Friday, April 23, 2010

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Following up on the yesterday's poem, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, I'm going with another sad tale of love and loss: "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, which is, like "The Highwayman", a narrative poem and has (besides a sad love story) internal repetition, which is what brought this poem to mind. The lovely image in today's post (of which I own a print) is by Kevin Slattery, who is a friend and a brilliant artist, and who will be only too happy to sell you prints and mugs and the like over at his website - he even has a Mother's Day special going right now. Thanks again, Kevin, for letting me use your lovely work on my blog!

Annabel Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

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 side of the sea.*

*The last line here is from Poe's original manuscript; it is sometimes printed as "In her tomb by the sounding sea," but I happen to like the original ending better (metrically and sound-wise).

Form: A mish-mash of poetic feet (including a lot of anapests: tadaDUM) that impels the lines along. If you really want a break down on it, let me know and I'll be happy to do a line, stanza or the whole poem. Same goes for the rhyme scheme, which uses a lot of repetition and end-rhyme (particularly things ending in a long E sound: Lee/me/sea). Even with the varying line lengths and rhyme schemes, the story in this poem coupled with its use of metre, rhyme and repetition made it quite popular for recitation.

Discussion: This poem, written in the year of Poe's death (1849), is widely believed to have been written in memory of Poe's wife, Virginia, who died of consumption (tuberculosis) two years earlier. Poe had married his much-younger cousin (um, she was only 13 when they wed) in a love match, and she died when she was only 26 or 27. Poe lived only two years longer, alcoholic and quite ill himself (although the cause of his death has never been determined, and rumors abound that foul play may have been involved).

The poem speaks of an idealized love, but one that cannot be severed by trifling things like mortality. It's a lovely, heartfelt tribute to his deceased wife, if she was its inspiration (there are other women whom Poe had known in younger years who claimed the poem was about them). There is also a legend in Charleston, South Carolina, involving a woman named Annabel Lee and a heartbroken sailor, which may have been his source of inspiration for the poem (especially since he served as in the army in that town). Although it is not, strictly speaking, a ballad (in part because the stanza lengths vary), Poe referred to it as such.

There are some people (I'm looking at you, Harold Bloom, although you're not the only one) who will insist that Poe was a hack as a poet, but I am not one of those people who thinks that only poems that are hard to understand or remember are good ones. I think that any poem that resonates with the reader in some way, that leads to either a recognition or revelation or emotional response, can qualify, and under my personal unfussy rubric, "Annabel Lee" makes the grade. Is it high literature? No. But it packs a wallop, and many folks will remember this poem or "The Highwayman" and their stories of love and loss far more than they will remember the particulars of poems that are harder to parse.

I'll be back later in the day with some Shakespeare, since today is the day that his birth is celebrated. (I won't go so far as to declare it his actual birthday, since that is not actually known for a fact.)

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