Poe is generally regarded as the progenitor of the modern detective story and is considered to be, in part, behind the popular rise of science fiction tales. His life mirrored the tragedies explored in his writing. Poe was born on January 9th, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts His mother died when he was a child, and he was raised by a foster family. He spent some time in Richmond, Virginia. He spent some time at the University of Virginia in 1826.
Over the years which followed, he worked for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, the Southern Literary Messenger, and Graham’s Magazine. He lost jobs and money, married his young cousin Virginia, and then lost her to tuberculosis. He spent time around the east coast of the United States, including in New York City and Philadelphia. Scholars consider Virginia to be the inspiration behind many of his darkest, and most beautiful poems, such as ‘Annabel Lee.’ Poe died in Baltimore, Maryland in 1849. Our poetry experts on Poem Analysis have curated this list containing Poe’s best-known poems. But, it does not include all of them. Some other popular poems include ‘Tamerlane,’ ‘The Bells,’ and ‘To Helen.’
Best Edgar Allan Poe Poems
Poetic Form: Ballad, Narrative
This is one of Poe’s most popular poems.
It follows the death of a beautiful woman, a theme that comes up throughout Poe’s works, and is intimately connected to his life. Life and death haunt the speaker of this poem. He thinks that he is somewhat to blame because their love was so strong.
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.
He eventually concludes, through beautiful rhyming lines, that the angels were jealous and took her from him. Scholars consider this piece a memorial to Poe’s young wife (and cousin), Virginia Clemm.
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: The tormented mind of the literary genius is unveiled and readers get a glimpse into his abrupt and troubled life.
When this piece was written, it went without a title. But, scholars have been able to determine that there is a likely connection to the death of Poe’s foster mother, Frances. The title came about when it was first published and was chosen due to the overwhelming feelings of isolation that permeate the text. It has gained popularity due to its relatability.
The speaker looks back on his childhood and sees it for what it really was. The loneliness comes back to him, thus forming another poem with a dark and depressing tone.
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
Poe continues on to say:
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: This poem describes how a speaker experiences depths of dispiritedness and despair.
Lovers of poetry, and even those who only enjoy it occasionally, will immediately recognize the lines:
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
This rounds out the general themes of the poem. The speaker is questioning the reasons for his very existence. He knows that life is purposeless and that there is no love for a reason to keep going. It has all turned into a dream state that he floats, and at the same time struggles through.
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Poetic Form: Ballad
Main Idea: It details a harrowing night in the speaker’s life that includes incessant knocking and a talking raven that only says one word–“Nevermore.”
‘The Raven’ is, to some, Poe’s masterpiece.
It is a supernatural, dream-like poem that makes use of his most frequently visited themes. There are loss, death, fear, and, and above all else, the haunting presence of the talking raven. The creature cries throughout the text, a single word: “Nevermore.”
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
If you are looking for the perfect poem to start an exploration of the scariest examples of writing in the English language, this is a great place to start. Here is one more stanza to convey the style and techniques at work in this poem.
Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.
Poetic Form: Sonnet
Main Idea: This poem addresses the poet’s personal losses, such as the death of his biological mother, and what high esteem he now holds mothers in.
This piece is a devotional sonnet in which Poe describes his feelings for his own mother, his foster mother, and the mother of his wife.
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
It speaks of the importance of female caretakers and the roles they have in the lives of those in their care. He spends portions of this piece discussing the importance of the word “mother” and how it came from the angels.
His appreciation for mothers stretches from his foster mother to the mother of his wife. She created his adored Virginia, and therefore she too must be revered.
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: This piece records a traveler’s experiences in an alternative world in which ghosts and ghouls haunt a cold and terrifying landscape.
‘Dream-Land’ is a poem all about a strange and ephemeral journey.
There is no clear starting point, but it includes images of ocean landscapes, valleys, and forests. There is nothing about this place that speaks of normal or everyday life. It is all strange.
The poet personifies the natural landscapes, and/or describes them as burning or leaping.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: This poem uses the metaphor of a knight seeking the lost city to speak on the futility of dreams and lifelong pursuits.
The word Eldorado brings up any number of connotations for different people. Commonly, it now refers to a lost city, somewhere deep in the forest. There was a rumor that the place contained gold and riches beyond imagination.
In Poe’s poem, a gallant explorer-knight investigates the legend. Moreover, there is a larger metaphor at play here, which has fuelled the poem’s placement on this list, and many others. Besides, it speaks more broadly on the impossibility of human dreams and the futility of pursuing those dreams to their end.
‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: This piece describes the physical effects of depression on the human mind through the metaphor of a palace.
‘The Haunted Palace,’ which was present in Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher, is a terrifying depiction of insanity.
The text paints a picture of a structure that slowly degrades, along with its residents. Just as the house falls apart, so does a mind.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.
Poe sought to draw comparisons between these two different structures. Readers often thought it to be one of Poe’s most popular poems.
Poetic Form: Lyric
Main Idea: ‘Lenore’ explores true sorrow and what it looks like.
Readers are familiar with this poem as ‘Lenore’ today but it was originally titled, ‘A Pæan.’
Those who have read Poe’s most popular poems will recognize the name “Lenore” from ‘The Raven.’ The death of this character, who has been related to any number of female deaths in Poe’s life, was clearly incredibly important to the poet. The speaker alternates between two speakers, one of which is Lenore’s ex-lover. They argue over her death and the reaction of the public.
Ah broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll!–a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river;
And, Guy De Vere, hast thou no tear?–weep now or never more!
See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
Poetic Form: Gothic Lyric
Main Idea: This gothic poem describes a doomed city of sin that sinks to the bottom of the sea.
This piece is one of the best poems Poe ever wrote, certainly in the early part of his career.
It was first published under a different, equally interesting title, The Doomed City. The retitling occurred in 1845 when it got finally published.
The poem speaks on a city a reader will certainly not want to visit. It is doomed for disaster, ruled by the personification of death. The descent of the city into the sea is a haunting image that brings up the darkest images of hell and damnation.
No rays from the holy Heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently—
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free—
His most famous poem is ‘The Raven.’ It includes the well-known lines “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary” and “Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.””
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is Poe’s most famous mystery. It is considered to be the first modern detective story.
During his lifetime, “The Gold Bug” was his most successful story. But, today, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is likely his best-known story.
Two main themes are darkness/fear and death. He was often inspired by the darkness and loss in his own life.