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Essay Questions Poe

  • 1

    How does Poe treat the death of a beloved woman in his poetry (use at least 2-3 sources)?

    "Tamerlane," "Ulalume," "Annabel Lee," "Lenore," and "The Raven" are five poems that all share a similar scenario, where the central focus is on the dead beloved of the protagonist. In each case, the woman has died prematurely, in the flower of her youth and beauty, thus preserving her in her bereaved lover's mind. These men often display elements of both conscious and unconscious obsession with her memory, as when the narrator of "Ulalume" visits Ulalume's tomb on the anniversary of her death, or when the narrator of "Annabel Lee" sleeps by the side of her grave. In many cases, the love of the woman prior to death was more innocent and less macabre than that of the grieving man after the end of her life.

  • 2

    How does the presence of nature influence Poe's poetry (use at least 2-3 examples)?

    In order to understand Poe's aesthetic relationship with nature, we must also understand the Romantic belief that man is more virtuous and in touch with his primal instincts when away from the corrupting influences of society. In Poe's works, this understanding of nature could take a number of different directions. In "Tamerlane" or "Sonnet - To Science," for example, nature is wholly good, and it respectively fosters love and creativity in the human mind. On the other hand, in "Ulalume," the narrator's return to nature merely causes him to unearth his deepest regrets and griefs.

  • 3

    How does Poe incorporate a Gothic setting into his poetry (use at least 2-3 examples)?

    Poe often combined elements of horror, romance, and fantasy in his settings to help create a Gothic atmosphere within his works. For example, "The City in the Sea" takes place in a lonely city in the far west that has no defined origins or specific placement in reality, thus contributing a dreamy but gloomy feeling to the poem. Alternatively, "The Raven" uses the location of a dreary study at night, while the dark corridor outside the room and the rustling of curtains suggest the presence of supernatural attention upon the chamber. In each case, the setting establishes a mood that is receptive to the tensions of horror and terror within the poem.

  • 4

    What is man's attitude toward death in Poe's poems (use at least 2-3 examples)?

    For the most part, the protagonists of Poe's poems fall into one of two categories when discussing the nature of death. In the first category come the characters of "The Conqueror Worm" and "The Raven," for whom death is a final and dreadful sentence that dooms mankind. On the other hand, many of Poe's characters believe that death is not a final event in one's life, as Guy de Vere refuses to cry for Lenore in "Lenore" because he believes he will see her in Heaven, and as the knight of "Eldorado" seeks to finish his life-long quest on the other side of death. In most cases, however, Poe leaves an element of uncertainty in the beliefs of both types of men.

  • 5

    How does Poe incorporate musicality into his poetry (use at least 2-3 sources)?

    Through a number of poetic devices in poems such as "The Bells" and "The Raven," Poe sought to emphasize the musical effect of his poetry when spoken aloud. "The Bells" makes particular use of onomatopoeia in order to highlight the aural imagery of the four different types of bells, while both it and "The Raven" make heavy use of refrains and repetition in order to unify the poems' effect. Poe also frequently used both internal and external rhyme as well as a smooth, though often irregular, rhythm to make his poems song-like in nature. Finally, he often included alliteration and assonance to call attention to key phrases and to the poems' sound.

  • 6

    How does Poe relate the idea of death and decay to the motif of the sea in his poems (using 2-3 sources)?

    The motif of the sea is most noticeable in "The City in the Sea," "A Dream Within a Dream," and "Annabel Lee," where it forms the setting for chilling and devastating scenes. In "A Dream Within a Dream," Poe emphasizes the destructive nature of the sea, which erodes sand with unending tides, whereas he reverses the behavior of the ocean in "A City in the Sea" in order to create a similarly sinister association. For the narrator of "Annabel Lee," the sea is originally a peaceful site that fosters the love between him and Annabel Lee, but after her burial, he is tied to the sea in a purely unhealthy manner, dependent as he is on her memory. In all three cases, Poe connects the idea of the ocean to the most negative effects of death and of time.

  • 7

    How does Poe use classical allusions within his body of poetry (2-3 sources)?

    In his poetry, Poe draws from a number of ancient Greek and Roman sources to add a layer of meaning to his words. For instance, in "Sonnet - To Science," he refers to the Hamadryads, Naiads, and Diana to contrast the products of the human imagination with the nature-killing effects of the science of the Industrial Revolution. In "To Helen," Poe recreates the central female as a classic beauty tending the hearth for a weary wanderer, and Helen's name may itself be a reference to Helen of Troy, whose beauty supposedly sparked a decade-long war. Alternatively, in "The Raven," the raven's choice of the bust of Pallas Athena as a perching spot complicates the narrator's story as it leads the reader to wonder if wisdom lies in the non-sentient raven, in the narrator's ravings, or elsewhere.

  • 8

    How is the female idealized in Poe's writing (at least 2-3 examples)?

    In "To Helen," Poe praises Helen as a steadfast beacon of faith, love, and nurturing for a man who is tired of his worldly travels, and this dependence of the male upon the female is echoed in those works that deal with the man's grieving after the woman's death. Tamerlane remembers his childhood love as someone with a keener instinct about the important aspects of life, and Annabel Lee is adored because she loved with such purity and intensity. After their deaths, the women are often described as fair beauties, and the narrators of the poems almost invariably portray their dead beloveds as bound for Heaven. The narrator of "Annabel Lee" even goes so far as to say that Annabel's love for him made even supernatural entities jealous, thus placing Annabel Lee above the sanctity of the angels.

  • 9

    Using at least 2-3 examples, discuss Poe's exploration of the unconscious mind.

    Poe contrasts the conscious mind with the unconscious mind most clearly in "Ulalume," where the narrator and his psyche have a conversation as he half-accidentally nears the tomb of the dead Ulalume. In this case, his psyche acts as an unreasoning but intuitive actor that attempts to save the narrator from his self-destructive impulses. On the other hand, the narrator of "The Raven" would perhaps be safer mentally if he were to ignore the thoughts of his deepest fears, but the intrusion of the raven causes him to address his subconscious as an animal and a separate individual. In each case, the division of the narrator from himself prevents him from coming to a correct conclusion and ultimately proves detrimental for his sanity.

  • 10

    Discuss the structure of poems that consist of the connection of disparate scenes, such as "The Bells" and "A Dream Within a Dream."

    Poems such as "Tamerlane" and "The Raven" are in the structural sense relatively straightforward, as they feature a central protagonist recounting a story with an exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. "The Bells" and "A Dream Within a Dream," by contrast, are not stories so much as topical groupings through which the author can explore the nature of reality. "The Bells" in particular can be seen as an allegory for the separate stages of human life, where the scenes respectively represent romance, marriage, emergency, and death. The lack of a narrative structure in these latter poems requires a greater attention to thematic and structural unity, and Poe consequently uses refrains and similar patterns of end rhyme in order to integrate his stanzas into coherent wholes.

  • 1. Discuss the use of symbols in Poe's "The Raven."

    This essay should identify the major symbols used in the poem, and discuss what effect each has. The most important symbol is the raven itself, with its dark and gloomy appearance lending a sense of inevitability. Other symbols include the Bust of Pallas, who is the Goddess of Wisdom, and the beautiful chamber, which is reminiscent of the beauty of the lost Lenore.

    2. Explore the parallels between "The Raven" and Poe's own life.

    This essay should focus on Poe's life circumstances at the time of writing, particularly the decline in his wife, Virginia's, health, and the deaths of other women in his life. The sense of doom in the poem should be related to Poe’s pessimism about his own life.

    3. The Raven has an undeniable atmosphere of doom. Discuss how this atmosphere is created.

    This essay should explore how the different elements of the poem combine to create this atmosphere of doom. Elements which should be discussed include the poem’s subject matter, rhyme and meter, symbolism and word choice.

    4. In his essay "The Philosophy of Composition" Poe explored the process he used to write "The Raven." How well does his poem meet the requirements set out in his essay?

    This essay should detail the main elements of a good poem, as enunciated by Poe – namely a single effect, brevity, an impression of beauty and a tone of sadness. Each element should be applied to the poem in question.

    5. Analyze the mood and tone of Poe's "The Raven."

    This essay should focus on the melancholy and dreary mood of the poem. This is created by the choice of words (Gaunt, dreary. . .), the chain of events and the foreboding of the repeated word "Nevermore."

    6. Is "The Raven" just a tale of a talking bird? What deeper themes does it explore?

    This essay should focus on the themes of the poem – beauty,...

    (The entire section is 636 words.)

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