By Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
Background Notes Compiled by Michael J. Cummings..© 2005
Setting The narrator (persona) writes about a fictional kingdom along the ocean shore. It is an idyllic, beautiful, land of enchantment–a paradise on earth–where he and Annabel Lee fell in love as adolescents. One can imagine that they strolled the beaches, hand in hand, in gentle breezes while the sun went down and the tide rushed in. This kingdom, where love ruled their hearts, remains dear to the memory of the poet after Annabel Lee dies, for his soul remains united with hers.
Characters Narrator (persona): A man of deep sensibility who extolls a young maiden with whom he fell deeply in love. Annabel Lee: Beautiful young maiden loved by the poet. She was of noble birth, as Line 17 of Stanza 1 suggests when it says she had “highborn” relatives. Annabel Lee probably represents Poe's wife, who died at a young age. Seraphs: Members of the highest order of angels around the throne of God. According to the Bible, they each had three pairs of wings. In the poem, the seraphs are so envious of the love between the narrator and Annabel Lee that they cause Annabel’s death. Relative of Annabel Lee: A “highborn kinsman” (Line 17, Stanza 1) who carries away and entombs her body.
Date of Publication "Annabel Lee" was published on October 9, 1849, in the New York Daily Tribune.
Theme Eternal love. The love between the narrator and Annabel Lee is so strong and beautiful and pure that even the seraphs, the highest order of angels in heaven, envy it. They attempt to kill this love by sending a chilling wind that kills Annabel Lee. However, the love remains alive–eternal–because the souls of the lovers remain united. The death of a beautiful woman is a common theme in Poe’s writing.
Familiar Motif: Romeo and Juliet Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the narrator and Annabel Lee are both very young when they fall deeply in love. In addition, like Shakespeare’s “star-crossed” lovers, Poe’s lovers become victims of forces beyond their control. Finally, the narrator and Annabel Lee–like Romeo and Juliet–experience a love beyond the understanding of older persons. (See the opening lines of the second stanza.)
The Real Annabel Lee The model for Annabel Lee was probably Poe’s wife, Virginia Clemm, whom he married when she was only 13. Their marriage was a very happy one. Unfortunately, she died of tuberculosis in January 1847 when she was still in her twenties. Poe died two years and nine months later–on October 7, 1849. “Annabel Lee” was his last poem.
Rhyme, Rhythm, Repetition: Poe uses three R’s–rhyme, rhythm, and repetition–in “Annabel Lee” to create a harmony of sounds that underscore the exquisite harmony of the narrator’s relationship with his beloved.
Throughout the poem, Poe repeats the soud of long "e." For example, in the first stanza, Line 2 ends with sea, Line 4 with Lee, and Line 6 with me. Stanzas 2 and 3 repeat the sea, Lee, me pattern, although Stanza 3 adds a second end-rhyming sea. Stanza 4 alters the pattern to me, sea, and Lee. Stanza 5 uses we, we, sea, and Lee; the last stanza uses Lee, Lee, sea, and sea. A notable example of internal rhyme occurs in the last line of Stanza 4: “Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”
Rhythm and Repetition
The lines of the poem alternate in length between a long line (usually with 9 to 11 syllables) and a short line (usually with 6 to 8 syllables), as in the first stanza:
.......It was many and many a year ago, (11 syllables)
.......In a kingdom by the sea, (7 syllables)
.......That a maiden there lived whom you may know (10 syllables)
.......By the name of Annabel Lee (8 syllables)
.......And this maiden she lived with no other thought (11 syllables)
.......Than to love and be loved by me. (8 syllables)
Poe repeats this rhythmic pattern throughout the poem, perhaps to suggest the rise and fall of the tides. He also repeats key phrases–such as in this kingdom by the sea and my Annabel Lee (or my beautiful Annabel Lee)–to create haunting refrains. In addition, Poe sometimes repeats words or word patterns within a single line, as in (1) many and many a year ago, (2) we loved with a love that was more than love, and (3) my darling–my darling. Poe further enhances the rhythm of the poem with the repetition of consonant sounds (alliteration). Notice, for example, the repetition of the “w” and “l” sounds in this line in Stanza 2: But we loved with a love that was more than love." Poe sometimes couples repetition of consonant sounds with repetition of vowel sounds, as in many and many, love and be loved, and those who were older than we.
Use of Alliteration: Poe relies heavily on alliteration in "Annabel Lee" to create pleasing sound patterns. Following are examples of alliteration in the poem:
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee......................(Alliterating words: came, cloud, killing)
But our love it was
stronger by far than the love
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
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By Edgar Allan Poe
Complete Text With Annotation and Endnotes by Michael J. Cummings
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