
seeing bird above his chamber dooru0097
Bird or beast upon the sculptured
bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the Raven, sitting
lonely on that placid bust, spoke only, etc........From
this epoch the lover no longer jestsu0097no longer sees any thing even of the
fantastic in the Raven's demeanor. He speaks of him as a "grim, ungainly,
ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore," and feels the "fiery eyes" burning
into his "bosom's core." This revolution of thought, or fancy, on the lover's
part, is intended to induce a similar one on the part of the readeru0097to
bring the mind into a proper frame for the dénouementu0097which is now
brought about as rapidly and as directly as possible.
the dénouement properu0097with the Raven's reply, "Nevermore," to the
lover's final demand if he shall meet his mistress in another worldu0097the
poem, in its obvious phase, that of a simple narrative, may be said to
have its completion. So far, every thing is within the limits of the accountableu0097of
the real. A raven, having learned by rote the single word "Nevermore,"
and having escaped from the custody of its owner, is driven, at midnight,
through the violence of a storm, to seek admission at a window from which
a light still gleamsu0097the chamber-window of a student, occupied half in
poring over a volume, half in dreaming of a beloved mistress deceased.
The casement being thrown open at the fluttering of the bird's wings, the
bird itself perches on the most convenient seat out of the immediate reach
of the student, who, amused by the incident and the oddity of the visiter's
[visitor's] demeanor, demands of it, in jest and without looking for a
reply, its name. The raven addressed, answers with its customary word,
"Nevermore"u0097a word which finds immediate echo in the melancholy heart of
the student, who, giving utterance aloud to certain thoughts suggested
by the occasion, is again startled by the fowl's repetition of "Nevermore."
The student now guesses the state of the case, but is impelled, as I have
before explained, by the human thirst for self-torture, and in part by
superstition, to propound such queries to the bird as will bring him, the
lover, the most of the luxury of sorrow, through the anticipated answer
"Nevermore." With the indulgence, to the utmost extreme, of this self-torture,
the narration, in what I have termed its first or obvious phase, has a
natural termination, and so far there has been no overstepping of the limits
of the real.
in subjects so handled, however skilfully, or with however vivid an array
of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness, which repels
the artistical eye. Two things are invariably requiredu0097first, some amount
of complexity, or more properly, adaptation; and, secondly, some amount
of suggestivenessu0097some undercurrent, however indefinite of meaning. It
is this latter, in especial, which imparts to a work of art so much of
that richness (to borrow from colloquy26
a forcible term) which we are too fond of confounding with the ideal. It
is the excess of the suggested meaningu0097it is the rendering this the upper
instead of the undercurrent of the theme u0097which turns into prose (and that
of the very flattest kind) the so called poetry of the so called transcendentalists.27
these opinions, I added the two concluding stanzas of the poemu0097their suggestiveness
being thus made to pervade all the narrative which has preceded them. The
under-current of meaning is rendered first apparent in the linesu0097
"Take thy beak from
out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
will be observed that the words, "from out my heart," involve the first
metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, "Nevermore,"
dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated.
The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematicalu0097but it is not
until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of
making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance is permitted
distinctly to be seen:
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore!"
And the Raven, never
flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas
just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the
seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him
streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that
shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be liftedu0097nevermore.
Additions to a manuscript, such as comments or new words.
Actor, character. Here Poe views the writer as performer.
Goal, objective; desired effect.
operandi: Method of operation; the methods Poe uses in writing.
paribus: Latin for "all other things being equal" or "all else remaining
Having to do with the soul; psychical; beyond the reach of physical processes.
Lost: Epic poem by John Milton. To access the study guide for this
work, click here.
Crusoe: Novel by Daniel Defoe. To access the study guide for this work,
Words repeated in a poem or song at certain intervals, such as at the end
of a stanza.
A deduction, conclusion, or proposition asserted based on previously presented
Paradise, heaven, Eden.
System used to write verse (poetry), a collection
of lines that follow a regular, rhythmic pattern.
Octameter. See Meter.
Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom.
. . . wore: Look on its face.
Plutonian shore: The narrator believes the raven is from the shore
of the River Styx in the Underworld, the abode of the dead in Greek mythology.
u0093Plutonianu0094 is a reference to Pluto, the god of the Underworld.
hear . . . plainly: The narrator is surprised that the raven can speak.
. . . bore: The raven's answer made little sense.
Person who believe that every human being has inborn knowledge that enables
him to recognize and understand moral truth without benefit of knowledge
obtained through the physical senses. Using this inborn knowledge, an individual
can make a moral decision without relying on information gained through
everyday living, education, and experimentation. One may liken this inborn
knowledge to conscience or intuition.
Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned
at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless coupleu0097John
Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was
believed to be Poeu0092s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the
Allans and was enrolled in schools there. After he returned with the Allans
to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University
of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies
at either school.
Questions and Essay Topics
beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his
young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined
the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while,
he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his
poem u0093The Ravenu0094 in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international
fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented
the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an
outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never
really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several
people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble
paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing
cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
Read the information under Background,
which lists the views of Poe on how to complete a literary work. Which
of his views do you agree with? Which of his views do you disagree with?
Explain your answers.
Poe writes, "My next thought
concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be conveyed: and here
I may as well observe that, throughout the construction, I kept steadily
in view the design of rendering the work universally appreciable." What
does he mean by "universally appreciable"?
Write an essay about how Poe
applies the principles in "The Philosophy of Composition" to several of
his short stories, such as The Black
Cat, Ligeia, Morella,
and The Tell-Tale Heart.
Write an essay about how Poe
applies the principles in "The Philosophy of Composition" to several of
his poems, such as Annabel Lee,
Helen, and Annabel Lee.