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Analysis of Poem "Bridal Ballad" by Edgar Allan Poe

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

'Bridal Ballad' is one Edgar Allan Poe's early ballads first appearing in the Southern Literary Messenger in January 1837 as 'Ballad'. Four years later, it was published as 'Bridal Ballad' in the Saturday Evening Post.

It's a rhyming poem of five stanzas, and in typical Poe fashion—with iambic and anapestic rhythm—relates the story of a bride who gets married but is uncertain of her happiness. How come? Well, it seems her real love was killed in battle, is able to communicate with her from beyond the grave, making her feel that he may not, after all, be happy.

She will marry another man who offers her material wealth and a nice ring, but inside she's still a brokenhearted woman. Her true love lies cold in the grave, and in reality she's in a kind of limbo, unsure if true happiness is hers.

The overall tone is that of subdued uncertainty which borders on anxiety. The first-person voice—Poe seldom, if ever, wrote poems from a female's perspective—gradually moves in mood from a quiet contentedness to puzzling unease. The final stanza focuses on her deceased former love, whether or not he's happy in the hereafter.

  • In summary, the woman repeatedly tries to convince herself that she is 'happy now'—with her new wealthy husband, with the idea of marriage, with her wedding ring. But deep down she isn't fully committed to the present and the future—she's wrapped up with her former lover and he's dead, though still able to influence her.
  • The reader perhaps has to come to the conclusion that this new bride is in denial, her new happiness is a pretence, and she'll never get over her broken heart. Her deepest feelings will always be attached to him who fell. Is she selling her soul? Is her new marriage an evil step?

Edgar Allan Poe, short story writer, poet and critic could be called a pioneer of dark romanticism, the groundbreaker of gothic fiction and master of the macabre. His work, initially more popular in Europe than in the USA, is now appreciated globally.

As a poet, he is best known for poems such as 'The Raven' and 'Annabel Lee,' again rhyming, rhythmical works darkly gothic, full of romantic imagery.

In his adult life, Poe struggled to come to terms with addiction and mania, creating chaos in his personal relationships. But throughout a somewhat tormented 40 years, women played significant roles.

His mother, Elizabeth, was both an artist and actor and seems to have been the greatest influence. She is said to have been a beautiful woman. But both his mother and father died within a year of one another when Poe was only an infant, leaving him orphaned.

There's no doubting the important role of the female in his work. Note the number of poems Poe wrote with women's names as title:

'To Helen' (1831), 'Lenore' (1831), 'Eulalie – A Song' (1845), 'Ulalume – A Ballad' (1847), 'To Helen' (1848), 'For Annie' (1849), and 'Annabel Lee”'(1849).

Poe's chaotic personal struggles from an early age are well known, and we can only speculate as to whether his literary output would have been so much 'lighter' had he no psychological and emotional demons to exorcise. Suffice to say, his work has survived the test of time and is as popular as it has ever been.

"Bridal Ballad" by Edgar Allen Poe

The ring is on my hand,
And the wreath is on my brow;
Satin and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
And I am happy now.

And my lord he loves me well;
But, when first he breathed his vow,
I felt my bosom swell-
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
And he kissed my pallid brow,
While a reverie came o'er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D'Elormie,
"Oh, I am happy now!"

And thus the words were spoken,
And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken,
Here is a ring, as token
That I am happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
For I dream I know not how!
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,-
Lest the dead who is forsaken
May not be happy now.

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis of "Bridal Ballad"

First Stanza

The first person female speaker begins simply enough, stating clearly that the wedding ring (band) and the wreath, symbols of marriage and femininity, are in place. She is ready to commit herself.

She's dressed in satin, expensive material, and adorned with jewels, so the reader can take it that whoever she's marrying has wealth . . . for these are at her command, meaning there's more to follow if she wants it.

The last line sums up the wedding day feeling, she is happy now.

Note the familiar iambic and anapestic rhythms Poe uses to give that special lilt, rising up at the end of the line:

The ring / is on / my hand,

And the wreath / is on / my brow,

So that's iambic trimeter in the first line, three regular iambic feet daDUM daDUM daDUM. The first foot of the second line an anapest dadaDUM.

And the rhymes are all full, hand/grand/command and brow/now, again typical of Poe's time.

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Second Stanza

Her husband (my lord) loves her well but the first signs of doubt creep into the speaker's mind because when he spoke the wedding vows she thought she heard the voice of her former lover, the deceased who fell in battle, locally—down the dell—and who died in happiness she presumes.

This is a bit strange and gives the reader the first slight clue as to where this poem might be heading. The speaker did not respond to her new man, her new husband; her heart responded to the voice of her dead love, which rang as a knell (a death knell...the tolling of the bell to signify that someone has passed on).

Poe's gothic tone comes through, the final line of this and other stanzas echoing almost ironically the fact that her dead former lover is happy, relating also to her happiness, which is possibly fake.

There are seven lines in this stanza, the rhythms much the same, the rhymes full and repetitive, like the bells.

Third Stanza

This is a little confusing. Is it the new husband speaking or the deceased? It must be the new man speaking but she hears her former lover's voice. She is certainly in some sort of dreamland (reverie) because she's transported to the dead lover's grave, the man called D'Elormie, and she tells him that she is happy now.

Seven lines, similar rhythms and those repeated rhymes of me, me, me and D'Elormie, which has rightly been highlighted as one of the most ridiculously forced rhymes in literature. Either Poe actually took this name from real life, or he made it up to look French.

Fourth Stanza

Six lines this time, seeing the vows finally given and taken, and the speaker confessing her broken heart and broken faith . . . her religion has taken a crash, her heart she can never fully give to her new husband for she remains in love with the dead D'Elormie.

The ring is however her one piece of reality in all this. She sees in it her future happiness, a kind of happiness at least, an echo of the happiness from the last stanza.

Fifth Stanza

She seems to be confused, in a kind of unreal state. She's not sure if she's made the right decision; she feels something is wrong and is guilty for forsaking her dead lover, killed in battle. She feels that he may not be happy (in the afterlife) because she's betrothed to another man.

A curious turn. The speaker has gone ahead with her wedding and commitment but deep inside senses that she's being disloyal to the man in the graveyard. Her true happiness is thus suspended, as it is for the reader, who must be glad that she's made a positive move for her future, yet sympathetic to the way she really feels.

What Is the Rhyme Scheme?

The rhyme scheme varies from stanza to stanza but note the regular repeated b (now/brow etc etc) of the second and last lines:

abaab

cbccccb

dbddddb

ebeeeb

fbfffb

Sources

© 2020 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on September 02, 2020:

Grateful for the visit and comment on Poe's poem.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 02, 2020:

Poe was a great writer. Though most of his works belonged to the dark terrains, they had their own beauty for the readers who loved his work. There are few writers who can construct a real fearful and dark situation in the minds of the readers. Poe was able to do it. Long long ago (about 50 years back) when for the first time I read his story 'The Cask of Amontillado', I simply fell in love with his works and then gradually read a lot of him.

You have very well presented the analysis of this particular poem. Good reading. Thanks.

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