In this initial line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” 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 could possibly be. One’s suspense is intensified by the fact the reader also does not know what is 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 his deceased wife back from the dead by scanning through books of black magic. Suddenly, a raven enters the room, interrupting his thoughts. The narrator believes the raven possessing arcane knowledge can disclose the secret of effect, a reunion with Lenore. The Raven, however, answers with the enigmatic word ‘nevermore.’ The narrator is left in madness and, haunted by the raven’s enigmatic words.
In this essay, I will compare and contrast “The Raven,” with another gothic poem, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s “The Erlking.” I will also show how the two poets create suspense and tension in their poems by using a series of poetic devices.
In “The Raven” Edgar Allan Poe uses a complex rhyme scheme to create hypnotic rhythm that enhances the poem’s suspense.
‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (AA)
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) (1-6)
He uses a complex rhyme scheme which often changes the pace of the poem. He is terrified and reassures himself that there is nothing there because he is scared. A Faster pace change is brought on by the consonants therefore creating suspense.
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)
Holding the moaning child so tight, (A)
Reaching the house, in fear and dread, (B)
But in his arms the child lies dead.” (B) (29-32)
This stanza may not seem to rhyme perfectly because this is an English translation. The original version is in German, which rhymes perfectly.
Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind,
Er hï¿½lt in Armen das ï¿½chzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Mï¿½h’ und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot (29-32)
This poem was written in the style of a fairytale, providing a rational reason for Goethe’s simple rhyme scheme, so that young children would be able to read and understand it easier. The repetitive rhyme scheme causes one to anticipate the next rhyming word, creating suspense and engrossing one further into the poem.
Both poems have antagonists that help build suspense and tension. In “The Erlking,” the mythological creature, the Erlking is the antagonist.
“Father, my father, he’s gripped me at last!” (27)
“The Erlking’s hurting me, holding me fast!”(28)
The Erlking creates suspense because the reader is not sure if the creature is real or whether it kills the boy.
Poe similarly uses his characters to add to the suspense. In “The Raven” the antagonist or the conflict in the poem is the raven.
“Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s plutonian shore!” (47)
“Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” (48)
The above quote shows how Poe expresses 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. Similar to “The Erlking,” one does not know whether the raven is real or whether it has supernatural powers.
Another way that Poe and Goethe create tension is at the climax of the poems. Goethe’s poem creates suspense at the end because it is not revealed whether the Erlking is real or whether the child was hallucinating. The reader is also not made aware of how the boy dies, leaving the reader’s tension unrelieved.
Reaching the house, in fear and dread: (31)
But in his arms the child lies dead.” (32)
“But in his arms the child lies dead.” This phrase lets one know that the child is dead but does not tell the reader how or what killed the little boy. This leaves the reader in tension at the end of the poem.
Correspondingly, Poe’s readers are also left in suspense at the end of the poem. He or she remains unenlightened as to whether the raven is real or not or whether the man is insane.
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor (107)
Shall be lifted — nevermore!” (108)
the enigmatic word “nevermore,” tells the reader that the narrators hope of finding Lenore have gone out the window. The reader is left in a huge amount of suspense because one does not know whether he will get to see Lenore ever again. Leaving the poem like this makes one wonder whether the Raven was real or not.
Both poets use many poetic devices to create suspense and tension in their poems. Among these, Goethe uses a rhetorical question to create suspense and tension at the very beginning of the poem.
“Who rides so late through the wind and night?” (1)
This use of a rhetorical question puts one in suspense because he or she does not know who is riding through the park and indecent weather or what motivates them to do so. It also creates tension because one would be frightened of what might encounter on such a night.
Both poems include alliteration to generate suspense.
Although, Goethe uses it sparingly in “The Erlking.”
“…Many gold garments has my mother.” (12)
The alliterative phrase, “Gold garments,” strengthens the rhythm of the poem, increasing the suspense and intensity of the poem.
Poe also uses alliteration in, “The Raven,” to add to suspense.
“… While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,” (3)
this alliterative phrase, “Nodded, nearly napping,” also strengthens the rhythm of the poem and quickens its pace. Rhythm increases the suspense of the poem making one anticipate what is forthcoming.
Both poets also embrace onomatopoeia in their poems to create suspense and tension.
There are only two instances in which Goethe uses onomatopoeia in his poem.
“…What the Erlking’s whispering in my ear?” (14)
The word “whispering” is clearly onomatopoeia, as the reader easily imagines he or she is listening to the words as spoken by the creature. The creature was speaking to entice him or her to accompany it further into the dark woods.
Poe uses onomatopoeia far more frequently than Goethe does.
“And so faintly you came tapping-tapping at my chamber door,”(22)
The onomatopoeia word “tapping,” creates sound imagery for the reader and might feel as though someone is tapping on their own door. They do not know who is tapping on the door so by creating sound imagery will make the reader feel as though they are in the poem, therefore creating suspense.
In conclusion, both poets use similar techniques and poetic devices to create suspense and tension in their poems. Both poets use gothic atmospheres that have an equal effect on creating suspense and tension. However I think that Goethe’s use of poetic devices are more effect than the use of Poe’s poetic devices.