In this essay, I am going to compare and contrast the two famous poems, ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe and ‘The Erlking’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Raven is a one hundred and eight line poem about a lonely man who is unstable after losing his wife and comes across a raven who only speaks the word, “nevermore”. The Erlking is a poem about a man in a small girl’s nightmare as he torments her but nobody else can see him.
There are many similarities and differences between the two poems. Both poems have a gothic atmosphere and can be compared strongly in this way. However, both are of different lengths and differ fro9m each other. In this essay, I am going to discuss how the two poets create tension and suspense and make a conclusion after studying these poems.
The first element I am going to compare and contrast is the storyline of the poem and the impression it is meant to have on its reader.
I am going to start by analysing each poem individually and then make a small conclusion when I will see how they are similar and how they differ. I will be using this structure for each point I will discuss.
I will start by analysing ‘The Raven’. The main principle of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem was to have a lasting effect on its reader. Shortly, before he wrote ‘The Raven’, Poe’s wife had been diagnosed with an illness.
This illness was later the cause of her death soon after he had finalised is poem. It is said that this poem is his forecast of what was going to happen to his wife. This is, therefore, the reason why he chose a raven to be the main character, because it was thought to be the most evil bird. The Raven is meant to be a representation of Edgar Allen Poe reflecting his responses to the bad news of his wife.
The Erlking is a very dark poem and starts by giving a notion that the boy is simply imagining the Erlking and is dying of a strange disease. However, the poem takes a sinister twist when the boy dies at the end of the poem. Goethe had many reasons of writing such a dark poem. Such a reason is that the night before he wrote the poem he saw a local farmer carrying a bundle. This turned out to be a man who was carrying his sick child to hospital. This was where the main inspiration for the storyline for the poem of the Erlking came from. Also in German mythology there is meant to be a spirit/ supernatural power that is meant to cause controversy and ruin the minds of children. These two factors were merged together to make the Erlking.
They are both dark poems and want to create a mysterious mood for the reader. Both had an individual reason of why they were written but then their similarity grew because they had the same atmospheric impression.
The second point I am going to examine is the linguistic techniques used by the poets. The Raven has a lot of alliteration and is used very frequently. Examples of this alliteration is:-
“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,”
“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain”
Both are examples of alliteration but in different ways, one very simple and the other has more complexity. The first quote is just three consecutive words starting with the same letter. The second quotation, on the other hand, uses two words consecutively starting with the same letter. However, the third word is part of the alliteration. The ‘un’ is not part of the alliteration but the second part is. Although this part of the word starts with a ‘c’, it is pronounced as the letter ‘s’. This is still part of the alliteration because this poem was obviously written to be read aloud.
The Erlking is very different to the Raven, in this way, as it does not contain hardly any alliteration used for boosting the atmosphere. The Erlking does use a linguistic technique that the Raven does not use as much is repetition. An example of this is:-
“Dear father, oh father, and do you not see,”
This is a technique very similar to alliteration as it created the same type of tension and both are meant to be read fairly slowly. Later on in The Erlking, this repetition phrase is repeated, showing that there is ‘internal’ repetition (with the word ‘father’) and also ‘phrasal’ repetition.
The third I am going to consider is the rhyming scheme of each of the poems. The Erlking has a different rhyming scheme to the Raven. The Erlking’s rhyming scheme is a very common one but the one of the Raven is very peculiar.
Many poems have the rhyming scheme the same as the Erlking because it is very basic. This rhyming scheme is:-
An example of this rhyming scheme in the poem is:-
1. Who rides so late where winds blow wild?
2. It is the father grasping his child;
3. He holds the boy embraced in his arm
4. He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.
The rhyming scheme of the Raven is very different and unusual, not many poems have the same rhyming scheme. This rhyming scheme is:-
An example of this rhyming scheme is:-
1. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
2. Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
3. While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
4. As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door-
5. “‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door.
6. Only this and nothing more.”
The two poems differ greatly in their rhyming schemes and have similarities. The Erlking has a very simple rhyming scheme with only two lines that rhyme out of the four. However, the Raven has a much more complex rhyming scheme with internal rhymes as well as end-of-line rhyming. The Raven’s rhyme scheme, however, has an effect on how the poem is read. The Raven is a very gothic poem and this rhyme scheme changes the way the poem is read, especially when the enunciation is used. The Erlking is very different and is a lot easier to read, compared with the Raven. This could mean that the poem is meant for a younger audience because of the simplistic reading ability needed.
The other issue I am going to study is the excess of patterning. The Raven uses this several times, however, the Erlking does not. Excess of patterning is when a sound is repeated in a line to give an emphasis of those particular words.
An example of this in the Raven could be:-
“Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,”
This quotation from Poe’s poem gives emphasis on the description to make this highlighted when the poem is read. This could have been a good technique that could have been added to the Erlking poem to make a part of the poem more prominent.
The final factor I am going to consider is the length of the poems. The Raven is considerably longer than the Erlking. The Raven being 108 lines long compared to the Erlking which is a mere 32 lines long. The length of the Raven allows Poe to go into a lot of depth in his descriptions. However, this style of writing does not suit the Erlking as well. The reason for this is that the Erlking is meant to leave questions unanswered and a sense of mystery. If it had gone into the depth that the Raven did in its length, this would have been taken away.
Over all, I can see that both poems are very individual but still contain some similarities. Both poets had very different inspirations of why they wrote their poem but they still had a very similar atmosphere that was created. They also use different linguistic techniques, although they create a very parallel effect. I can see that Edgar Allen Poe uses many more techniques in his poem than Goethe does, this may be because the Raven is longer and may have more room to use more effect without ‘over-doing’ them.