All poems stand in a tension between sound and sense, because words are the basic tool of poetry, as a poem wants to make sense. At the same time it wants to make music, because words have not only meanings, but also sounds. Furthermore, words arranged in groups have rhythmic risings and fallings when organized by a writer,which we call “rhythm”. The writer can also choose words that echo one another; and when he or she does this,we have still another musical element—rhyme. So any poem will make both the sound and the sense. But poets differ in employing sound and sense is to dominate. Each has his or her characteristic pattern. In Poe’s poems—from his earliest to his last verses—sound prevails. They are filled with rhyme, excessively so, some readers feel. Ulalume, for example, consists of 10 stanzas, and each stanza ranges from 9 to 13 lines; and yet the longest, like the shortest, uses only two rhymes. And, even more remarkably, three of those stanzas use the same two rhymes: the echoes of “sober” and of “sere” (Edgar Allan Poe, The Ulalume, 1847).

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

But our thoughts they were palsied and sere—
Our memories were treacherous and sere—
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year—
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber—
(Though once we had journeyed down here),
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere—
As the leaves that were withering and sere—
And I cried—“It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed—I journeyed down here—

That I brought a dread burden down here—
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber—
This misty mid region of Weir—
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir”.

The result is sometimes that the reader feels himself caught up by the harmonies at the end of each line. What happens is that Poe has assembled the sounds of words and word-groups to furnish music intended to be worth hearing in it. His poems do make sense, but it seems that the intellectual content is often the occasion for the music and the means of transporting the reader to a realm of unearthly beauty. This is what Poe wished. He had very definite ideas of what a poem was supposed and not to do. He tells us in some of his critical pieces that poems are offer moral guidance nor to arouse passions but to be “the rhythmical creation of beauty”. The poet’s duty is to move the readers from the everyday world of fact and boredom into a transcendent world of supernal loveliness. To do so, the poem best casts a spell, and through the artist’s manipulation of echo and rhythm, becomes an incantation which will transport the reader to an ideal realm.

Israfel is an example that demonstrates Poe’s talent in rhymes. Although the rhymes of it are few (each stanza plays with only two rhymes), the potential monotony is relieved, even broken, by the variety in stanza length. The eight stanzas range from five to seven lines and only once two close stanzas are of the same number of lines. The lines themselves are uneven—some two feet long, some three, some four—and occasionally they are “run-over”, and thus mute the other too noticeable rhyme. That is, the sense of some lines forces the reader to move immediately, without pause, into the next line, and in so doing, to soften the awareness of the end-rhyme. For instance (Edgar Allan Poe, Israfel, 1849):

And the giddy stars (so legends tell)
Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
Of his voice, all mute.

Israfel is one of Poe’s most successful poems, partly because the subject is eminently suitable to the musical manipulation of words: an angel, Israfel, who makes the unearthly sort of music that Poe, living in a mortal world, would but cannot hope to compose:

If I could dwell
Where Israfel
Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well
A mortal melody,
While a bolder note than this might swell
From my lyre within the sky.

As a poet, Poe tried all his life to record the music of the heavenly realm, rarely did he totally miss, and he quite succeeded.

Poe had argued that poetry, while inferior to music, must endeavor to approximate its melodies in the rhythmic music of word combinations, repetition, and rhyme. The bells stood out as perhaps the best illustration of Poe’s employment of the techniques of music to poetry; the tension and distortion that highlight the differences among the various bells was the real subject of the poem—its form and its music. His other poetry likewise relied heavily upon the careful arrangement of words in proportional balance based upon sound resonances. Poe had informed us in The philosophy of composition, for example, that he was quite deliberate in selecting the word “Nevermore” as the refrain for The raven. Its melancholic three syllabic monotones resonate perfectly against the despair of the student-narrator. In Poe’s aesthetics, the admixture of music and poetry became a core component of beauty: “It is in music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired with the poetic sentiment, it struggles—the creation of supernal beauty” (Edgar Allan Poe, 1846).

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