Knowing Poe: The Literature, Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe... In Baltimore and Beyond



Maryland Public Television
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Poe the Perfectionist
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Poe the Perfectionist
The Poetic Principle
Click image above to launch the interactive

Imagine you are sitting in a car and your favorite song comes on the radio. Unfortunately, the stereo settings seem to be messing up your favorite tune, so you begin to adjust the treble and base levels, fiddle with the speaker balance, and fine-tune the volume. In other words, because you care about the song and how it sounds, you're trying to perfect your listening experience, right down to the last detail.

Poets are perfectionists too. Instead of treble and base levels, speaker balance, and volume, though, poets adjust things like structure, punctuation, and word choice to perfect their creations. They will rewrite poems half a dozen times or more — changing a comma here, a word or phrase there — all in an attempt to get just the right feelings and ideas from their mind onto the page.

What kinds of changes do poets like Poe make when they're revising and perfecting a poem? To give you a better idea, here are three drafts of one of his earliest poems, "The Lake." Poe first published "The Lake" in 1827 when he was just 18. The final draft was published in 1845, 18 years later. In between, he published the poem several other times. The 1829 version shows the most notable changes.

Launch the interactive and look at the three versions of Poe's poem "The Lake." By clicking the buttons above the poem, you can choose to look at:

  • The Lake - See the poems just as they appeared in 1827, 1829, and 1845.
  • Changes in Structure - See how the title and stanza spacing changes over time.
  • Changes in Punctuation - See how Poe used commas, dashes, semicolons, and periods to tweak the rhythm and meaning of the poem.
  • Changes in Word Choice - See how Poe modified, changed or added words and phrases in the different versions of the poem.
  • All Changes - See all the changes in structure, punctuation, and language at the same time.

As you are examining the different versions, think about these questions:

  • What exactly has been changed here? Is it different in all three versions, or is it the same in one of the other versions?
  • Why do you think Poe changed this part of the poem?
  • How does the change affect the rhythm of the poem? How does it affect the meaning?
  • Do you like the change Poe made? Would you have changed it this way? If not, what editing suggestions would you make instead?




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