Annabel Lee

Annabel Lee
By Edgar Allan Poe – 1809-1849

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 winged 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 kinsman 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 sounding sea.

About the Poem

“Annabel Lee” is the last complete poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe. Like many other of Poe’s poems including “The Raven.” “Ulalume,” and “To One in Paradise,” “Annabel Lee” hauntingly follows the theme of the death of a beautiful woman, which Poe called “the most poetical topic in the world.” In “Annabel Lee,” the narrator fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young He loves her so strongly that even angels are envious. He continues to love her even after her death. 

Scholars debate who, if anyone, was the inspiration for “Annabel Lee.” Like women in many other works by Poe, she marries young and is struck with illness. Many women have been suggested, but Poe’s wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe is one of the more credible candidates. The couple were first cousins and publicly married when Virginia Clemm was 13 and Poe was 27. Biographers disagree as to the nature of the couple’s relationship. Though their marriage was loving, some biographers suggest they viewed one another more like a brother and sister. In January 1842, she contracted tuberculosis, growing worse for five years until she died of the disease at the age of 24 in the family’s cottage, at that time outside New York City.

A local legend in Charleston, South Carolina, tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee. Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor’s time stationed in Charleston was up. While away, he heard of Annabel’s death from yellow fever, but her father would not allow him at the funeral. Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met. There is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe had heard of this legend, but locals insist it was his inspiration, especially considering Poe was briefly stationed in Charleston while in the army in 1827.

The poem focuses on an ideal love that is unusually strong. The narrator’s actions show that he not only loves Annabel Lee, but he worships her, something he can only do after her death. The narrator admits that he and Annabel Lee were children when they fell in love, but his explanation that angels murdered her is in itself childish, suggesting he has failed to mature since then. His repetition of this assertion suggests he is trying to rationalize his excessive feelings of loss. Unlike “The Raven,” in which the narrator believes he will “nevermore” be reunited with his love, “Annabel Lee” says the two will be together again, as not even demons “can ever dissever” their souls.

Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” in 1849. The poem was not published until shortly after Poe’s death that same year.

About the Poet

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and American literature. Poe was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story and is considered to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, as well as a significant contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe is the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

I am not going to go into great detail about Poe’s life. It was a life filled with much sadness as can be seen in many of his poems. However, I will relate one of my favorite stories about Poe. After accruing substantial gambling debt during his freshman year at the University of Virginia, an 18-year-old Poe found himself desperate for financial stability. Like any reasonable teenage poet with massive debt and a gambling addiction, he joined the Army. Poe enlisted as an artilleryman and soon distinguished himself enough to become an artificer, a respected billet for someone with a mechanical mind adept at preparing explosives. Just two years into his five-year enlistment, Poe was promoted to sergeant major, the senior rank for noncommissioned officers. Despite excelling in the Army, Poe felt he had served “as long as suits my ends or my inclination,” and began searching for an early way out. He found an unorthodox solution through an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Poe traveled to West Point and enrolled as a cadet on July 1, 1830. Poe did well academically but was soon undone by continued quarrels with his foster father and money problems. During his first term, he decided to leave West Point but could not resign without the consent of his foster father. When Allen did not consent, Poe set out to get himself court-martialed and dismissed. In his seven months at West Point, he accumulated an impressive record—though not of the sort to which a cadet usually aspired. The Conduct Roll for July–December 1831 lists the number of offenses committed by cadets and their corresponding demerits. Poe’s name appears about midway down the list of top offenders, with 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. The roll for January alone shows Poe at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. It would appear that Poe was trying very hard to get kicked out of West Point. Legends of his misconduct range from him being constantly drunk to him showing up for formation naked. The story goes that West Point’s regulations for cadets stated that cadets must attend formation in belt, gloves, and boots (or something to that effect). Poe supposedly showed up in a belt, gloves, boots, a smile, and nothing else. However, there is no mention in West Point’s official records of Poe reporting for drills in “a belt, gloves, boots, a smile, and nothing else,” as has often been rumored and given as a reason for his expulsion, but trust me, a lot of things at military academies don’t go in the official record. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. He tactically pleaded not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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