The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Annabel Lee” is in some ways a simple ballad—that is, a narrative poem intended to be recited or sung. The first four lines of the six-line first stanza are written in the traditional ballad stanza form. The rhyme scheme is abab, the first and third lines have four metrical feet, and the second and fourth lines have three feet. The language, too, is conventional for a ballad. The poem begins: “It was many and many a year ago,/ In a kingdom by the sea.” This is the language of fairy tales, of beautiful princesses and their admirers, of great deeds and tragic consequences.
The poem is written in the first person, spoken by a man who was once the lover of “the beautiful Annabel Lee.” The story, as it unfolds through six stanzas of six to eight lines each, is a simple one.
When the speaker and Annabel Lee were young (“I was a child and she was a child”), they loved each other passionately “in a kingdom by the sea.” There is some evidence that the couple were actually married; at one point the speaker refers to Annabel Lee as his “bride.” So great was their love that even the angels, who were “not half so happy in heaven,” were envious of it. In their jealousy, the angels sent a chilling wind and killed Annabel Lee.
There are hints that it was not only the angels who disapproved of this courtship. The narrator reveals resentment of Annabel Lee’s “highborn kinsmen” who take her away after...
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
If “Annabel Lee” has become one of Poe’s most popular poems, its popularity is probably attributable to its haunting rhythm, its lulling repetition. Like many of Poe’s poems—and this is no slight to them—the sound is more significant than the thematic content. The story takes place “in a kingdom by the sea,” and Poe takes great pains to capture the sound of the sea in his poem. A wavelike cadence is suggested by the rhymes on the three-foot lines; all the shorter lines in the poem end with the same e sound.
The echoing of “sea,” “Lee,” and “me” throughout the poem is hypnotic. Like the sound of waves in the background, the reader gradually stops being aware of the repetitive sound but is stirred by it on a subconscious level. Internal rhyme also contributes to this wavelike rhythm. In phrases such as “can never dissever” and “chilling and killing,” the stressed syllables seem to receive a bit of additional stress because of the rhyme, and the effect is of regular, lulling pulses.
The poet uses the power of his rhythm to particular effect in stanza 5, where he breaks out of the established pattern of alternating three-and four-foot lines. In this stanza, he adds an extra three-foot line: “Of those who were older than we—/ Of many far wiser than we—.” The unexpected change in rhythm jars the reader out of a lulled, dreamlike state for a moment, so that the irony of these two lines is not...
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In 1849, America was still expanding westward, and the addition of each new state stirred anew the debate between supporters of slavery and the reformers (referred to as "Abolitionists") who wanted to abolish slavery. The slave trade had developed as the country was developing during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many of the settlers of the original thirteen colonies brought "indentured servants" from Europe. These were usually citizens of the lower classes who were willing to sell their freedom for a time, usually seven years, in exchange for the price of passage to the new continent. From that practice, the practice of permanently keeping people with different physical characteristics seemed a natural progression. Some colonies, most notably Virginia, dabbled in keeping American Indians for slave labor, but possibly because of the bloody confrontations that had served to take the country from the Indians, the European property owners never felt comfortable keeping them around. The Dutch built a profitable trade selling captured Africans in the colonies and in the Caribbean. Slavery was first legally recognized in the colonies in 1650. By 1676, Dutch traders were selling 15,000 Africans in the Americas each year. There were several reasons why slavery became a Southern institution. The slaves were from agricultural societies, and, as the colonies developed, the South, which was warmer and more fertile,...
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"Annabel Lee" consists of six stanzas that range from six to eight lines each. The poem uses repetition and rhyme to create the qualities of unity and euphony, or a pleasing musicality. The repeated use of the end rhymes "sea," "Lee," "we," and "me" offer a link from stanza to stanza throughout the poem. The name "Annabel Lee" appears at least once in every stanza, and the phrase "kingdom by the sea" also appears frequently, adding to the unified structure. Repetition of key words within lines gives the poem its pleasing sound while at the same time emphasizing main ideas. For example, in line 1, "many and many" establishes the fact that a long period of time has elapsed since the speaker began mourning, an important fact to recognize if the reader is to understand the extent of the speaker's grief.
The poem's rhyme scheme begins simply with an ababcb pattern but gets more complicated as the poem progresses, repeating rhymes within a line (known as internal rhyme) and ending with the pattern abcbddbb in the last stanza. The lines increase in length and in number in this last stanza. These devices—the increasingly complex rhyme scheme and lengthening of lines—allow the poem to intensify in dramatic pitch.
The predominant rhythm that the poem uses is the anapest. An anapest is a type of meter consisting of three syllables, with one stressed syllable occurring after two unstressed syllables. For example in the first line,...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1849: Two months after "Annabel Lee" was published Edgar Allan Poe was found in a tavern in Baltimore, muttering incoherently. He was admitted to the hospital, where he died four days later.
Today: Despite the claims of earlier biographers who wrote that Poe had been on a self-destructive drinking binge, modern historians guess that his condition probably had a physiological cause, such as a stroke.
- 1849: The discovery of gold in California the year before sparked a "Gold Rush" to that territory. Seventy-seven thousand people, dubbed "49ers," rushed to California that year, travelling across unpopulated plains and the Rocky Mountains. California mines yielded $450,000,000 in gold.
Today: California is the most populous state in the union, with over ten million more people than the next most populous, New York.
- 1849: The safety pin was invented by Walter Hunt, also known for inventing the sewing machine and the paper disposable shirt collar. To pay off some debts, he sold the rights to the safety pin for $400.
1942: A Swiss manufacturer invented Velcro, a device used to fasten two strips of cloth together without the use of pins.
Today: Safety pins are still...
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Topics for Further Study
- In this poem, Poe places an ideal love in "a kingdom by the sea." Write a poem in which you give a location to be the site of a perfect love—would it be rural, urban, mountainous, coastal? Write about what you think it would be like to have a loved one buried at that place that you associate with living, vibrant love.
- At the time this poem was written, 1849, America was still an expanding country, with conflicting opinions between the North and South over whether newly formed states should allow slavery. By contrast, "Annabel Lee" takes place in a well-established social structure, a kingdom. Explain what you think nostalgia might have been like for Americans at that time, both for those who were part of the established order and those who were expanding the frontier.
- Like much of Poe's poetry, "Annabel Lee" has an easily recognizable rhythm. Set this poem to music, using either original instrumentation or melodies sampled from other songs.
- Research the seven stages of death as described by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Explain which of these stages the narrator of the poem is undergoing at each point in the poem.
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- Dover Press Audio Thrift Classics has produced Listen and Read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and other Favorite Poems (1998) as a book and audiocassette.
- Marianne Faithful renders "Annabel Lee" on the audio compact disk Closed On Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1997) by UNI/Polygram.
- Arts and Entertainment Network has produced the videocassette Biography: Edgar Allan Poe (1996).
- Educational Insights, Inc., has produced the book and audiocassette The Best of Poe (1999).
- Caedmon (publisher) presents Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1955) on audiocassette with Basil Rathbone.
- Michael Cain renders "Annabel Lee" on the audiocassette The Silver Lining: The World's Most Distinguished Actors Read Their Favorite Poems (1995) for BMP, Ltd.
- Guidance Associates presents the videocassette, filmstrip, and teacher's guide Edgar Allan Poe and the Literature of Melancholy (1980).
- Monterey Home Video has produced the videocassette Edgar Allan Poe: Architect of Dreams (1995).
- A&E Home Video has produced the videocassette The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe (1999).
- GRJ Productions has produced the 16mm film Poe: A Visit With the Author...
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What Do I Read Next?
- The poems by Poe that are most often associated with this one are "Lenore" and "To Helen," which are also about the deaths of young women. All of his works can be found in the Library of America's superior collection Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales, published in 1984.
- Poe is considered the first serious literary critic in America. His ideas about art are evident in his nonfiction prose, collected in a different Library of America volume entitled Edgar Allan Poe, Essays and Reviews: Theory of Poetry, Reviews of British and Continental Authors, Reviews of American Authors and American Literature.
- Tundra Books has a hardcover book-length edition of this poem, released in 1987. Annabel Lee has text by Edgar Allan Poe and watercolors by award-winning children's book artist Gilles Tibo. It is usually cataloged with children's books.
- One of the best biographies of Poe available is Kenneth Silverman's Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance, published in 1992 by Harper Perennial. This book is not only richly detailed, but it tells an engrossing tale of the poet's life.
- John Evangelist Walsh concentrates on the four days leading up to Poe's death (which was two days before "Annabel Lee" was published) in his brief 1998 book
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Hammond, J. R. An Edgar Allan Poe Companion. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. Yale University Press, 1987.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry Tales, and Selected Essays, edited by Patrick F. Quinn and G. R. Thompson. Library of America College Editions, 1996.
Powys, John Cowper. "Edgar Allan Poe," in Visions and Revisions: A Book of Literary Devotions. G. Arnold Shaw, 1915, pp. 263-277.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Rice, C. Duncan. The Rise and Fall of Black Slavery. Evanston, IL: Harper and Rowe, Publishers, 1975.
Saintsbury, George. "Edgar Allan Poe," in Prefaces and Essays, edited by Oliver Elton. Macmillan & Co., 1933, pp. 314-23.
Stovall, Floyd. Edgar Poe the Poet: Essays New and Old on the Man and His Work. University Press of Virginia, 1969, 273 p.
Wilbur, Richard. "Poe and the Art of Suggestion," in The University of Mississippi Studies in English, Vol. III, 1982, pp. 1-13, reprinted in Critical Essays on Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Eric W. Carlson. G. K. Hall and Company, 1987, pp. 160-171....
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Burluck, Michael L. Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction. New York: Garland, 1993.
Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Hutchisson, James M. Poe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z. New York: Facts On File, 2001.
Whalen, Terence. Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University...
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