Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee"
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe's Complete Poetical Works
This collection includes "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.
First Stanza: "It was many and many a year ago"
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: "I was a child and she was a child"
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: "And this was the reason that, long ago"
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: "The angels, not half so happy in Heaven"
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: "But our love it was stronger by far than the love"
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: "For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams"
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.
Reading of Poe's "Annabel Lee"
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes