The Poetic Principle
"The Poetic Principle" is an essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...

 by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

, written near the end of his life and published posthumously in 1850, the year after his death. It is a work of literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

, in which Poe presents his literary theory
Literary theory
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...

. It is based on a series of lectures Poe had given late in his life.


The essay argues that a poem should be written "for a poem's sake"
Art for art's sake
"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendering of a French slogan, from the early 19th century, l'art pour l'art, and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function...

 and that the ultimate goal of art is aesthetic. He also argues against the concept of a long poem
Long poem
The long poem is a literary genre including all poetry of considerable length. Though the definition of a long poem is vague and broad, the genre includes some of the most important poetry ever written....

, saying that an epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

, if it is to be worth anything, must instead be structured as a collection of shorter pieces, each of which is not too long to be read in a single sitting.

The essay critiques, sometimes rather sharply, the works of other poets of his time. His most common complaint is against didacticism
Didacticism is an artistic philosophy that emphasizes instructional and informative qualities in literature and other types of art. The term has its origin in the Ancient Greek word διδακτικός , "related to education/teaching." Originally, signifying learning in a fascinating and intriguing...

, which he calls a "heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

". Though Poe is referring to poetry here, it is believed that Poe's philosophy against didacticism extends to fiction.


The essay was based on a lecture that Poe gave in Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence is the capital and most populous city of Rhode Island and was one of the first cities established in the United States. Located in Providence County, it is the third largest city in the New England region...

 at the Franklin Lyceum. The lecture reportedly drew an audience of 2000 people.

Some Poe scholars have suggested that "The Poetic Principle" was inspired in part by the critical failure of his two early poems "Al Aaraaf
Al Aaraaf
"Al Aaraaf" is an early poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1829. It is based on stories from the Qur'an, and tells of the afterlife in a place called Al Aaraaf...

" and "Tamerlane
Tamerlane (poem)
"Tamerlane" is an epic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the 1827 collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. That collection, with only 50 copies printed, was not credited with the author's real name but by "A Bostonian." The poem's original version was 403 lines but trimmed down to 223 lines...

", after which he never wrote another long poem. From this experience, Poe surmised that long poems are unable to sustain a proper mood or maintain a high-quality poetic form and are, therefore, inherently flawed. Critics have suggested that this theory was written so that Poe could justify why "Al Aaraaf" and "Tamerlane" were unpopular.

Publication history

"The Poetic Principle" was published in the Home Journal, in the series for 1850, no. 36, August 31, 1850, with an introductory note by Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis , also known as N. P. Willis, was an American author, poet and editor who worked with several notable American writers including Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He became the highest-paid magazine writer of his day. For a time, he was the employer of former...


External links

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