The Poets

January 20, 2014

Poe's Annabel Lee

It takes a sort of disturbed, divine genius to concoct precious literary works that revolve around the theme of death, and of death’s potential, and of the suffering and the loss thereby, and to render that theme beautiful. Think about it … to draw beauty from the ultimate source of trepidation that, consciously or subconsciously, plagues the life of every living human being … to draw beauty from death? To achieve such a thing requires incredible wit, and audacity, and most certainly a creative mind unmoved by the prospect of risk.

Edgar Allan Poe is such a mind. He is said to have thought that the death of a beautiful woman is “the most poetical topic in the world.” As pathological as that statement may sound, I don’t believe that Poe was moved by some diabolical euphoria revolving around the death of beautiful women, or that some infernal strain of delight flowed through his blood by the thought of it. Poe’s poetical melancholy was derived from real tragic losses that he endured throughout his life, losses that involved women in his life for whom he cared deeply.

The most tragic of these losses was his wife Virginia, who died at the age of 24 after a long and painful battle with tuberculosis. Poe loved her dearly and with all his heart, and was steeped in a deep, desolate depression that could only be assuaged by the remote hope that his beloved might be reunited with him. It was from this tortuous mode of misery, coupled with the longing he had for his wife, that Poe’s final poem would emerge, Annabel Lee.

Annabel Lee is a poem Poe completed two years after Virginia’s death. He struggled desperately to make it as perfect as possible (it is said that there were roughly 11 known versions of it). The poem itself is about love, and about what happens with love when death intervenes.  

The narrator speaks of a love that he shared with a girl by the name of Annabel Lee. This love was so pure between the two, and so deep and innocent, that even the angels were jealous of it. One day “a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling” Annabel Lee, which is said to be the cause of her eventual death. The narrator goes on to say that it was the jealousy of these angels that produced this wind that killed his beloved. Notwithstanding, the narrator continues, the depth and purity of their love was such that it was immutable- nothing, not even death or angels or demons, could separate the two:

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 poem then takes a strange and almost repelling twist as it comes to a close. We are told that despite their immutable love, and the beautiful imagery describing Annabel’s presence with him, every evening, during the night-tide, the speaker goes into the tomb of his wife and lies there lovingly by her side.

It’s a fascinating poem that consists of six stanzas with equally fascinating imagery. The tempo of it, most especially when read aloud, flows so incredibly well. Poe uses repetition, alliteration, and polysyndeton with great literary effectiveness. It is a poem that every poet, and every romantic minded person, must of necessity know.

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 winged 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 kinsman 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 the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

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