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Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Philosophy of Composition".


- beauty and truth are incompatible

- the aim of fiction is Truth, i.e. the satisfaction of the Intellect

- the aim of poetry is Beauty, i.e. an intense and pure elevation of soul, not of intellect or of heart

- emphasizes forethought: every plot must be elaborated to its precision before anything is attempted with the pen

- denies some other poets' claim that they compose by a species of frenzy


- claims that his poem "The Raven" was composed by applying the following points:

(1) Extend

- a long poem is in fact a succession of brief poems and of brief poetical effects

- limits the length of a poem to about 100 lines that can be read in a single sitting

(2) Effect

- the effect of a poem must be Beauty, not Truth (demands precision), and not Passion (demands homeliness)

- Truth and Passion are antagonistic to Beauty

- consciousness should be filled with the object

(3) Tone

- sadness, melancholy

(4) Artistic Effects, or Points

- keynote (refrain) must be monotone both in sound and thought

- the refrain must not be repeated by a human being, but by a beast

- rejects the idea of a parrot and prefers the raven

- the raven in equally capable of speech and is more in keeping with the intended tone

- the raven is also a bird of ill omen

- the refrain is pronounced at the moment when it has the meaning

- a close, to have force, must be sonorous (must include [o] and/or [r])

(5) Subject

- the most melancholy topic is death, the most poetical topic is Beauty

- the best subject for a poem is the death of a beautiful woman

(6) Locale, or Setting

- it must be a close circumscription of space

- prefers indoor setting



- trochaic rhythm, octameter

- not original in itself, but the combination into stanza was never attempted before


- the raven is introduced by tapping at the door

- the student adopts the half-fancy that is is the spirit of his mistress


- contrast between the marble of the bust of Pallas and the plumage of the raven

- contrast between the whiteness of the bust and blackness of the bird

- Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, is related to the scholarship of the lover

The Plot

- first: the student's nonchalance

- then: his superstition

- finally: his self-torture

The Climax

- the student's address to the raven whether the lovers will meet in another world


  • Author

    Poe, Edgar Allen. (1809 - 1849).
  • Full Title

    "The Philosophy of Composition".
  • First Published

    In: Philadelphia: Graham's Magazine, 1846.
  • Form


Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Philosophy of Composition". (1846). In: The Harper American Literature. Ed. Donald McQuade et al. 2nd Compact Edition. NY: Harper & Collins, 1996.


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