Lesson #219: ‘Annabel Lee’: Edgar Allan Poe’s Melodious and Melodramatic Poem

‘Annabel Lee’ (1849)

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.

..

– by Edgar Allan Poe

📜 This is a beautiful memorial poem by American poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who is said to have written this poem when he was grieving the loss of his young wife, Virginia.

I would like to share some reflections and background information to help you appreciate this beautiful poem all the more, but firstly here is a short vocabulary list to guide you through the poem’s more advanced words.

📝 VOCABULARY

maiden: young unmarried woman or girl

winged: having wings

seraphs: angelic beings associated with purity, light, and goodness

coveted < to covet: to yearn, desire very much to have something that belongs to another person [it is more of a strong, internal desire than ‘envy’ – see below]

highborn: of noble descent or family

kinsmen: relatives

sepulchre: a small room (or monument), usually cut in rock or built of stone, for a dead person to be buried in

envying < to envy: to be jealous of; to desire to have something that belongs to someone else [unlike ‘covet’, ‘envy’ might be expressed to someone: e.g., ‘I envy your beautiful hair – I wish mine were as nice as yours!’ By contrast, ‘covet’ has a darker sense: e.g., ‘he must have coveted my car long before he tried to steal it from me’]

chilling < to chill: to make very cool and cold (in an unpleasant way); also, to horrify or frighten someone

demons: evil spirits or devils

dissever: divide or separate (something from someone)

beams < to beam: to cast light (or joy, or something bright and positive) on something; to shed rays of light (or joy, etc) on something

night-tide: night-time. Also, a flood tide that takes place during the night

tomb: an enclosure for burying the dead or a monument that marks the grave of dead person

sounding: resounding or sonorous; having an impressive sound

📝 LOVE AS A THEME

As you can see, the main theme (and topic) of this poem is a kind of eternal love that the poet has for ‘Annabel Lee’, his bride. He impresses us with the idea that such love is almost spiritual; it is greater than death because it lives on beyond it. 🌹

📝 SOME LITERARY DEVICES

You may have noticed that some of Poe’s sentences continue beyond the end of the line, without a pause. This is called enjambment:

📜 ‘And this maiden she lived with no other thought / Than to love and be loved by me.’

Poe uses this to illustrate in a visual and aural way something of the continuity of the love shared between the poet and Annabel Lee. This continuity in turn emphasises their happiness together, which is another sub-theme in the poem: shared bliss (deep happiness).

The repetition that Poe uses throughout (‘in the kingdom by the sea’, ‘my beautiful Annabel Lee’) not only has a lulling (relaxing, comforting) effect on us, but also reminds us of affectionate names and terms of endearment spoken between two lovers.

✨ Poe’s poem is full of symbols such as ‘sea’, ‘moon’, and ‘stars’ that evoke (remind us of) the grandeur of the natural world. He also used many symbols that evoke a spiritual world (words such as ‘seraphs’, ‘angels’, ‘heaven’, and ‘demons’), again reminding us of the spiritual nature of his love for Annabel Lee. Remember the line where he says that no one

📜 ‘Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee …’

He portrays (depicts, pictures, illustrates) the force of death as a ‘wind [that] came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee’. In many ways, this reminds us of the slow and difficult passing (dying) of Poe’s wife Virginia. 🥀 He imagines this was caused by the angels who envied their (his and Annabel Lee’s) human love and joy.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

I think one of the most powerful aspects of this poem is that it is written from the first-person perspective (from the point of view of the poet himself: ‘I … my …’).

It describes human love and loss in a spiritualised, eternal way, and it does this with so much emotion and music that combine to make it very moving. 💕

On that final note, if you would like to hear it narrated expressively, here is a good recording of it here on YouTube as read by Henry Halloway – enjoy!