Annabel Lee


Poe wrote Annabel Lee in 1849, revising the last line, In her tomb by the sounding sea (l. 50), to read In her tomb by the side of the sea (l. 50), which many editors consider an unfortunate change. Still, the poem remains among Poes most popular lyrics, a passionate paean to his favorite theme of love and death, a conceit that extends to Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Isis and Osiris, and any number of Greek myths. Without being glib, we may assert that wombs and tombs define much of Poes oeuvre and his sensibility about nature; the terms often fuse, a distinction without a difference. The music of the poem, its internal rhyme and mesmerizing use of repetition, both enchants and haunts the reader.

In six stanzas, the poet establishes a lyric narrative, a concentrated love story set as a ballad. The arrator and Annabel Lee inhabit an unidentified kingdom by the sea (ll. 2, 8, 10) where we loved with a love that was more than love (l. 9), so that the winged seraphs of Heaven / Coveted her and me (ll. 1112). At two key points, the narrator finds the reason (ll. 12, 23) for Annabel Lees demise to be heavens covetousness and heavens envying (l. 22) her and me. There is something defi ant, idolatrous, or possibly blasphemous in the love of the narrator and Annabel Lee, and while the narrator attributes her death to heaven twice, he admits that neither the angels in Heaven above / Nor the demons down under the sea (ll. 3021) can ever separate him from his great love. The possibility that dark forces could be active in her death does not dissuade him from joining her after death (though no overt demise overtakes him) in her sepulchre there by the sea (l. 40). If the narrator has not diedand we might well assume this from the poets use of active voice to tell us I lie down by the side / Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride (ll. 3839)then the implication becomes infinitely more ghastly, with thoughts of necrophilia. We never do discover what led to Annabel Lees being shut up, in a sepulcher / In this kingdom by the sea (ll. 1920) or exactly how the narrator gained entry to this sacred space, or temenos. Perhaps such penetrating, magical power is a factor of the spirit of youth: She was a child and I was a child, / In this kingdom by the sea (ll. 78). Perhaps Poe has assumed that William Wordsworths childlike faith provides him a kind of immunity or transparency (Ralph Waldo Emerson) to gain access to his lovers sequestered bower.

While the passionate beauty of the poem may render futile reasonable attempts to decipher the amorous riddles with which it is rife, we can see that her highborn kinsmen came / And bore her away from me (ll. 1718), a suggestion that social status, and not the intervention of spirits, is responsible for their separation. The narrator and Annabel Lee take a stand against those both older (l. 28) and wiser (l. 29) than they and occupy the same tomb all the nighttide (l. 38). The narrator looks to the moon (l. 34) and the stars (l. 36) and sees the bright eyes / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee (ll. 3637). Whether this narrative is real or merely the lunatic, moon-struck ravings of an amorous dreamer the reader must decide.




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