Edgar Allan Poe?s ?The Philosophy of Composition?


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Shortly after Edgar Allan Poe had completed his masterpiece, “The Raven” and sold it for $15 in 1845, he composed an essay entitled “The Philosophy of Composition”. In the essay, he claims that writing a poem was a methodical process, much like solving a mathematical problem. Poe emphasized that a poem should be read and enjoyed in one sitting, thus concluding that a poem should be around 100 lines long (The Raven was 108 lines long). Poe also states that his method of writing a poem consists of writing it backwards. Each section of the poem relies heavily upon alliteration and alternating interior rhythms.
     Poe used a method to appeal to both popular and critical tastes by hitting upon the most melancholic of all subjects: the death of a beautiful woman. "The death…of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world – and equally is it beyond the doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover". Of all the themes, he chose death, because it was an emotion that everyone can relate to. Poe believed that the most poetic use of the theme death was the death of a beautiful woman. Having the theme and subject planned out, he composed his poem backwards, adding uses of the word “nevermore”. The alliteration of “nevermore” builds tension, stanza by stanza. Poe wanted to create poetry of feeling, to be able to relate the reader with the narrator.
     However, it has been suggested that “The Philosophy of Composition” was a hoax, and it is unlikely that it is an account of his poem, “The Raven”. Scholars are skeptical because he enjoys revealing his secrets a little too much in that he loved to explain and analyze his writing skills.

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He was likely to have come up with the idea of this essay when he was writing “The Raven”. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, because the importance of the essay is the fact that it presents a theory of composition and a new perception of Edgar Allan Poe.


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