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Archaisms in selected poems

of Edgar Allan Poe

The second edition of the 20th volume of Oxford Dictionary contains full entries of
171,476 words of in current use and about 9, 950 derivative words.

In every language, and so in English, we have words which are used often i.e. daily, and
we have those so-called hidden, old words; words that live only in the old books.

Linguists believe that some words are more popular than others, and psychologists
have proved that our brain is obsessed with words that sound more pleasantly and that
are easier to pronounce.

In the English language, we have about 47,156 old words, so-called archaisms.
David Crystal defined archaism as “a term used in relation to any domain of Language
structure for an old word or phrase no longer in general spoken or written use.
Archaisms are found in poetry, nursery rhyme; historical novels, biblical translations
and place names. Archaic vocabulary in English includes damsel, tither, oft and thee.
Archaic grammar includes the verb endings -est (makest) and -eth (goeth), and such
forms as ‘tis and spake.

The word “archaism” derives from the greek word “archaios” meaning “old-fashioned,
There are two stages in the aging processes of the word:

1. When the word is in the stage of passing out, and also became known as an obsolete
word. E.g. thou, thee, thy, art, ye, sitteth, hopeth, art, hath, wilt, garniture, etc.

2. a)when the words are completely gone out of the use, but they are still recognized.
E.g. methinks, nevermore, nay, aye, etc.

b) when the words are completely gone out of the use, and they are no longer
recognized. E.g. (thegn, thyle, mace, heaf gerefa, gerefa, esne, scop, etc.)
There is one more division:

1.Grammatical archaisms-words no longer in use, because of the development of the

grammar system. E.g. sufffixes -est and -eth, hast, etc.

2. Lexical archaisms-old words found in poems, because they embellish them and give
them some kind of antique form. E.g. fiend, brow, foe, ere, morn, belike, etc.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer,
literary critic and editor. Poe is best known for his short
stories, beautiful poems, especially his tales of mystery
and macabre.

In his poems there are archaisms, which he used to call

up vivid images and amazing worlds in imagination of his

The poems in which we can find archaisms, among the

rest are: Annabel Lee, Lenore, The Raven and The
Annabel Lee
“And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.”


“And so all the night-tide, I lie down by the side

Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride

In her sepulchre there by the sea

In her tomb by the side of the sea.”

“Ah broken is the golden bowl! The spirit flown Adjective + verb + adjective + noun, instead of
forever. adjective + noun + verb + adjective (grammatical
archaic proper).
And, Guy De Ver, hast thou no tear? Weep now or
never more! Hast-have; thou-you

See! On yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love Yon-yonder, that; bier-a movable frame in which a
Lenore! coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or
cremation or on which they are carried to the
Avaunt! Tonight my heart is light! grave.

Avaunt!-go away!
The Raven
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou” Wretch, I cried, the God hath lent thee

I said, “art sure no craven By these angels, he hath sent thee

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from Respite and respite and nepenthe from thy
the night shore memories of Lenore.

Tell me what thy lordly name name is on the Nepenthe-symbolic meaning. It is an allusion to a
Plutonian shore”. mythological drug you take to forget your grief. He
images that the room is filling with a perfume, and
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”. he thinks that God himself has decided to help him
forget his misery.

To Science
“Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art

Who alters with thee peering eyes

Who preyest thou thus upon the poet’s hearts,

Vulture, whose wings are dull realities.”

Preyest (prey + archaic suffix -est)

Dull - boring.
Archaisms are used in the poems of Edgar Allan Poe as stylistic features. Archaisms are
not just old words that only ‘breath in the old books.’ They are words that call up the
vivid images in the reader's imagination, and ”they will often call up the memory of
some old or venerable in which the reader has met with them before and thus they at
once secure the reader's sympathy.” (Jespersen, 227:1905).
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