The driving rhythm of “The Raven,” created by Poe’s careful use of rhyme and meter, gives the poem its signature hypnotic sound and creepy atmosphere. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBB, and the B rhyme is always an “or” sound (Lenore, door, nevermore, etc.). Most lines use trochaic octameter, which is eight metrical feet (sixteen syllables) that follow the pattern of stressed then unstressed. However, all the lines with the B rhyme scheme are catalectic—incomplete lines that drop the last, unstressed syllable. The final line of each stanza is also catalectic, written in trochaic tetrameter, or four metrical feet following the pattern of stressed then unstressed. In Poe’s 1864 essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” the writer describes how he chose this combination carefully in order to create something original in the poem’s structure. Originality mattered deeply to Poe, and he strongly believed, as both a writer and critic, that careful, intentional composition was at the heart of good art. Although Poe drew inspiration for the meter from a poem called “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” by the British poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which also uses trochaic octameter, the originality, as Poe explains in his essay, comes from combining the octameter and tetrameter with the catalectic feet. Poe also uses his rhyme scheme intentionally. The scheme contains more B lines than any others. This repetition of words that rhyme with “Lenore,” including the bird’s refrain of “nevermore,” highlights the relentlessness of the speaker’s grief and creates a mesmerizing and haunting effect on the reader.
Buy The Raven from Barnes & Noble.