In his essay “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846), Edgar Allan Poe describes how he composed his lyric poem “The Raven” by following a series of predetermined steps. My essay shows how Poe's description of composition as rule following both has suggestive affinities with and significantly alters the Oulipian understanding of constraints as axioms that precede composition. Looking closely at Poe's earlier essay “Maelzel's Chess-Player” (1836) and the way it anticipates more recent debates in artificial intelligence, I show how Poe's (1984d [1846]: 13) constraint, as stated in “The Philosophy of Composition,” “I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect,” is a matter of concealing a decade of experimentation in previous magazine essays with the effect of a poetry-making algorithm.

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