“The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Structure and form:

Since listening to the expressive voice of that great actor, Vincent Price, reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” I have been intrigued by its form and structure, and in particular, the rhyming pattern of the lines that make up each stanza. A little research through several different poetry sites gave some interesting information, which I hope you too may find of interest.

Written by Edgar Allan Poe and published in 1845, “The Raven” is a poem of eighteen stanzas. Each stanza is constructed from six lines which Poe claimed were a mixture of forms, “octameter acatalectic” (lines 1 and 3) “octameter catalectic” (lines 2,4,and 5) and “tetrameter catalectic” (line 6)

“Octameter acatalectic:” is a line of eight meters, each meter composed of two poetic feet – 16 syllables.

Octameter catalectic:” a line of eight meters, each of two poetic feet, but the final foot is omitted – 15 syllables.

Tetrameter catalectic” a line of four meters, each of two poetic feet but the final foot omitted – 7 syllables.

All lines are “trochaic” meaning each line of the poem should be read with stress on the first syllable followed alternately by one unstressed and one stressed syllable to the end. On the catalectic lines, finishing on a stressed syllable adds emphasis to that line.

The first stanza could be written showing the stressed syllables in red and unstressed in black as:


 Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,   8 …… 8 (16)

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,                         15

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,   8 …… 8 (16)

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.         8 …… 7 (15)

“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door                     15

Only this, and nothing more.”                                                                 7

Rhyming scheme is: 

  • A-A,
  • B,
  • C-C,
  • C-B,
  • B,
  • B:

taking into account the internal rhyme in lines 1, 3, and 4. In every stanza, the rhyme marked B – the catalectic lines – rhymes with the last syllable of the word “Nevermore.” The missing syllable emphasises the stressed rhyming syllable.

Poe also claimed he based the structure for his poem on the complex rhythm and rhyme of a poem by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning which he reviewed in January 1845. Title of the poem is “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship.” This is an epic poem of over 100 stanzas and can be read in its entirety at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/54460/

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