The poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe narrates the experience of a young man. He loses the woman he loves because of the angels’ envy and claims to keep his feelings for her forever (Poe). By the end of the story, the main character concludes on the impossibility of living without his Annabel (Poe). In this way, Poe’s pessimistic narrative is clearly revolving around the theme of death, but many critics wonder about the role of love in it (Dumas 313; Sharma 5319). While scholars such as Mulhall, Hasanah, et al., and Yin emphasize the importance of death in this work as a source of the poet’s inspiration, this motive does not explain all the details. In addition, the narrator’s focus on himself reflected by Savoye’s work alongside Dean and Boyd, Rădulescu, and Romić, highlighting the significance of society of the time, add complexity to the poem. Despite the apparent orientation of most scholars on examining death as the central theme in “Annabel Lee,” I argue that Poe is writing about love and grief from its loss in the first place.
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The Source of Inspiration
Most scholars write about the importance of the theme of death in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, while it is not the only source of his inspiration. Thus, the poem “Annabel Lee” is also considered from this perspective. For example, Hasanah et al. start their analysis by stating that most stories of Poe are “gothic with dark theme” and continue by saying describing them as a “spooky and sad poem” (57). While this stance is partially true, it refers to the portrayal of a single theme within the narrative rather than its variety. The article’s authors did not seem to address the “love that was more than love,” even though this piece begins with the description of feelings, not their outcome (Poe). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the presented analysis, regardless of its thoroughness, distorts the message.
Poe’s attempts to present the aesthetics of death are present in his works, but this fact does not indicate the absence of other themes, which can be more significant depending on the author’s particular ideas. One can view the portrayal of “terror and ugliness of death” as “another form of beauty,” but this approach would eliminate the difference between Poe’s literary works (Yin 20). For instance, in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” death is also one of the themes, while there is nothing about beauty or love in it (Rădulescu 124). Subsequently, it is logical to claim that Poe was inspired not by this phenomenon but by other love stories, such as the ballad “Lily of Nithsdale” (Dumas 313). Even though he did not move away from his more typical narratives of a dark and gloomy nature, the poem under consideration is different in terms of its themes.
The Influence of Society of the Time
The second circumstance contributing to the need to view the poem “Annabel Lee” as a love story rather than another work about death is the varying perceptions of readers from the past and contemporary people. Mulhall writes that Poe’s focus on death was defined by the fascination of his generation with female death (1). Meanwhile, it was typical for all Victorian authors, and the portrayal of the dead dying women does not necessarily mean that it is the central theme of their pieces. On the contrary, it allows a conclusion on the impact of particular trends on all artists of the time. It confirms that the “tomb by the sounding sea” is no more important than ” the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee” (Poe). The latter means more for the author because it allows reflecting on his loss.
In turn, the significance of the social underpinning of “Annabel Lee” is in the fact that it conveys social circumstances (Syafitri and Marlinton 54). In other words, the line “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams” creates the impression of continuing love of the main character for the woman while referring to the conditions of his life (Poe). This opinion is underpinned by the Victorian ideal of females as “becoming passive objects shaped by man’s desire” (Rădulescu 127). This expression demonstrates the connection between the young lover’s loss and his pessimistic outlook. In this case, death symbolizes merely the attitude towards women of the time, while love remains in the center of the narrative. It is accompanied by the notion of “unconditional love beyond the grave” (Romić 63). It means that this feeling always survives, and a reunion is possible. This conclusion adds to the dominant importance of love in the poem.
Literary Devices Reflecting Love
The third factor supporting the central place of the young man’s affection is the literary devices used by Poe in reflecting on his sufferings. The lines “Than to love and be loved by me” and “But we loved with a love that was more than love” confirm the author’s focus on this aspect (Poe). They are complemented by the hyperbole in “And this maiden she lived with no other thought” (Poe). These techniques, alongside numerous repetitions, contribute to the importance of feelings (Hasanah et al. 57). From this point of view, the theme of separation seems more evident than the one of death. The latter is merely the background for the poem rather than its primary orientation.
Moreover, the use of personification in the narrative is evidence of human feelings during their lifetime rather than the passing. Thus, Poe writes “the moon never beams” while referring to the people’s sensibilities and characteristics. This approach is well-studied by scholars who state that it allows for creating an impression that inanimate objects tend to act “like life-like being” (Syafitri and Marlinton 55). It also corresponds to the incorporation of social meaning, as described above. Nevertheless, in this poem, personification not only enhances the perceptions of readers but also explicitly indicates the author’s focus. He does not attempt to attribute human qualities to “her tomb by the sounding sea,” and even angels seem less important than the moon in the story (Poe). Consequently, the idea of Poe putting an emphasis on celestial objects rather than demons in the sea or other creatures who took away his lover’s life corresponds to the significance of affection rather than death.
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Personal Experience of the Author
The fourth and final circumstance supporting the specified preference of themes by Edgar Allan Poe is the correlation of the narrative with his personal experience. Even the scholars highlighting the importance of death in this poem agree on the connection between the author’s loss of his mother and wife and the young man’s story (Mulhall 1; Hasanah et al. 57). Even though this notion is incorporated in this piece as a representation of “the horrific and mysterious” and “the holy and transcending” beauty and melancholy, the poet’s inspiration was primarily related to his grief (Yin 21). This idea explains the presence of both love and death while making the latter rather a secondary theme. In other words, the sufferings of the main characters are, in fact, Poe’s feelings after losing the people he loved. Thus, the poem would not have been written if he did not have any emotions in this respect.
This conclusion is also confirmed by the depressive state of the author at the time and his sole focus on himself. Thus, the initial version included the line “She was a child and I was a child,” which was consequently replaced with “I was a child, and she was a child” (Savoye 287). It proves that personal feelings were the main circumstance motivating Poe to write this piece. In addition, his depression during the mentioned time period was confirmed by scholars, and he was “devastated but did not give up on their love” (Dean and Boyd 489; Sharma 5319). This factor adds to the stance that feelings were more important in the poem than death. Thus, the author writes more about the aftermath of these events rather than the passing of his lover.
In conclusion, the themes of love and grief from its loss are more important than the one of death in the poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. This stance is confirmed by the initial source of inspiration, which was a love ballad, and the romantic perception of dead women in the Victorian age. In addition, the author used this piece to transmit his personal loss and corresponding feelings, and the adopted literary devices were applied to this idea. The outcomes of this analysis suggest further examination of the themes of Poe’s works by scholars from the perspective of their importance comparable to or even surpassing the general poet’s focus on death.
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Dumas, Jacky W. “The “Annabel Lee” Blues.” The Comparatist, vol. 43, 2019, pp. 313-323. Web.
Hasanah, Uswatun, et al. “Figurative Language in Poe’s Annabel Lee.” Jurnal Ilmu Budaya, vol. 9, no. 1, 2021, pp. 54-61. Web.
Mulhall, Brenna. “The Romanticization of the Dead Female Body in Victorian and Contemporary Culture.” Aisthesis: Honors Student Journal, vol. 8, no. 2, 2017, pp. 1-8.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Poetry Foundation. n.d. Web.
Rădulescu, Laura Monica. “The Alienation of the Female Figure: Denial of Subjectivity in The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.” Explorations of Identity and Communication, edited by Carmen Popescu, Editura Universitaria Craiova, Presa Universitară Clujeană Cluj-Napoca, 2018, pp. 121-128.
Romić, Iva. “Female Characters in Selected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” KICK, vol. 2, 2019, pp. 61-66.
Savoye, Jeffrey A. “The Capital Warning of “Annabel Lee”.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review, vol. 19, no. 2, 2018, pp. 287-289. Web.
Sharma, Lok Raj. “Exploring Basic Modes of Expression in English Poetry.” International Journal of Recent Advances in Multidisciplinary Research, vol. 06, iss. 11, 2019, pp. 5317-5320.
Syafitri, Dewi, and Melisa Marlinton. “An Analysis of Figurative Language Used in Edgar Allan Poe’s Poems.” Linguistic, English Education and Art (LEEA) Journal, vol. 2, no.1, 2018, pp. 43-59. Web.
Yin, Jiaqi. “An Analysis of “Beauty of Death” in Edgar Allen Poe’s Poetry.” English Language, Literature & Culture, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018, pp. 20-24. Web.