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During the American literary movement known as Transcendentalism, many Americans began to looking deeper into positive side of religion and philosophy in their writing. However, one group of people, known as the Dark Romantics, strayed away from the positive beliefs of Transcendentalism and emphasized their writings on guilt and sin. The most well-known of these writers is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was a dark romantic writer during this era, renown for his short stories and poems concerning misery and macabre. His most famous poem is “The Raven”, which follows a man who is grieving over his lost love, Lenore. In this poem, through the usage of tonal shift and progression of the narrator’s state of mind, Poe explores the idea that those who grieve will fall.
Poe utilizes a gradual change in diction as the poem progresses. Initially, he begins the poem with melancholic diction when the narrator is falling asleep: “while I pondered, weak and weary,” “nodded, nearly napping,” and “of someone gently rapping” (1-4). The utilization of alliteration in these lines supply a song-like rhythm, which is soothing to the reader. This usage of diction conveys a mellow tone. Further into the poem, when the increasingly agitated narrator becomes vexed at the raven, he lashes out at the bird. Here, he states, “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! / Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! / Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door! / Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” (98-101). Here, his uses archaic words and phrases such as “thee,” “Night’s Plutonian shore,” and “thy soul hath”. This usage of unorthodox language creates a theatrical, dramatic, and climactic effect, which leads to an impassioned tone. By presenting both tones, Poe is able to show the contrast between the two. This transformation from a tone that is mellow to one of frustration and anxiety represents the spiraling downward of the narrator’s mental state.
This change in tone echoes the emotions and mental state of the narrator. At the beginning of the poem, the narrator starts somewhat nervous. However, at the end, he is left insane and delusional. When he hears a knocking at the door, he logically pieces that it is most likely a visitor at the door.
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Poe utilizes shifts in tone and the mental deterioration of the narrator to convey the theme that people who do not move on will spiral down into their own misery. Although Poe did not exactly fit in with many other writers during the period known as Romanticism, he has secured a spot the most famous and beloved of the Dark Romantics.