“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,” (1)
Here the poet creates suspense because the person in the poem is thinking deeply. Pondering deep thoughts puts the reader in suspense because one wonders what those thoughts are. In the initial line of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” suspense is created more than once, because the fact that the reader doesn’t know what’s making the person in the poem weak. Suspense and tension are common aspects of gothic literature.
In the Raven the disheartened narrator is searching for a way to bring back his deceased wife by scanning through black magic books. Whilst doing this along comes a raven. The narrator thinks it can help him but the raven only answers with the enigmatic word ‘nevermore.’ The narrator is left in madness and is haunted by the raven at the end of the poem.
In this essay I will be comparing and contrasting Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” with another gothic poem, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s “The Erlking.” I will also show how the two create suspense and tension. They both create suspense and tension in there poems by using a series of poetic devices.
In “The Raven” Edgar Allan Poe uses a complex rhyme scheme to give a hypnotic rhythm which enhances the poems suspense.
‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (AA) (1-6)
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten love, (B)
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, (CC)
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. (CB)
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door, (B)
Only this and nothing more.”‘ (B)
Edgar Allan Poe, in his poem, “The Raven,” creates a highly tensioned, imbalanced atmosphere through his use of repetition and a carefully chosen internal rhyme scheme. Poe repeats key words to make them stand out. In stanza 2 he repeats the word ‘Lenore’ to distinguish that it is something important. Poe, using this repletion creates a feeling of mystery of who or what this person might be, therefore making one want to read on and find out. This implies suspense because one does not know who Lenore is. After that the word is then repeated eight more times.
“And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!” (28)
“This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” (29)
“Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!” (82)
“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!” (83)
“It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— (94)
“Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” (95)
Each time Poe repeats the word it recalls ones thoughts about Lenore and further deepens the reader into the poem and strengthens the mystery behind Lenore and who she is.
Another phrase that is excessively repeated is “nevermore.” Poe repeats this over and over, especially in reference to Lenore. As a result, he successfully makes the reader believe that she might come back. By stating the opposite, and repeating it many times, Poe places huge emphasis on what might happen, adding to the suspense and leading the reader deeper into the poem. Poe’s use of repetition forces readers to become attached to the poem.
On the other hand, Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe employs a simple rhyme scheme to establish rhythm in the poem, therefore creating suspense for the reader.
“The father shudders, faster he rides, (A) (29-32)
Holding the moaning child so tight, (A)
Reaching the house, in fear and dread, (B)
But in his arms the child lies dead.” (B)
This stanza may not seem to rhyme because this is an English translation. The original version is in German in which it rhymes perfectly.
Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind, (29-32)
Er hï¿½lt in Armen das ï¿½chzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Mï¿½h’ und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot
This poem was intended as a fairytale, that is the reason for Goethe’s simple rhyme scheme, so that young children would be able to read and understand it easier. Hence the reason why he used simple words and not complicated ones. It also has a repetitive rhyme scheme, so one can anticipate the next rhyming word. This anticipation creates suspense and drags one further into the poem.
Both poems have characters in them to help put one into suspense and tension; both poems have antagonists that do this. In the Erlking the mythological creature, the Erlking is the antagonist. This is also known as the conflict. The problem in the story. The Erlking creates suspense because we do not know if he kills the boy or what he does to the boy.
“Father, my father, he’s gripped me at last!” (27)
“The Erlking’s hurting me, holding me fast!”(28)
This quote of The Erlking explains how the Erlking creates suspense because we do not know what the Erlking is doing to the boy and one would want to read on to find out what happens. It makes us think about many things that the Erlking may be doing to the boy. Whether it is that he kidnaps the boy or molesters him. We do not know if the child will get away from the Erlkings’ tight grasp of him, therefore making one want to read on deeper into the poem. Edgar Allan Poe similarly uses his characters to add to the suspense. In the raven the antagonist or the conflict in the poem is the raven. Similar to the Erlking we do not know whether the raven is real or whether it has supernatural powers.
“Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s plutonian shore!” (47)
“Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” (48)
“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting” (103)
“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming;” (105)
The above show how Poe suspense in his poem. He does this because he leaves us in suspense to the true identity of the Raven at the end of lines 47 and 48. Also at the end of lines 103 and 105, Poe leaves one in terrific suspense because we do not know whether the Raven was real or not.
Another way that both Poe and Goethe similarly create tension and suspense are at the end of the poems which gets one to really think about it. In Goethe’s poem, he creates suspense at the end because we don’t know whether the Erlking was real or whether the child was hallucinating. We also do not know how the boy died. This, therefore gets the reader to think about the poem and leaves them puzzled and in suspense at the end of the poem.
“”The father shudders, faster he rides, (29)
Holding the moaning child so tight, (30)
Reaching the house, in fear and dread: (31)
But in his arms the child lies dead.” (32)
The above stanza does not explain the way that the boy died. This leaves one in suspense because we do not know whether the Erlking was real and killed the boy or whether he just died from an illness.
Correspondingly, Poe’s readers are also left in suspension at the end of the poem. He does this because we don’t know whether the raven is real or not or whether the man is just crazy.
“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting (103)
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; (104)
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming, (105)
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming windows throws his shadow on the floor; (106)
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor (107)
Shall be lifted — nevermore!” (108)
At the end of the poem the man is left in madness from the Raven. However the reader is left in suspense because we do not really know whether the Raven was real or not or whether the man was just crazy from losing his wife, Lenore. This leaves one in suspense because it at the end of the poem it is relieved but one would still want to know whether the man was going to get his long lost Lenore back.
Both poets use many poetic devices to create suspense and tension in their poems. However Goethe uses a rhetorical question in his poem to create suspense and tension.
“Who rides so late through the wind and night?” (1)
This use of a rhetorical question would put one in suspense because we do not know who is riding so late through the wind and night therefore making one want to read on and drags the reader further into the poem. It also creates tension because one would be scared of what it might be that is out there when it is late and dark.
Both poems include alliteration to generate suspense in their pieces of work.
Goethe uses alliteration in the Erlking to produce suspense.
“…Many gold garments has my mother.” (12)
This quote has alliteration included in it. “Gold garments,” adds to the rhythm of the poem and establishes more rhythm and increases the suspense and intension of the poem making one want to carry on further reading the poem.
Poe also uses alliteration in his poem, The Raven, to add to the suspension in it.
“… While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,”(3)
This quote also has alliteration in it. “Nodded, nearly napping,” adds to the rhythm of the poem and makes it faster. This establishes rhythm to the poem just like Goethe did in his. Rhythm increases the suspense of the poem making one more excited and wanting to read on more.
Both poems also embrace onomatopoeia in their poems to create suspension.
Goethe uses onomatopoeia in his poem, not that many times but still successfully constructs suspension in his poem.
“…What the Erlking’s whispering in my ear?” (14)
The above quote creates suspension with the word whispering. One would feel as though the words are being whispered to them and the onomatopoeia creates sound images therefore building up tension and suspense because they feel as though they are the ones that are being whispered too, this makes them want to read on and find out what he whispered to the boy.
Poe also uses onomatopoeia to add to the suspension to the poem. Nevertheless he uses it more frequently than Goethe does.
“…And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!” (28)
“…This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” (29)
“But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,” (21)
“And so faintly you came tapping-tapping at my chamber door,”(22)
In these quotes the onomatopoeia words are: whispered, murmured, rapping and tapping. All of these words all add up to creating sound imagery and sound imagery builds tension and suspense. When they use the word whispered when it makes one think that the word is being whispered to them so they feel connected to the poem and will make them want to read on. They will feel as though the word Lenore is being whispered in their ear and they do not know who she is so they will want to read on to find that out. When they use the word tapping it creates sound imagery for the reader and they feel like someone is tapping on their own door. They do not know who it is that is tapping on the door so by creating sound imagery will make the reader want to be in the poem therefore creating suspense. It also creates tension because they do not know who is tapping on the door and it could be someone or something scary behind the door although they still want to find out.