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Poe's Conception of Poetry as Pleasure

In his 1836 "Letter to B--," Edgar Allen Poe contends that the object of poetry is pleasure, not truth; moreover, the pleasure should be indefinite rather than definite, consisting of romantic images whose sensations are ambiguous and whose effects present beauty as a "transpersonal or archetypal entity." (Knapp 48) In "The Philosophy of Composition," dated ten years later, Poe expands on his original notion by restricting the means by which indefinite pleasure can best be achieved within the framework of the poem: "[The] pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most pure, and the most elevating, is...found in the contemplation of the beautiful." (Poe 16)

Beauty, for Poe, is juxtaposed with the passion of the human soul--not necessarily a passion for a specific woman, but a melancholy longing frequently symbolized by the type of passion between the speaker and his lost Lenore in the poem "The Raven." Knapp argues that "beauty is the essence and core of ["The Raven"]; [it is the essence of] its universality and its meaning." (Knapp 47) The project here is to analyze the theme of "The Raven," exploring the ways in which it achieves Poe's ideal of Beauty as indefinite pleasure, and by linking indefinite pleasure to the ideal of unfulfilled desire.

Throughout the poem Poe uses details of setting and plot to emphasize a spatial and temporal ambiguity that creates indefinite pleasure. From the first line the reader knows that it is midnight, the point exactly halfway between the finite and the infinite, or the "inner and outer realm." (Knapp 82) The month is December, the time between old and new. The light in the room doesn't come from a kerosene lantern, as one might expect in the room of a scholar studying in 1845; rather, it comes from "dying ember[s]," which suggests a world that is half light, half dark. How can the speaker see enough to read? Is there light enough for the speaker's perceptions to seem credible...

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Poe's Conception of Poetry as Pleasure. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:15, May 25, 2020, from