What kinds of figurative language are used in the poem "Annabel Lee," by Edgar Allan Poe?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Poe's "Annabel Lee," the author uses a great deal of figurative language. Figurative language is often used in poetry. Figurative language, by definition, is not to be taken literally.

There are a great many examples of literary devices. For example, note the use of repetition below, a device used many times in Poe's poem:

She was a child and I was a child... (7)

Literary devices dealing with sound are easily recognized when the poem is read aloud. Refer to the stanza below:

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. (1-6)

End rhyme is apparent in lines 2, 4 and 6 with the words "sea," "Lee" and "me." Internal rhyme is found in the sixth stanza; note the use of "beams" in the middle of the line that rhymes with "dreams" at the line's end:

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams...

It occurs two lines later (using "rise" and "eyes") with:

And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes

Assonance is found in line 5 with the words "this," "lived" and "with." (The short "i" sound is the same.) Alliteration (the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of a group of words) is found with the repetition of the words "many" (in line 1) and "loved" (in line 6).

In identifying figurative language, the reader first recognizes the use of imagery, used to create a picture in the reader's mind. Imagery is found, for example, in hyperbole.

Hyperbole is present in lines 11 and 12:

With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

 

It can only be an exaggeration of the depth of their love to note that the angels covet it, for there is no way to know this for certain; however, the speaker is using hyperbole to show how deep and wonderful is the love the two share.

The reader sees it again in the lines:

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me—

The lines above almost seem paradoxical in their exaggeration. It is impossible, based upon our definitions/perceptions of angels, to believe that angels would envy anything on earth when compared to their heavenly existence. This is more evident in trying to conceptualize that the angels would envy the love of humans—especially to the point that they would send a chilling wind to kill the young woman—an evil act.

First used in the late 16th Century, "Once upon a time" has become a phrase generally associated with a fairytale. Often this kind of story has mystical or magical elements (magic beans, a fairy godmother, etc.). After using this introductory phrase, Poe continues establishing this mood with words such as "kingdom" and "maiden," which are also associated with these kinds of tales. Poe may well use this introduction to create a mood of something supernatural, i.e., something beyond our natural world. However, unlike most fairytales shared with youngsters before bedtime, this story goes beyond magical and becomes haunting, with its sad ending at the loss of Annabel Lee. 

If “Annabel Lee” has become one of Poe’s most popular poems, its popularity is probably attributable to its haunting rhythm, its lulling repetition. 

The lilting movement of the poem is yet another element of the poem that gives the reader the sense of being in a fairytale. Except for the tragedy of the speaker's loss, this might well serve as a bedtime story that would bring about easy sleep for the listener, as Poe creates a haunting story, very much like a melody, using sound and imagery to capture the reader's imagination.

The sound of the poem, then, is quiet, rhythmic, hypnotic. It is this haunting sound, not the story itself, that causes most readers to remember “Annabel Lee.”

Of the sounds and images employed, perhaps the use of hyperbole is figurative language that most easily convinces the reader that poetic license has been used in this poem. The presence of envious angels and chilling winds that can be directed by one's will allow the reader to grasp that some elements of the tale may be magical or like a fairytale—perhaps more so, giving us the feeling that the love between the speaker and Annabel Lee was so amazing that the earth could not contain it, the angels could not bear it and no one on earth (even those "older than we" or "far wiser than we") could ever hope to experience anything like it.

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jmj616's profile pic

jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The most important form of figurative language used in "Annabel Lee" is a kind of repetition that is called epanalepsis--the repetition of a word or phrase at regular intervals.

The first stanza alone contains three examples of this device:

a) It was many and many a year ago;

b) That a maiden there lived who you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived...

c) she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

In the second stanza, Poe repeats the words child and love (3 times).

In the third stanza, Poe begins to repeat phrases that he had used in the second stanza: "this kingdom by the sea," and "my Annabel Lee" are both "borrowed" from Stanza 2.

These repetitions (and others like it throughout the poem) give the poem its song-like, almost childish quality.

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