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A Discussion of Beauty Within the Work of Edgar Allan Poe

An in-depth analysis of the way in which beauty is portrayed within the work of Edgar Allan Poe.


According to Edgar Allan Poe, ?Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem.? Examine ONE or TWO poets studied on the course in the light of this statement.


When examining the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe it is strikingly evident that the notion of aestheticism was key to his intentions as an artist. However, Poe?s statement that ?Beauty is the sole legitimate province of a poem?(1) leads his reader to question as to what exactly Poe meant by the word ?Beauty?.

Much of Poe?s work concerns personal loss or tragedy, with the theme of the ?death of the beautiful maiden? (2) acting as the perfect vessel for an exemplum of the creation of beauty through the agony of loss. Poe was obsessed with his exploration of the human psyche, and it was only when he examined the inner depths of human despair that he found a niche powerful enough for the exploration of what he believed to be truly a beautiful subject. When referring to the ?death of the beautiful maiden,? particularly in relation to his own experiences, the poignancy of his subject offers substantial bearing to the argument that the cold calculated manner Poe claims in his Philosophy of Composition to have adopted as a creative process may in fact be created as the foundation of an elaborate semi-hoax.

Poe?s notions of beauty lie within his intentions to encapsulate and astound his reader, providing them with a subject so raw and delicate, portrayed through language so ornate, that he is able to take hold of his audiences psyche and allow them to share in the most wrought and heartfelt of his narrators emotions. In short, the beauty of Poe?s poetry does not simply lie within the presentation of his literature as a beautiful object, but in the conveyance and sharing of an emotional experience so remarkable that it could only be termed an act of unparalleled beauty.

For Edgar Allan Poe, ?poetry was a passion, not merely a purpose? (3) whilst his prose dealt with mystery and suspense, manipulating his audiences emotions, his poetry was used to convey emotion to his audience. It is documented that he was a dedicated scholar of the literary form, determined to be successful in the popular market (3) whilst indulging in his own exploration of the human psyche. He was a writer with a profound passion for innovation and discovery. In his satirical ?Sonnet-To Science? Poe apparently mocks the way in which ?scientific spirit destroys beauty? (4) however it becomes clear through analysis of this text that Poe is in fact paying tribute to the way in which a comprehension of beauty can be furthered by an authors increased understanding of his subject. The poem was ?a self conscious attempt to combine the rational with the irrational?(5) in an attempt by to Poe better portray himself as a student of the psychology of human thought as opposed to simply an instigator of emotion.

Poe?s interpretation of beauty is further revealed by his thoughts relating to the appropriate length of poetry. For Poe, in order that a subject may remain beautiful, it must be portrayed as being but a fleeting glimpse in the eye of the beholder, or in Poe?s case, the mind of the reader. It was imperative to Poe that a poem, in order to sustain it?s beauty, must be read in one sitting, any longer and ?it flags?fails?a revulsion ensues?and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.? (6)

If we examine ?The Raven,? Poe?s most famous and widely critiqued poem, we can see many of the key themes and concerns employed by it?s author, in regards to the portrayal of beauty, brought into practice. A grotesque narrative poem, ?The Raven? indulges in elaborate symbolism, dramatising the semi-conscious psyche (2) of it?s narrator as it seeks to portray the emotion of a man seeking escape from the hold grief has upon him at the loss of his beloved ?Lenore?, and in turn convey this emotion to it?s reader. Poe makes unusual use of literary techniques such as alliteration, and a complex rhyme scheme to set the poem aside from other works before and aft. The intricate nature of the poem?s carefully constructed rhythm portrays the work of a man obsessed with the aesthetic qualities of his writing. The beauty of the poem itself lies not only within its narrative flair, ornate form or indeed its sophisticated execution, but also within the way in which it draws the reader into sharing the narrators heightened state of emotion. Poe?s expert manipulation of the poems rhythmic and flowing metre allows him to mimic the semi-conscious state of his narrator. In his Philosophy of Composition Poe details what he claims to be the step-by-step process with which he constructed the narrative of his poem. He depicts his creative process to be more akin to the workings of a mathematical equation than the poignant work of a tortured creative mind. ?the work proceeded step by step, to its completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.? (1)             However the progression of Poe?s work in relation to the events of his life belie this claim. It is hard to believe that the construction of such a heartfelt work might be solely attributed to such a cold and calculated creative process. ?The Raven? was written at a particularly traumatic point within Poe?s life, with his much-adored wife?s health in severe decline. As a result, it is difficult to exclude the influence of Poe?s own emotion from the factors attributing to the development of the text.


When examining the most heartfelt aspects of Poe?s poetry, it is impossible to leave out ?Annabel Lee.? Written in dedication to the memory of his young wife, this poem epitomises the very essence of the personification of beauty within Poe?s work.

Poe saw poetry as the deepest form of literary expression; he referred to the ?contemplation of the beautiful? (1) through poetry as ?pure elevation of soul.? (1)

A die-hard romantic, (2) there were fewer things more beautiful to Poe than his young wife, a woman he cared for deeply and nursed for five years through her sporadic but assured decline of health. ?Annabel Lee? deals with the key theme of the death of a beautiful maiden, however this time, in comparison to other works, such as ?The Raven? the poem is far more intimate in its discussion of it?s narrators loss. As readers, it is important to consider that many of the most beautiful moments within our lives, are also many of our most intimate moments. Be they moments of ecstasy, anguish, rejoice or sadness, many are so intimate that we wish to share them only with the fewest of people. It was Poe?s exploration of the tortured emotional state of his narrator during these most personal of times that allowed his readers to feel a genuine emotional identification with his narrator, and thus was a key factor in the portrayal of beauty within his text. This beauty was conveyed not only on an aesthetic, but also on a highly spiritual level. Poe saw the writer, within the confines of his work, as holding a position akin to that of God. (7) He saw them as an omnipotent creator, and thus felt that it was the duty of the writer to ensure that all his creations epitomised the notion of perfection. In his essay ?A Fissure of Mind? David Grantz states that ?Poe believed that the artist should make his creations as perfect as possible--in a godlike manner, unencumbered with baggage superfluous to the intended effect. The artist, Poe believed, should emulate the methods of God.? (7) This comment goes some way to offering an insight into the importance Poe placed upon the notion of aesthetic perfection within his work. As well as the notion of an author?s ability to re-create the emotions and trauma felt by his protagonist, within the mind of his reader.

The narrative of the poem ?Annabel Lee? shares a man?s most traumatic and disheartening of experiences, with an audience of infinite numbers. An act of courage upon the behalf of its author that should not be ignored. It has been remarked that ?Poe's writing to some degree served as therapy for his soul's own trials? therefore it is reasonable to assume that an element of the beauty of the poem itself, relates directly to the fragility of Poe?s spirit at the time when he created it.

It is apparent, through analysis, that Edgar Allan Poe?s poetry, is created, not only as a source of immense beauty, but also as a means of the expression of an author?s emotion. Whilst many authors of Poe?s time used their talents for the purposes of propaganda, Poe centred his themes around a single purpose; to manipulate the subconscious psyche of his audience. Poe succeeded in achieving such omnipotent status over his audience, encircling them in an astounding metaphysical world of tantalizing heightened emotion, a world crafted with such precision as to provoke but one motive as to the nature of it?s existence, a world created with the sole intention to convey upon every level, the true essence of beauty.


1511 Words



(1) Edgar Allan Poe. ?The Philosophy of Composition?  ?Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition? p1597-1605

(2) Dr Celeste-Marie Bernier ? Lecture on the work of Edgar Allan Poe ? 19/10/04

(3) Franklin, Wayne, ed. et al. Introduction to the work of Edgar Allan Poe. ?Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition? p1507-1510

(4) Franklin, Wayne, ed. et al - Footnotes to ?Sonnet to Science.? p1510 ?Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition? p1510?

(5) Bernier, Dr Celeste-Marie ? Lecture on the work of Edgar Allan Poe ? 22/10/04 

(6) Poe, Edgar Allan? ?From The Poetic Principle.?  ?Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition? p1606-1607

(7) Grantz, David? ?A Fissure of Mind: The Primal Origins of Poe's Doppelganger as Reflected in Roderick Usher?



Bernier, Dr Celeste-Marie. Lectures on the work of Edgar Allan Poe                  (19th Oct 04 and 22nd Oct 04)


Grantz, David. ?A Fissure of Mind: The Primal Origins of Poe's Doppelganger as Reflected in Roderick Usher? http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/fissure/


Nilsson, Christoffer. ?Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" Poe's symbol of "Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance," as treated in the world-famous poem, and Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition." http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/raven/

Poe, Edgar Allan. ?Annabel Lee? ?Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition.? 1849 1524

---.?To Helen.? 1845. 1510-1511

---.?The Philosophy of Composition.? 1846. 1597-1605

---.?From The Poetic Principle.? 1850. 1606-1607

---.?The Raven.? 1845. 1519-1521


Unknown Author. ?Poe?s Poetry, The Raven? http://www.nadn.navy.mil/EnglishDept/poeperplex/raven.htm                        (23rd Oct 04)

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