Philosophy of Composition

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Edgar Allan Poe (1809—1849) American short-story writer, poet, and critic


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Critical essay by Poe, published in Graham's Magazine (1846). It purports to describe the author's usual procedure in composing poetry and is mainly devoted to an analysis of “The Raven” as an example of this procedure. Among the famous dicta announced in the essay are: “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 impression. …What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones”; “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem”; “Beauty … in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all poetical tones”; “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” Poe further discussess his principles of versification, use of a refrain, diction, and imagery, and the primary importance of the climax (“The Raven,” stanza 16), which was written first so that every effect in the poem should lead in its direction.

Subjects: Literature.

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