First Page Project Gutenberg Header Page 164 of 172 Next Page Last Page THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION - Complete Poetical Works

"Prophet," said I, "thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil!

By that heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore,

Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

I composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness, and importance the preceding queries of the lover, and secondly, that I might definitely settle the rhythm, the metre, and the length and general arrangement of the stanza, as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this in rhythmical effect. Had I been able in the subsequent composition to construct more vigorous stanzas, I should without scruple have purposely enfeebled them so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.

And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected in versification is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere _rhythm_, it is still clear that the possible varieties of metre and stanza are absolutely infinite; and yet, for _centuries, no man, in verse has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing_. The fact is that originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought and, although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.

Of course I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or metre of the "Raven." The former is trochaic--the latter is octametre acatalectic, alternating with heptametre catalectic repeated in the _refrain_ of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrametre catalectic. Less pedantically, the feet employed throughout (trochees) consists of a long syllable followed by a short; the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet, the second of seven and a half (in effect two-thirds), the third of eight, the fourth of seven and a half, the fifth the same, the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these lines taken individually has been employed before, and what originality the "Raven" has, is in their _combinations into stanzas;_ nothing even remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.

The next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover and the Raven--and the first branch of this consideration was the _locale_. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the fields--but it has always appeared to me that a close _circumscription of space_ is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident--it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place. Next Page

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