Networks & The Liberal Arts

Network Models of Rhyme: The Raven

Posted in Digital Humanities, Literature, Networks by telombardi on August 8, 2013

During a digital humanities seminar at Washington & Jefferson College, a colleague, Jennifer Harding, asked me the following question:

Have you ever seen graph theory applied to poetry?  Ever since I learned about graphs, I’ve thought that “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe would make a beautiful graph if such a thing were possible….Is this the kind of thing that would lend itself to a graph?

After contemplating the question for a while, I tried to model the rhyme scheme with the following rules:

1) nodes represent words;

2) we draw a link between two words when a) the words rhyme and b) the words are in the same stanza.

3) if two words meet the criteria specified in step 2 in more than one stanza, then we increment the weight on the link connecting those words.

The application of these rules to “The Raven” produces the following graph.


This graph highlights some interesting things:

1) “nevermore” is located in the largest component;

2) “nevermore” has the highest degree centrality.

In his Philosophy of Composition, Poe claims to be looking for “some pivot upon which the whole structure might turn.”  He later concludes that this word should be “Nevermore”.

Our model has essentially captured the role of “Nevermore” as the pivot upon which the poem’s structure turns.

This exercise served as a tutorial in network modeling for the digital humanities seminar at Washington & Jefferson College.  Moreover, the tutorial was extended for a digital humanities course to explore the possibility of using network models to test hypotheses in the humanities and arts.

If you find this post interesting, then be sure to check out THATCamp Pittsburgh on October 5th and 6th at Chatham University.


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