“The Philosophy of Composition” is an essay written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1846 where he talks about how he writes poetry, specifically focusing on his famous poem, “The Raven.” It was first published in Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia.
About the Author
Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer known for his dark and mysterious tales. Born in 1809 in Boston, Poe had a troubled childhood. After his parents’ death, he was adopted by a wealthy merchant named John Allan. Poe showed early signs of brilliance and excelled in his studies, but his introverted nature and superiority led to few friendships.
At the age of seventeen, Poe attended the University of Virginia but soon fell into gambling and drinking, causing his step-father to withdraw him from the university. He published a collection of poems in 1827 but struggled financially and enlisted in the army. Poe served as a soldier and rose to the rank of sergeant major before his discharge.
Following his military service, Poe pursued a literary career, focusing on both poetry and prose. He gained recognition after winning a contest for his short story “Manuscript Found in a Bottle.” Poe’s reputation grew when he became an editor for Graham’s Magazine, where he published his eerie and macabre tales.
Despite his literary success, Poe faced harsh criticism and struggled with personal demons. He battled with alcoholism and suffered from the loss of loved ones. His life was marked by financial difficulties and constant relocations.
Poe’s most famous works include poems like “The Raven,” “Lenore,” and “Annabel Lee,” as well as stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” His writing style was concise, and he believed that a poem should be short.
Unfortunately, Poe’s life took a tragic turn. In 1849, he was found in a distressed state and was taken to a hospital, where he passed away at the age of 40. His death remains a mystery to this day.
Edgar Allan Poe’s biography and literary life were characterized by his brilliance as a writer, his troubled personal life, and his lasting impact on the genre of horror and suspense. Despite facing numerous challenges, Poe’s unique and haunting tales continue to captivate readers to this day.
Poe starts by emphasizing the importance of creating a unified emotional or intellectual response in the reader through a poem. He believes that every element of the poem should contribute to this effect. Poe describes how he carefully chose the subject matter and setting of “The Raven” to achieve the desired tone.
Poe also emphasizes the need for a deliberate and meticulous plan when writing a poem. He argues against the idea that poetry is a result of inspiration or spontaneous creation and instead advocates for careful reasoning and consideration of all aspects of the poem to maximize its impact on the reader.
Additionally, Poe highlights the significance of brevity and a powerful ending in a poem. He believes that a poem should be concise and tightly structured, avoiding unnecessary elements that might distract from the intended effect. He explains his decision to end “The Raven” ambiguously, as he believes it intensifies the emotional impact on the reader.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” is an essay that explains his technique for writing his poem “The Raven” and serves as a model for composing poetry. Poe, known for his gothic stories and psychological dramas like “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” was also a journalist and literary critic. In 1845, he published a collection of poems called “The Raven and Other Poems.”
According to Poe, the primary goal of any literary work is to create a total emotional and intellectual impact on the reader. He believes that brevity is essential for achieving this impact and considers it a distinctive feature of a poem’s beauty. Poe believes that poetry, like prose, can convey truth and passion. Singleness of idea, simplicity of design, and a focused plot contribute to the total effect, but they are means to an end. The writer’s focus should be on the reader’s mind, not just the words themselves.
Poe argues that a poet should study the fundamental laws of their art and approach the composition with meticulous attention to detail, similar to a painter or sculptor. He believes that poetry arises from the sentiment of Poesy, which is the sense of beauty and the sublime that elevates the soul. Poe exemplifies this sentiment by exploring the melancholy and beauty in the death of a beautiful woman, which he considers the most poetic topic.
Poe considers the lyric poem to be the highest form of literature, a rhythmic creation of beauty that combines the qualities of music and poetry. He suggests that the union of poetry and music offers the widest field for poetic development.
Poe outlines the steps a poet should follow in composing a poem. He believes that a poem loses its impact if it becomes too long and suggests aiming for a specific length, such as his poem “The Raven” with 108 lines. Poe also emphasizes the importance of choosing the right tone, often one of sadness, to achieve the highest manifestation of beauty. He introduces the idea of using a refrain, like the word “Nevermore” in “The Raven,” to create a powerful effect.
Poe carefully selects the indoor setting of a lover’s chamber for the poem, providing a circumscribed space that frames the incident like a picture. He explores the symbolism of the Raven, going beyond its literal representation as a bird. Poe warns against an excess of suggested meaning when developing a theme, as it can turn poetry into prose.
Poe was a meticulous critic who understood the fundamental principles of his craft. He possessed a highly sensitive nature, expressing strong likes and dislikes for books, authors, and works of art. However, he consistently adhered to the principles he outlined in his deliberate theory.
The essay discusses the process of writing, with Poe using his own poem, “The Raven,” to express his thoughts on this topic. The theme of the essay, therefore, is the process and principles of writing poetry. Poe explores his approach to creating poetry, particularly focusing on his famous poem “The Raven.” He emphasizes the importance of unity of effect, the deliberate selection of subject matter and setting, careful planning and construction, brevity, and the significance of the ending. The overarching theme revolves around the idea that writing poetry involves careful thought, intentionality, and a meticulous understanding of the desired emotional and intellectual impact on the reader.
“The Philosophy of Composition” provides valuable insights into Poe’s artistic process and his belief in the significance of meticulous planning and deliberate construction in creating successful poetry. It offers a deeper understanding of his approach to writing and sheds light on the thought and effort he put into crafting his renowned poem, “The Raven.”