Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee"

Updated on September 19, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edgar Allan Poe

Source

Introduction and Text of "Annabel Lee"

Edgar Allan Poe's poetry is very musical, following rhythmic patterns and filled with rime. Poe practiced a poetics that critics such as Ralph Waldo Emerson found too precious, a bit juvenile, and too heavily dependent on rime. Emerson dubbed Poe the "jingle man."

"Annabel Lee" is one of Poe's poems that exemplifies his philosophy of the poetic beautiful dead woman and his highly stylized jingling. In six stanzas, Poe creates a fantasy wherein he places a very young, romantic, newlywed couple, "In a kingdom by the sea."

Poe then allows the beautiful female character to die, thus creating his idea of the "most poetical topic in the world." The speaker of this dramatic fantasy is, of course, the bridegroom, who does the poetic suffering because of the death of the lovely young bride.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error .")

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
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 sounding sea.

Reading of "Annabel Lee"

Commentary

Edgar Allan Poe opined, "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world."

First Stanza: One Thought

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

In the first stanza, the speaker introduces the female character; she is Annabel Lee, a maiden, and the speaker tells his listener that the listener might know her.

This possibility seems to have no other function in the poem but to fill out the meter and rime scheme. And the maiden's only attribute is that she had only one thought in her head, "to love and be loved by me."

Second Stanza: Two Children

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

The speaker then makes it clear that the young woman and the speaker were both very young; he even claims they were children. But the speaker indubitably means for the reader to understand this designation from the point of view of a very old man, to whom young newly weds in their late teens or early twenties would, indeed, seem to be children.

The speaker also reports that their love was "more than love." It was so much more than love that "the winged seraphs of Heaven / Coveted her and me." This assertion foreshadows the death of the young bride; if the angels in Heaven envy earthly mortals, what recourse can the latter have against the former?

Third Stanza: Great Love

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

Because those heavenly seraphs were jealous of the young couple's great love, they sent a cold wind that caused the young bride to become ill, probably with influenza, and die. Annabel Lee's relatives came and retrieved her lifeless body and buried her "in a sepulchre / In this kingdom by the sea."

Fourth Stanza: Killed for Spite

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

The speaker repeats the reason for the death of his bride: those angels, who even in Heaven were not "half so happy" as the speaker and his bride, killed her for spite, because they "Went envying her and me."

That is why they sent that wind that "came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee." The speaker is enthralled with the notion that he had such a beautiful bride and that he had the unearthly power to provoke the supernatural realm.

Fifth Stanza: A Soul Connection

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

The speaker then declares that the strength of their love was superior to the love of older, wiser people, and neither the angels in Heaven and "demons down under the sea / Can ever dissever my soul from the soul / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."

The speaker declaims that his love for Annabel Lee was not only physical and mental but also spiritual. He insists that they are connected at the soul, and thus can never be separated.

Sixth Stanza: Eternal Union

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
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 sounding sea.

The speaker then attempts to back up his claim of continued eternal union with his bride. He dreams of her every night. Even nature cooperates to keep these lovers together: the moon "brings [him] those dreams of her, and the stars assist him in remaining aware of her "bright eyes." The speaker then adds a rather morbid confession, but one that is logically produced by his obsessive temperament.

The bereft speaker actually sleeps in Annabel Lee's sepulchre: "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 sounding sea."

No doubt, Poe's critics flinched when they read that final stanza, but it completes the fantasy with its highly stylized rhythm and rime, jingling its poetic bells for the beautiful dead woman, offering a faultless example of Poe's poetic testimony.

Edgar Allan Poe - Commemorative Stamp

Source

Life Sketch of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was labeled "The Jingle Man" because of the profusion of riming words employed in his poems. Likely, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who first assigned that appellation to Poe.

Introduction and Excerpt from "The Bells"

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, and died on October 7, 1849, in Baltimore. His literary influence has been noted world wide. He excelled as a literary critic, and his short stories are credited with beginning the genre of detective fiction, as he is hailed as the father of mystery writing. But his poetry has received a mixed bag of critical reviews, often denigrating Poe's style. And too often his complicated and fitful life story has taken center stage before his poetry, which when thoughtfully considered does reveal more than the derisive status as a riming monster.

The Jingle Man

Poe was labeled "The Jingle Man" because of the profusion of riming words employed in his poems. Likely, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who first assigned that appellation to Poe; however, Walt Whitman also opined that Poe overworked rime as a poetic technique. Poe's poem, "The Bells," is undoubtedly the piece of work that led his contemporaries to label him the "jingle man."

Over the years, critics have often been dismissive of Poe, just as Emerson was:

. . . critical opinion of Poe’s verse has been mixed. Ralph Waldo Emerson dismissed him as “The Jingle Man,” Jorge Luis Borges called him “a miniature Tennyson,” and Henry James grumbled that “an enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive state of reflection.” T. S. Eliot conceded that Poe possessed a powerful intellect but asserted that it was “the intellect of a highly gifted person before puberty.” W. B. Yeats liked a few lines but thought most of the oeuvre “vulgar and commonplace,” and E. L. Doctorow compared “The Raven” to Ravel’s “Bolero”: “rhythmic and hypnotic on first hearing, a mere novelty everafter.” (from John S. Sledge's "Defending ‘The Jingle Man’")

Despite the numerous nay-sayers regarding Poe, his admirers have not been shy about proclaiming their affection for Poe's works, for example, William Carlos William asserted that the American literary canon is grounded in Poe only and "on solid ground." Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire were also big fans of Poe's writing.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Excerpt from "The Bells"

I

Hear the sledges with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rime,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells. . . .

To read "The Bells" in its entirety and also see how it actually appears on the page, please visit The Academy of American Poets. The HubPages' word processing system does not allow non-traditional spacing.

The Philosophical Poem, "Eldorado"

Poe's "Eldorado" alludes to a legend that circulated popularly in the nineteenth century. Readers will notice again Poe’s delight with rime, but certainly there is more to the poem than rime.

It becomes philosophically universal by the last stanza which reveals a bit of sage advice that the paradise, for which Eldorado is a metaphor, is found in the search, and one must "ride boldly" in order to reach that paradise.

Eldorado

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

Other Writing Genres

In most cases, it takes a long time for a literary reputation to be established. Although Poe’s merit as a writer was debated in his own day, and still is in some quarters today, he has definitely taken his place as a writer of mystery.

Short Stories

Poe’s short stories "The Gold Bug," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," and "The Purloined Letter" all had a lasting effect on the mystery genre, and some credit Poe as the inventor of detective fiction.

Poe, like Thomas Hardy, considered himself primarily a poet and preferred writing poetry, but he found that he could make money writing prose, so, as Thomas Hardy turned to writing novels, Poe turned to writing short stories, and they both were able to bring in some income with their prose writing.

The Philosophy of Composition

Poe also wrote essays in literary criticism, and his "The Philosophy of Composition" reveals his favorite subject, or at least, the subject he considers most poetic: "the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." This reasoning certainly helps account for his predilection for melancholy of the sort we find in "The Raven."

Despite Poe’s reputation as the father of detective or mystery fiction, to experience the real Poe, readers must also experience his poetry and when they do, they will have to admit that he was much more than his contemporaries saw; he was much more profound than a mere "jingle man."

Poe and Drugs

So much has been made of Poe’s alcohol and drug use that most people associate his addictions too closely with his art. Of course, many artists in all the arts have fallen victim to intoxicants and drug euphoria.

And it appears that the artist’s life is always more interesting to the casual observer than is his/her art. As is the case with most sensitive artists who have had the misfortune to abuse artificial intoxication, Poe as a dark figure in literature is garnered more from his biography than from his actual writing.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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