The poem Israfel is rather inspired and there are several sources throughout literary history on which Poe could have depended for inspiration. However, the rendition of the myth related to Israfel is very original on the poet’s part. Hence the opening lines of the poem which can be considered as the prelude of the poem belongs to the category of the “mythos” – a story in a system of hereditary stories of ancient origin which were once thought to be true by a particular cultural-religious group which served to explain the intentions and actions of deities and supernatural beings in relation to earthly customs and observations.
Poetic or Literary Devices in Israfel
- At the beginning we can note an instance of assonance. The term assonance is referred to the repetition of similar or identical vowels which are chiefly stressed in syllables in a sequence of nearby words. For example, we must note the frequent long s in these opening lines of the poem –
‘In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
“Whose heart-strings are a lute”;
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel’
- In order to express the heights of the angel’s musical excellence, Poe makes use of the literary device, metaphor. In a metaphor, expression is used in the form of words when denoting one kind of a thing to a distinctly different kind of thing, without citing a comparison. For example, in the lines –
‘That Israfeli’s fire
Is owing to that lyre’
The ‘fire’ metaphor denotes to the passionate music of Israfel and the ‘lyre’ metaphor denotes to the heart of strings of the angel.
- The poet has made rampant usage of paradox in his poem so as to better portray the conflicting worlds of the immortal and the mortal. A paradox refers to a statement which apparently seems to be by reason absurd or contradictory, yet becomes interpretable in a way that makes sense. An instance of this is found in these lines of the poem –
“And the shadow of thy perfect bliss
Is the sunshine of ours.”
Here, ‘shadow’ and ‘sunshine’ being contradicting elements, come together to make perfect sense with the help of the words and ‘thy’ and ‘ours’, thus justifying the contradiction and making the difference clear.
- Personification as a literary device has been used by the poet to animate the celestial sphere and bring to life the myth of Israfel. The term personification has been derived from the Greek word, prosopopeia, in which an abstract concept or an inanimate object is described as though it were equipped with human characteristics or feelings. For example, here in this poem the moon has been endowed with the characteristics of a feminine entranced lover who can “totter” about in the sky looking and blushing for her beloved –
In her highest noon,
The enamoured moon
Blushes with love”
- In this poem, we can also detect an illustration of the hyperbole. This particular trope or figure of speech has been derived from the Greek term of ‘overshooting’. The hyperbole is an exuberant exaltation of fact and plausibility, or the gallant overstatement of an ordinary situation. For example, in this poem, the poet so as to stress on the angel’s effect upon the emotions of his audience, has created a hyperbole in the line –
“With thy burning measures suit”
Here “burning measures” denotes rising passionate feelings among the ecstasies, but it is an exaggeration because the angel’s music is not literally causing fire.
FORM AND STRUCTURE: RHYME SCHEME
The structure of the poem is lyrical and rhythmic to create escalating emotions amongst its readers. It is divided into eight asymmetrical verses and contains fifty-one lines in total.
Although it is composed in iambic feet the poem ‘Israfel’ varies in meter complemented by end rhyme in which several of the lines in each stanza rhyme together. The metre of the poem, like its fervour, surges and ebbs to rise again.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is irregular and each stanza has its own rhythm. In stanza 1, the poem follows the rhyming pattern of ABAAAAB, in stanza 2, it is ABBACCCC and in stanza 3, it is ABAABAB. The following stanzas 4, 5, 6 and 7 are shorter in the number of lines and follow the pattern of ABACBC, ABAABA, ABAABA, and ABBAB respectively. The final stanza of the poem is again a little lengthy and ends on seven line pattern of AABABAB.