The nineteenth century poet Edgar Allen Poe makes use of several literary devices in order to create a gloomy atmosphere in his poem “The Raven”. Alliteration, rhyme, onomatopoeia, assonance, and repetition are used to contribute to the melodic nature of the work and provide an almost “visual” representation of his gothic setting. Poe is a master of using these writing techniques. “The Raven” is one of his most popular works. This is certainly due, in part to his use of these literary devices in this piece.
The poem tells of a narrator who is reading an old book in his parlor when he is interrupted by a knock at the door. The protagonist is in a period of grieving over the loss of his love, Lenore. At first, he wonders who the visitor might be and resolves to inform him or her that he is indisposed at the moment. The narrator finally opens the door only to find no one there.
He returns to the chair (which Lenore will no longer occupy), only to hear the rapping again. He decides that the sound may be coming from the window, so he opens it. A raven enters through the window and lights upon a bust of a mythological figure that the narrator has in his room. The narrator questions the raven concerning its name, the bird answers “nevermore”. This startles the speaker, and he wonders aloud if the bird will leave him just as all of his friends seem to do. Again, he is answered by the raven “nevermore”.
As the protagonist progressively becomes more and more upset with the situation, he decides that the raven must go. He even demands that the raven leave. The response “nevermore” is once again given by the bird, which refuses to go. The narrator finally concludes that his soul is inextricably tied to this foul beast and he is to be forever tormented by it.
The melodic nature of the poem and its very gloomy tone is reinforced by Poe’s choice of words and the sound effects that they convey. By the use of rhyme, the poem is made to flow much like a song when read aloud. For example, the second line and the last three lines of every stanza rhyme with each other. Many other internal rhymes are also found within the lines of the poem. In fact, the first line of the poem contains an internal rhyme “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary”. Another example is found in Line 31 which reads “Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,” The poem is rife with such examples. Poe also uses repetition to accentuate the musical quality of “The Raven”.
Obviously, the repeating of the word “nevermore” is used throughout the work not only to convey a sense of musicality, but to suggest the melancholy theme of this piece due to the connotations that the word expresses (lines 48, 54, 60, 72, etc.). Poe also uses repetition in other sections of the poem. In lines 16 and 17, we read “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; – Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;” In these lines, we get the impression that the speaker is trying to reassure himself that there is no sinister force at work, but simply a visitor at his door. Edgar Allen Poe was extremely talented at choosing words which not only support the fluidity of the work while also reinforcing the tone. Alliteration is another literary device which is used throughout “The Raven”.
Alliteration is the repetition of beginning consonant sounds. “The Raven” is full of examples of alliteration. An instance of this device is seen in line 26, in which the “d” sound is repeated: “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;” While another example is found in line 45: “’Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven,’” In the previous sample, the “th” sound, as well as the “sh” sound are used for effect.
Poe craftily uses assonance throughout this piece, as well. Assonance is the repeating of a vowel sound in a line. Line 13 gives us an example of assonance as Poe couples the words “…purple curtain”. Immediately following this, he begins line 14 with the assonant words “Thrilled me-filled me…” Again, we see such a choice of words in line 59: “…hopes have flown…”. However, line 71, gives us perhaps the best example of Poe’s use of assonance when he writes “…grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt…” when describing the bird.
Edgar Allen Poe also employs onomatopoeia in “The Raven”. Onomatopoeia is a technique of using words which imitates the source of a sound which is described. An example is found when the “rapping” and “tapping” upon the speaker’s door and window is described (lines 3,4,5,21,22, and 32). Poe also offers onomatopoeia in line 37, when he uses the words “flirt and flutter” to describe the raven entering from the window. Another fine example is found in line 80 in which the writer mentions the “tinkle” of foot-falls on the floor.
“The Raven” offers a fine example of how the use of sound effects and other literary devices can be used by writers to establish a tone that creates a “mood” within the reader. Poe’s mastery of these tools is quite impressive. He artfully gives an illustration to writers, readers, and students of how to make full use of these implements to create the precise air of dread that Poe desires to convey, while maintaining the beauty of a flowing, melodic poem.