‘Lenore’ by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in 1831 under the title ‘A Pæan.’ It was at that time an eleven quatrain poem that was told from the perspective of a bereaved husband mourning the death of his wife. It was not until the re-publication in February of 1843 that the name “Lenore” was included in the text. The work then appeared in The Pioneer and later in Broadway Journal in its final form while Poe was the editor. A reader familiar with Poe’s work will recognize the name “Lenore” from the most famous piece, ‘The Raven.’
Summary of Lenore
The poem begins with a mourner asking Guy De Vere, the intended husband of the dead Lenore, why he isn’t weeping. This person does not understand, asking if De Vere has seen Lenore’s dead body and really understood she is not coming back. De Vere reacts violently to the assertion that he doesn’t care. He calls the mourners “Wretches” who did not really care for Lenore.
The mourner tries to soothe De Vere by explaining they have all sinned but that doesn’t mean he should get so upset. It is time, the mourner states, for the songs to be sung and for Lenore’s “dead eyes” to be recognized. The poem concludes with De Vere stating that he will not mourn for his lost bride because she has escaped from the “damnéd” earth to sit alongside God.
Themes in Lenore
Unsurprisingly, one of the major themes in ‘Lenore’ is death. This theme presents itself immediately through the setting, the subject matter, and the words that Poe uses. He repeats the phrase “died so young” three times in only the first two stanzas. Beauty and love are two other themes that are tied into this poem, as in most Poe poems, and are important to note. Despite the fact that she’s dead, she’s still beautiful. She still brings up feelings of affection in her intended. In fact, he reacts violently when his feelings are questioned.
Structure and Form of Lenore
‘Lenore’ is composed of twenty-six lines which have been separated into one stanza of five lines and three of seven. While the number of lines changes from stanza to stanza there is a similarity to the rhyme throughout. In the first stanza, the lines follow a pattern of aabbccc. The same pattern is repeated in stanzas three and four. In the second stanza, the only containing five lines, the pattern is aabbb. Poe chose to utilize a rhyming triplet at the end of each set. This allows continuity to exist within the lines even when they vary in number and length.
Literary Devices in Lenore
Edgar Allan Poe makes use of several literary devices in ‘Lenore’. These include but are not limited to examples of caesurae, alliteration, and imagery. The latter, imagery, is one of the most important literary devices that poets make use of. It is concerned with lines that encourage readers to make use of all of their senses in order to imagine the scene. For example, these two lines from stanza three: “Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride– / For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies”.
Alliteration is a formal technique that is concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “flown forever” in line one of the first stanza and “grief and groan, to a golden” in stanza four. There are also examples of caesura in the poem. In fact, they are in every stanza. For example, line three of the first stanza. It reads: “And, Guy De Vere, hast thou no tear?–weep now or never more!”
Analysis of Lenore
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!
Come! let the burial rite be read–the funeral song be sung!–
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young–
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.
After reading through a few lines of this first stanza it becomes clear that the speaker is addressing “Guy De Vere.” It is less clear however who the speaker actually is. The emotion presented in this section is somewhat restrained.
The speaker informs the listener that someone’s “spirit,” presumably that of Lenore, has “flown forever” from the earth. Within these lines, the speaker is explaining the spiritual facts of Lenore’s death. Whether is the speaker is truly mourning the death of this woman or not, they do believe her used to have a “saintly soul.”
Poe’s speaker says that Lenore is floating down the “Stygian river.” This is a reference to the River Styx in Greek mythology. They then prod their listener, asking Guy De Vere if he does not feel the loss. He is apparently not showing sufficient emotion. He sheds no tears for her. Here, the speaker tells him that he must “weep now” or never weep again.
In an effort to bring up more emotion from De Vere, the narrator gives additional details about Lenore’s death. They state that she is on a “bier” or table used to display a corpse, and the funeral rites are about to be read. She is the “queen” among the dead. Lenore is the most “saintly” person ever to enter into the afterlife.
“Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
“And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her–that she died!
“How shall the ritual, then, be read?–the requiem how be sung
“By you–by yours, the evil eye,–by yours, the slanderous tongue
“That did to death the innocent that died, and died so young?”
The second stanza is a quintain, meaning that it contains five lines. Here the speaker changes to De Vere himself. He is outraged by what he hears and fights back against his presumed heartlessness. De Vere addresses the unknown mourner as well as anyone else within the surrounding area. He calls them “Wretches!” for their new love for Lenore. He believes that they only cared about her because she was wealthy and did nothing when she fell ill. Lenore also had “pride” the others hated,
The other speakers and listeners of this piece were happy when Lenore died. The next lines mimic the question asked of De Vere in the first stanza. Here, he asks the listeners if they, who did not truly love Lenore, will compose the “ritual” to “be read.”
Peccavimus; but rave not thus! and let a Sabbath song
Go up to God so solemnly the dead may feel so wrong!
The sweet Lenore hath “gone before,” with Hope, that flew beside
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride–
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes–
The life still there, upon her hair–the death upon her eyes.
In the third stanza the first speaker, or perhaps another about whom De Vere was just ranting, takes up the narration. The lines begin with the word “peccavimus,” meaning “we have sinned” in Latin. The speaker is admitting that they have done wrong. This does not mean this person believes that De Vere is right to treat them this way. The speaker asks that De Vere stop talking and allow their “Sabbath song” to go up to God as it should, “solemnly.” This person fears the dead might feel “wrong[ed]” if this doesn’t occur.
The speaker continues on to tell De Vere that he is mostly angry because Lenore died before he could marry her. Lenore’s youth is emphasized by the “life” that is still “upon her yellow hair” even though she is dead.
“Avaunt! to-night my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise,
“But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days!
“Let no bell toll!–lest her sweet soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
“Should catch the note, as it doth float up from the damnéd Earth.
“To friends above, from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven–
“From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven–
“From grief and groan, to a golden throne, beside the King of Heaven.”
In the final lines, De Vere is speaking again. Here, he begins with the word “Avaunt!” He is trying to send the mourners away. De Vere does not want to feel depressed or heavy. He states that his heart is “light” and he will not “raise” a “dirge” for Lenore. This is due to the fact that he plans to meet her again.
In the next lines, he asks that “no bell toll” as Lenore is moving away from the “damnéd Earth” and to heaven. De Vere wants to celebrate the fact that Lenore no longer has to live on the troubled earth. She is now beside the “King of Heaven” where she will be safe and infinitely happier.
Readers who enjoyed Poe’s ‘Lenore,’ should also consider reading some of his other most famous works. These include ‘The Raven’, ‘Eldorado‘, and ‘Annabel Lee’. The last is quite similar to ‘Lenore’ in that they are both concerned with the death of a beautiful, much-loved woman. ‘Annabel Lee’ is the more famed of the two, and the most accessible. ‘The Raven’ is perhaps one of the best-known pieces of poetry in the English language. It is representative of the darkest themes that Poe was interested in throughout his career.