Death and Spirituality in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe

Essay, 2018

8 Pages, Grade: A



Criticism in Literature

A successful literary piece would be one that would provoke a response in the form of emotion, contemplation and conversation. Responses in the form of criticism may come from educated backgrounds on the matter and be explicitly explained and documented or they may come from coincidental audience which will base its assumptions on more superficial approaches.

There are certain ways that criticism can be expressed and that mainly concerns the way the work is viewed and examined. Some of the widely used critical approaches are: The Formalist criticism (focuses on the text itself and its features); the Historical criticism (deals with the historic environment in which the work was created); Psychological criticism ( this form of criticism is concerned with how the psychological state of the creator is a factor in the creation process); Sociological criticism (about the culture, political and economic context in which the work was created); Biographical criticism (is based on the fact that every piece is created by a person and that that person’s life has everything to do with the result).

Even though a separate examination of a work on each of these aspects would definitely be a more “tidy” one, it would be very unfair to ignore features that add to the work by remaining focused on a single one of these aspects of a work.

Historic and Biographical elements

Edgar Allan Poe was born in January of 1809 and is one of the most well-known writers of poetry and short stories. He was also a known a literary critic during his time and an editor for other writers’ work.

Poe’s life was a turbulent one since he did not have a stable family environment. His father left them when he was one and his mother died of an illness a year later. His uncle took him in but things between them were never easy. Nevertheless Poe was well educated in various institutions but had at times a very erratic behavior. He indulged in a life of drugs, drinking, alcohol and gambling thus making his economic situation even more difficult.

After his fiancé left him for someone else he moved to Boston and worked as clerk and newspaper writer. His step mother’s death was kept from him since his relationship with his step-father never got better. His brother death though in 1831, was the event that made him commit to his writing career. In 1835 he secretly married his cousin Virginia who also died of an illness. His drinking became worse after his wife death. He became antisocial and often made serious accusations concerning other writers.

In 1845, his poem "The Raven" was published in the Evening Mirror and was an instant success. The pome established the poet’s name but did not bring him any noticeable financial gain. Poe died on October 7, 1849, after he was found on the street in a distress state and delirious. He never got to explain how he got to that state and some report that his last words were "Lord, help my poor soul!"


Death and the loss of loved ones had been a recurring event in the writer’s life and that is widely embedded in his work. His work has often been characterized as gothic and people who indulge in the mysteries of death have great admiration for the poet. The dark atmosphere and the eerie ambience often refer to the unseen spiritual world. One of Poe’s poem in which the two worlds seem to meet is the “The raven” which was first published in 1845 and was an instant success.

Form and structure “The Raven” is a narrative poem. A young student who recently lost his beloved is visited by a talking raven with which he makes a somewhat unsettling conversation since the raven speaks only one word.

The poem’s highly detailed organization cannot go unnoticed since it is a main element of the things that made it what it is. It has a rhyming scheme which is repeated throughout the poem. Featuring also an internal rhythm gives the poem a musicality and makes it alluring and captivating to the reader.

In more detail the poem features words that rhyme, not only at the end but also in the middle of lines. Also the assonance of the sound “or” make its musicality more intense and is very difficult to be missed especially because of “Nevermore”

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There are 8 pairs of syllables in the first and third lines –“octameter” - and the emphasis is placed on the first syllable of the pair called a “trochee” since the meter Trochaic Octameter. Second, fourth and fifth lines are left with 15 syllables stressing this way the sound “or” even more.

In addition to mythological and religious references, language is specifically dramatized to stress the overloaded emotional state of the speaker. This lets the reader sense the immensity in which he is feeling his pain, the loss and how close he is to madness. Another fascinating fact is that as the intensity of the narration grows, the more intense the words and the rhythm of the poem become. A pounding, drum beat like sound comes to a peak and then disappears as though the end has finally arrived. All hope is gone, all questioning is in vain.

Process of writing - “The Philosophy of Composition” 1846

Critics talking about Poe strongly claim that the writer’s life experiences greatly affected his writing. Poe lost two mothers and a wife but also his brother and a fiancé to another man. Very often the “death of a young woman” appeared in his poems as a theme but in general his writing was characterized by darkness and mystery.

However, the poet himself has stated that “The Raven” was a product of careful planning in “The philosophy of composition” which he wrote in 1846. In this general piece on how fine work should be produced the writer uses “The Raven” as an example and focuses on three key elements that make a piece successful. These are the length of the work, the impressions made and the writing tone.

As far as the size is concerned, Poe states that “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” (164). In other words, the work must be read as a whole in order to have the desired effects. When talking about the impressions made by a piece the poet insists on a work that will be appreciated by everyone and thus would be “work universally appreciable” (164) and he also states that the matter of beauty is the only one that can be considered as the most universal one, taking art to higher levels and it is the one that should be contemplated in every work of art. In order to properly deal with the matter of beauty and create the desired effect he states that there is no other proper tone than the melancholic one.

Poe also offers other information on the poem such as that he especially made it to be both popular but also of critical taste. He admits to taking influence from other writers like the talking raven from the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty by Charles Dickens and also the rhythm and meter of the poem from Elizabeth Barrett's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship". He gives special gravity to the use of a “Refrain” which added so much to the poem’s structure, musicality and internal rhythm. “The Raven” as a whole was considered as a novelty for the time and the word “Nevermore” was heard on the streets and even used in public speeches.

The selection of the theme is very well explained by the author. Claiming to be searching for the most melancholic topic of life he concluded to death and consequently the most poetic of all deaths to be that of a beautiful woman. In his own words : “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.”(165)


Excerpt out of 8 pages


Death and Spirituality in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
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ISBN (eBook)
death, spirituality, raven, edgar, allan
Quote paper
Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2018, Death and Spirituality in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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