Edgar Allan Poe writes Annabel Lee in the most unique tone, as was one of trademarks. When the poem begins, it sounds like a fairy tale and gives the reader a feeling of all that is good and happy. But underneath this joyful tone is a tone more ominous, and Poe uses certain words and phrases that give this eerie feeling. Partway through the poem, the readers begin to understand that this is not a common fairy tale. Rather, this is a dark and terrifying story. The tones and rhythms Poe use create an almost hypnotic effect. The poem reads like a nursery rhyme in the way that it sounds, allowing the readers to venture back into childhood days in order to relate with the speaker. However, the content of the poem is not suitable for children, and so the contrast between the rhyme and rhythm of the poem and the content leaves the reader feeling deeply moved. This is a skill Poe used in many of his works. His tone is entirely unique. He has a way of grasping the readers’ attention and pulling them into his work before he reveals the truly dark and sometimes cynical nature of the content.
Annabel Lee Analysis
It was many and many a year ago
In a kingdom by the sea
These first two lines set the poem up as a fairy tale. The reader can immediately begin to imagine a time long ago, in a kingdom far away somewhere on the coast of a distant sea. The fairy tale tone of this poem serves to give the readers an understanding of the speaker’s experiences within the poem and the effect the occurrences in the poem had on him.
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
by the name of Annabel Lee
These two lines continue the literary tone of a fairy tale. So far, this fairy tale is proceeding just like many others. We have a time long ago, a kingdom far away, and of course, a maiden. This maiden quickly becomes the central figure in the poem. She is immediately given a name, and her name and her description as a “maiden” quickly give readers a picture of a young and beautiful girl.
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
than to love and be loved by me
These lines reveal the youth of both the speaker and the maiden. They have no other thoughts or concerns besides love and love alone. The reader quickly realizes that both the speaker and Annabel Lee are young and in love. This sets up the speaker and Annabel Lee as very relate-able characters, as the majority of readers will be able to connect with a memory of young love.
I was a child and she was a child
In this Kingdom by the Sea
These lines serve a few different purposes. First of all, the speaker lets the readers know that they were in fact, children. He doesn’t use the word “youth” or even “young” so as to let the reader think that they were perhaps in their early teenage years. He specifies that both of them were children. In line 8, he repeats that they lived in the Kingdom by the Sea. This repetition not only reminds the readers of the setting of the poem, but it also has a rather rhythmic effect that helps the poem to continue to read as a fairy tale with an almost lullaby quality to it. Some have called Poe’s poems “hypnotic” and perhaps this rhythmic repetition is the reason for this hypnotic effect on readers.
But we loved with a love that was more than love
I and my Annabel Lee
With these lines, the speaker intends to insure the readers that just because they were but children, does not mean that their love was not very real. The speaker certainly felt this love at the deepest level, and is certain that Annabel Lee feels it no less. The repetition of her name also serves to further acquaint the reader with the subject of the poem so that the reader can relate to the speaker in sentiments toward Annabel Lee.
With a love that winged seraphs of heaven
coveted her and me
These lines further emphasize the love the two children had for each other. It was a love that was not of this world, for even the angels looked down and felt a jealous pang because of the love that the two children shared. It was a love that angels, the speaker supposes, could not feel and so they coveted the feeling the speaker and Annabel Lee had for each other. This gives an interesting perspective on angels, as in most literature they are portrayed as holy beings who look out for and guard human beings. Here, they are portrayed as jealous beings who look at the children and long for that which they cannot have- human love.
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
In these lines, there is an abrupt shift. This is no longer a common fairy tale. Suddenly, Annabel Lee catches a cold from a “wind that blew out of a cloud”. The speaker attributes the reason for this cold to the covetousness of the angels. He explains that their feelings of jealousy were in fact “the reason that…a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee”. In line 16, the speaker refers to Annabel Lee as “my Annabel Lee”. This possessive tone allows the readers an even deeper insight into the feelings the speaker had for her. He felt that the two of them loved one another as much as any two people could love, and he felt that he could call her his own. Line 15 simply says that Annabel Lee has been chilled. The readers do not know if she has simply caught a cold, or if her body is cold and dead- chilled.
So that her highborn kinsman came
and took her away from me
These two lines leave the reader in further wonder. In the previous lines, the readers were left to wonder whether “chilled” meant dead, or simply chilly and a bit sick. Now, the readers see a “highborn kinsman” who came and took Annabel away from the speaker. At this point, the reader either believes that this kinsman was one who had died before her and came to take her soul to heaven, or that this kinsman was a living relative who came to take Annabel Lee away in her sickness. Either way, the speaker is left without his beloved.
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea
With these two lines, the reader is left to further wonder whether Annabel has died, or whether she was simply shut up in a mansion with her rich kinsman. A sepulcher in this context could either mean a large, beautiful tomb, or it could mean a large beautiful home that the speaker views as a tomb because the one he loves has been confined there where he can no longer see her.
The angels, not so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me
With these lines, the speaker reminds the reader that the reason he has lost his young lover is because of the angels. He makes them seem vindictive, as he reveals that they are still envious of him.
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
These lines confirm the death of Annabel Lee, although they do not reveal whether the first chill had killed her, or whether the angels, still envious, sent another chill to end her life. The speaker continues the tone of the fairy tale by reminding the readers that this has all happened to him while he was “in this kingdom by the sea”. There is an ironic contrast between the fairy-tale tone with the content of these lines. This is certainly no fairy-tale ending, and thus, the tone causes the reader to feel this pang of loss and death all the more.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we
The speaker reiterates the strength of their love for one another and even asserts that their love was stronger than the love of the adults that he knew. These lines serve to assure the reader that this love is not a silly childish love that will be easily forgotten at the death of Annabel Lee. It leaves the readers with the understanding that this strong love will not be forgotten with her death.
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
These lines reveal that the speaker would not stop loving Annabel Lee, even though death took her away from him. He claimed that his soul would go on loving her soul, so that even the angels of death could not succeed in separating them from one another. While they may have taken her body away from him physically, he asserts that they could never tear their souls apart from one another.
For the moon never beams without bringing me
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
With these lines, the speaker reveals exactly how his soul is still tied to the soul of Annabel Lee. He claimed that the angels could not separate their souls, and with these lines, he reveals one way in which he is still bonded to his young love. He claims that he dreams of her every night. If the moon is sure to beam at night, then he is sure to dream of Annabel Lee. And so he meets her there in his dreams, and his soul continues to love her soul.
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
These lines reveal yet another way in which the speaker has not really been separated from the one he loves. Although he can no longer be with her physically, he still feels her bright eyes every time he sees the stars.
And so, all the night-tide I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride
These lines reveal the shocking fact that the speaker viewed Annabel Lee as his own bride, child though she was. Whether she was actually his bride, is left for the readers to conjecture. Either way, it strengthens the reader’s understanding of the speaker’s love. He has already claimed that this love was strong enough to make the angels jealous. He has revealed that this love was stronger than those that were older and wiser than they, and now he has officially called her his bride, giving the sense not only of innocent childhood love, but also of life-long commitment.
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
In these final lines, the speaker is still lying down by the tomb of the one that he loved. This fairy tale took a dark turn when the angels sent a chilly wind to take Annabel Lee, and now it ends not with happily ever after, but with a broken-hearted man who sleeps by the grave of his lover every night. While this is a tale of undying love, it is certainly not a typical fairy tale.
Edgar Allan Poe Background
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most renowned writers. His short stories and poetry have infiltrated the canon of literature since he first began writing. At the age of only thirteen, he had written enough short stories to publish a book. He did not publish until later on in life, however. He only lived to be forty years old, but in his short lifetime, he wrote some of the most famous literature. Before becoming a famous and known writer, Poe experienced a lifetime of misfortune. It began when his parents died. He was left an orphan. The man who took him in sent him to boarding school and left nothing to him when he died.
There is substantial evidence to suggest that this poem was written for Poe’s wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. The two were first cousins, although Poe did not meet her until he was nearly an adult. Poe, parentless and faced with poverty at a young age, sought out the relations of his late father and was taken in by his Aunt, Maria Clemm. Soon after, his cousin Virginia become the object of his affections, and he took her to be his wife while she was yet thirteen. Although she was young, she claimed happiness in her marriage with Poe, and even wrote poems about her love and devotion to her. Shortly after, Virginia contracted tuberculosis, and ended up dying at the young age of twenty-four. It is easy to see that Poe felt love and affection for this woman, whom he eventually took as his bride, though she was only a child at the time. This poem is one of Poe’s ways of asserting that though Virginia was but a child when they met, their love for one another was deep and real. In Poe’s time period and within his society, it was not entirely uncommon for cousins to marry, or for girls to marry in their teenage years. Poe’s love for Virginia was certainly strong, and when she died he suffered greatly. In fact, he only lived two years longer than his late wife, and many still hold that he died of a broken heart. During the years after the death of Virginia, Poe struggled with severe depression and alcoholism. Some medical practitioners of his time upon finding him in a semi-conscious state four days prior to his death, have conjectured that he was suffering from rabies. The reason for his death is not confirmed (Poetry Foundation).
- “Edgar Allan Poe.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.