Critics have been baffled by “Lenore” for more than one hundred years. There is no consensus as to what the poem is about, or who the speakers are, or even how many speakers there are. Most of the clues to the poem’s meaning actually lie outside the poem, in Poe’s other writings.
In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe claimed that the most poetical topic was the death of a young woman. Further, he wrote, the best speaker to utter the mournful lines was the grieving lover. Poe went back to this idea again and again, creating poems such as “Ulalume,” “The Raven,” and “Annabel Lee.”
The woman Lenore is typical of the dead women mourned in Poe’s poetry. Her youth is emphasized; the phrase “died so young” occurs three times in the first two stanzas. Both the grieving lover and the other speaker refer to her innocence and her place in heaven. She is radiantly beautiful, in death as in life. Even the woman’s name is identifiable as a Poe creation. Lenore takes her place with Annabel Lee, Ulalume, Ligeia, Morella, Eleonora, Helen, and others—the letter l seemed to Poe somehow fitting for the name of a dead, loved woman.
The identity of the lover as Guy De Vere seems clear enough from the first stanza of the poem. Since he is addressed directly in stanza 1, it seems only logical that it is he who speaks the next stanza and the fourth stanza, which are framed in quotation marks. De Vere might be...
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