“Annabel Lee”

I love with a kind of love 💓
that’s far more than love /

This post carries a literary analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem: “Annabel Lee” (c. 1849). It is a powerful testament to love and particularly poignant in that it was the last poem Poe penned prior to passing.

“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
Laughed loud at 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 laughing at 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 laughter 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.


— Edgar Allan Poe (c. 1849)

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) as you (may) know was an American writer and poet. He’s widely regarded as a key figure in the American Romanticism movement and was one of the pioneers of the all-American short story (i.e., a novella — see e.g., Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” for an English equivalent).

Some English Romantics:
01. — S. T. Coleridge
02. — John Keats
03. — P. B. Shelley
04. — Lord Byron

Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” on the eve of his demise. It wasn’t published until he was dead and buried (I don’t think cremation was a done thing back then unless of course you were on the banks of the Ganges at e.g., a ghat at Benares). Poe died at 40 and was either dying of rabies or dying or rum when discovered in a state of delirium on a New York street. In a nod to Nietzsche or a coincidence a continent apart Poe once upon a time mused: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

In-depth profile:
Edgar Allan Poe

2. The poem

I am increasingly thinking I’m presenting all this topsy-turvy (tipsy as I am from the dashing dealt by crashing white horses, that are themselves corralled by Atlantic swell). I should present an analysis of the poem before the poet. I mean I’m a full on liberal-minded person, I’d advocate legalising it all and (I here mean to say) I am against capital punishment in all circumstances (thus I do believe human life, once born, is sacrosanct) yet (and this is the point I’m trying to ground compassionately) I feel it’s the poem we should cherish/castigate; love/loath; be moved by or be indifferent to and not the poet. Poets, like plumbers and plum pie producers, live and die. Poems, unlike plumbing or pies of plum do not necessarily have short shelf lives (some span centuries [e.g., Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare and my starry-eyed Edmund Spenser — o how my eyes are blighted for not seeing you], some last millennia [e.g., Catullus, Homer, Horace, Ovid, and my electric Sappho]). It is then, a submission to you here that the poem should be of greater concern than the poet. Am I wrong? … Never mind (for now).

2.1 Synopsis

The story of “Annabel Lee” is about L O V E — there’s no ambiguity about that. But, was this a swan song? A eulogy to his imagined maker? (A declaration of loyalty to the good lord o high on up above.) Or, was it about the death of a loved one; a loved one who, due to reactionary elders, was separated from their lover? (Oh how my mind runs wild, oh how everything inevitably comes down to you and me!) You see, unfortunately, it has all been written on stone. There is precious little scope to read into it what we desire, need and want to because, received wisdom tells us “Annabel Lee” is a story of fresh/young/honeymoon-period love, that’s been cut short. The consensus view too is that the narrator is indeed Poe himself. (Circumstance/context informs us that Poe lost his wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm, in the year prior to producing this poem. Her death profoundly altered his state of mind — I’ve often wondered what’s worse losing a loved one to breakup or to death, yes the latter’s final {could anything be worse?} but, the former’s a perennial jailer’s chain around one’s soul that gives delusional hope of a reconciliation and a reuniting. This chain and the mirages it creates live on and live on and live on. Chained as thus, one comes to utterly obsess and be defined by this vain hope. It shapes one, it defines and it ‘distorts’ one.)

Virginia Eliza Clemm. -- Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins.
Virginia Eliza Clemm
— Virginia married Poe when she was 13 and he 27, they were first cousins. Poe painted this portrait in the hours after her parting.

Literary critics are pretty much unanimous in stating that Virginia’s drawn out demise and eventual death had a substantial effect on Edgar Allan Poe, who “became despondent and turned to alcohol to cope. Her struggles with illness and death are believed to have affected his poetry and prose, where dying young women appear as a motif, for instance in “Ligeia” and “The Raven” too. I ask you, I ask you here and now, is all true love doomed to fail? does pure love, unconditional love ever run smoothly? Think of the story of Venus and Mars — a tale of lustful love, that’s then forbidden (in a humiliating way). Once upon a time Venus (a.k.a., ‘Aphrodite’ and/or, in Greece, ‘Venus de Milo’) is wedded to Vulcan, Roman God of Fire, but she finds him too boring (prosaic & formulaic). She then has a passionate affair with Mars (Ares in Greece). But Vulcan suspects what is going on and he crafts a fine metallic mesh (sometimes described as being invisible) and entraps Venus and Mars on a sofa in order to expose them to ridicule. They — stuck on this sofa — are then humiliated in front of the other gods on mount Olympus.

Forbidden_Love
A magical kiss then, a love forbidden
Venus_and_Mars_National_Gallery
Venus and Mars
by Sandro Botticelli (circa 1484)
Piero_di_Cosimo_-_Venus,_Mars,_and_Cupid
Venus, Mars & Cupid
by Piero di Cosimo (c. 1490)

Guilty as charged
I know full well my insertion of forbidden kisses and treacherous trysts is off-topic (i.e., subject matter not in sync with the “Annabel Lee’s” theme). But in my defence I claim insanity as manifested in limerence; OLD disorder, if you do so prefer it called.
“I rest my case”
Quod Erat Demonstrandum, QED

In sum, many moons ago the poem’s narrator lived happily with Annabel Lee with whom he was madly in love with. Yet it is alleged that god’s angels got jealous of this pure love and orchestrated her downfall (“sending cold winds”). The narrator is utterly devastated but, his love for her continues (intensifies even?). He states that their two souls are one and will always be so (even when separated temporarily by death). He carries her everywhere, day and night (he sleeps beside the seaside at her tomb). The poem makes clear: that true love resides in souls and therefore is immortal (so to speak). Love and death are the duel themes of “Annabel Lee” (the infiniteness of love; the unfairness of death at a young age). For Poe (et al.) love is the greatest force present in the universe and nothing can destroy it; not the winged seraphs nor even, death. Although his beloved leaves the mortal world, he feels her presence 24/7.

2.2 Literary & Poetic Devices

This poem has six stanzas of variable length and structure. The poem’s rhyme scheme is said to be ABABCB throughout (something that i myself am still trying to learn to read).

Conrad Geller describes “Annabel Lee” as a festival of auditory effects, with a delightful mixture of anapests and iambs, internal rhymes, repetitions [and] assonances.” Indeed. Literary devices are techniques that writers use to convey their ideas and feelings (poetic devices serve the same aim but are specific to poetry and thus distinct from prose). Literary devices are employed to articulate one’s point and purpose by way of wordplay.

Alliteration
— The repetition of consonant sounds in the same line e.g., /w/, /th/ and /l/ sounds in the line: “But we loved with a love that was more than love.”

Allusion
— The making of an indirect reference of a person, place, &c. For instance in this poem “seraphs in heaven” imply that biblical angels can act quite demonically.

Assonance
— The repetition of vowel sounds in the same line e.g., /a/ and /i/ in: “It was many and many a year ago,” and: “This maiden she lived with no other thought.”

Enjambment
— The continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line or couplet. These have been used to great effect in “Annabel Lee” An example of this form: “And this maiden she lived with no other thought; Than to love and be loved by me.”

Imagery
— Used to enable readers to use their various senses e.g., we are moved to imagine cold marble forms and port to promenades in the dead of night accompanied only by memories and the sound of the lapping ocean waves.

Internal Rhyme
— The internal rhyme is rhyme within a given line of a poem. Here for example in: “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams” we have “beams” and “dreams.”

Personification
— Give human characteristics to inanimate objects e.g., the wind becomes human somehow and on it is carried death’s angels: “The wind came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”

Symbolism
— Language (or words) used to signify ideas and qualities distinct from literal meanings. “The sea” is the symbol of evil and darkness, “moon” and “the stars” Annabel Lee’s undying beauty.

Refrain
— The usage of repetition for emphasis and reinforcement etc. Examples here are (1) In a kingdom by the sea and (2) Of the beautiful Annabel Lee. This helps with the rhyme and rhythm (that Geller et al. are so enamored with).

2.3 Analysis

Let us start with the title, the name of the object of the narrator’s ceaseless obsession:

Annabel is a feminine given name of English origin, a combination of the Latin name Anna, which comes from the Hebrew word for grace, and the French word belle, meaning beauty.
— Thus Annabel means: ‘Beauty of Grace.’

Lee is a name that can be a first name or a surname. It means a meadow (in a lee would be where one would erect “Silken Tents” &c.). Gardens are sown in clearings; Eden was a garden.
— Thus Lee (here) implies: an ‘idyllic place.’

The poem begins in a way that is deliberately close to the typical beginning of a fairy tale; an echo of “once upon a time,” and the second line brings to mind the figure of a lone maiden locked up in a faraway kingdom (think Rapunzel and Charles ‘Bluebeard’ Perrault).

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,

Stanza 1
[4] ...Annabel Lee
[6] ...loved by me.
Stanza 2
[3] ...love--
[4] ...Lee;
[6] ...me

We feel the chill of a cold hard marble mausoleum.

Chilling and killing
nighttime tides and offshore breezes
shut up in a sepulchre

… the devil and the deep blue sea

While she’s resting, he is not:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

At night we can close our eyes and fantasise, but in the day, we must do our duties despite being most wholly dead on the inside. He’s angry with Mr Maker, ain’t he? Poe, I mean, I mean, the poem’s speaker is riled by the way this Annabel of his was cruelly snatched away; by how the divine beings are behaving (the: the winged seraphs of heaven).

We are left to wonder what/who these ‘highborn kinsman’ are, a ref. (reference) to reactionary societal norms (for me) a def. (deference) to the almighty (for he)? (hu)man(kind) . . .

as all men know

. . . know that Tuberculosis (TB; “consumption”) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that typically reveals itself by way of a chronic cough fever and night sweats, and weight loss. We know and it seems Poe did too that tea bee was spread from one person to the next through the air:

A wind blew out of a cloud
the wind came out of the cloud by night

But even if we know with science and reason the reason for why — technically and medically speaking — somebody or someone was taken away from us doesn’t mean we shan’t be consumed with the question of why; shan’t become torn with the injustice and unfairness of it all. Depth sounding — love knows no bounds, the limits are fathomless:


Oh how the sounding sea,
Resonates within me.

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken
“Resounding”
by a Viking called Utgivningsår (circa. 1555).