Poe’s Use Of Diction Born in 1809, losing his parents and contact with his siblings before the age of three, Edgar Allen Poe had no idea that he was destined to be a great writer. Before he mysteriously died in 1849, he wrote many tales, including poems and short stories, which immortalized his name. The Raven was one of Poe’s greatest poems that brought him much fame. Poe’s The Raven displays his poetical prowess through the use of his method to writing, diction and literary techniques. Like others held in the spotlight, Poe’s talent and works were analyzed by critics.
A few critics thought his popularity was just luck; however, other critics acknowledged Poe’s intellect. Poe, in response to some criticism on his construction of The Raven, wrote his Philosophy in Composition, as seen in Macdonald’s book (116-128). His purpose was to prove that a standard pattern to writing existed in The Raven. Poe began The Raven with his common theme of death which is prevalent in many of his works. In the case of this poem, it is a person mourning the death of his beloved.
This theme most likely originated from his unstable family life as a child and the diminishing health of his wife who gave him emotional stability. These circumstances possibly led Poe to drink alcohol and take drugs, as suggested by Braddy, and influenced him to create such a morbid theme (1-6). Next, Poe decided on a word to center the poem around; this word was nevermore. Braddy suggested that Poe devised this word because he would soon never be able to hold his wife, Virginia, again (10). Poe held steadfast to his method and needed a person or thing to say this word.
He first thought of a parrot, but then moved onto the idea of a raven, which presented more of a morbid feeling. Lastly, he determined to make the raven monotonously repeat the word in order to help create the mood. Now the writer needed a character to interact with the raven and a setting for the poem to take place. Here, Poe used his theme to compose a character. The protagonist would be a man who lost his lover and has not yet stopped mourning over his beloved. The character’s pain was only increased through interaction with the bird, which consistently repeated a single word (Halliburton 1).
Poe further developed this by confining the man to his bedroom where everything around him reminded him of his lost lover. Poe then started to develop the body of his poem, keeping in mind the ideas he wanted to represent. Poe introduced a rapping (Macdonald 77) that drove the man crazy as he desired to see his beloved again. Soon, Poe intensified the insanity of the character with the raven, by making the man believe the raven was actually answering his questions. As the protagonist believed the monotonous raven, he grew more frustrated and saddened at the reality that he would never see his beloved again.
As Braddy wrote, the refrain of the raven –‘Nevermore’– mirrored despair perfectly (10). Poe still kept every occurrence in his poem within the limits of the real (Thompson 100). By skillfully and systematically writing The Raven, Poe proved that a poem could be popular by critics and the public, simultaneously. The great poet appealed to the critics and the sophisticated with the poem’s hidden meanings and by following his method. Poe attracted the public’s attention because everyone could relate to the pain of a bereaved lover.
In order for a poem to be effective, Poe believed that it cannot be too short or too long. With either extreme, the effectiveness of the tale is greatly diminished. (Jacobs 436-443) Poe’s diction played a major role throughout The Raven. Choosing the perfect words, such as nevermore, was vital to the development of The Raven. Without the words he had chosen, Poe most likely would have lost a great amount of effect to his poem.
Diction had a major part in creating the atmosphere, or mood, of the poem. He used pondered, wrought, implore and peering to replace bland synonyms that were neither as effective nor as forceful. Also, words such as lore in place of tale, were utilized in order to help create end rhyme. These examples are only a few among the many words chosen by Poe that create his desired effect. With diction, Poe was able to utilize certain literary techniques. Through the poem’s progression, Poe makes use of the refrain of nevermore.
However, in his eighteen stanza poem, the first stanza alone displays internal rhyme, end rhyme, alliteration and assonance. All of these devices contribute to the smoothness of the poem and to the ease with which it is read: Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary. Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore– While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door ‘T is some visitor, I muttered, tapping at my chamber door– Only this and nothing more. (Macdonald 77) The first, third and fifth lines all clearly display internal rhyme with rhyming pairs like dreary..and weary. Lines two, four, five and six distinctively show the end rhyme of lore, door, and more. The alliteration of the letter ‘w’ in line one and that of the ‘n’ in line three are easily detected.
Poe’s use of the repetition of initial letters of words within in a line undoubtedly increased the fluidity of the poem significantly. Plus, he used a more subtle method to create the same effect as alliteration, as seen by assonance. An example of his assonance linking different words is seen and heard in this phrase: ..volume of forgotten lore-. Here, Poe connected two different examples of assonance with the word forgotten. This word contains the same ‘o’ sound as the first two words and the same ‘or’ sound as the last word.
Though each literary device has its own job, as a whole, the poet used them to help the poem to flow smoothly. In addition, all of these techniques, with their basis in diction, help to create the mood. With the ability to create such a vivid tone, Poe could then keep the readers interested throughout the poem. As shown, Poe’s diction paved the way for the use of literary techniques in his poem. Poe’s own popularity proves his method to The Raven successful.
He also possessed a masterful use of diction that gave life to poetic devices in his poem. Poe, with great dexterity, wrote this famous poem with a particular style that conveyed his universal theme: obsession over a lost loved one leads to madness or depression. With works of literature like The Raven, Poe undeniably became a highly notable writer of his time, who is still recognized today. English Essays.