“Ulalume” is a striking example of what Aldous Huxley characterized as the “vulgarity” of Poe’s poetry when he was trying too hard to make his work poetical. It is also an example of what made critic Yvor Winters, in the most severe attack ever launched against Poe, call him an “explicit obscurantist.” Winters’s distaste for the poem begins with its use of unidentified places such as Weir, Auber, and ghoul-haunted woodlands, which he says are introduced merely to evoke emotion at small cost. He also claims that the violent emotion suggested by the references to Mount Yaanek and the Boreal Pole in the second stanza are not adequately accounted for or motivated. Finally, Winters argues that the subject of grief in the poem is used as a general excuse for obscure and only vaguely related emotion.
Such criticism, however, ignores Poe’s critical theory that a poem should be the “rhythmical creation of Beauty” derived from those techniques that communicate the melancholy feeling of the loss of a loved one. “Ulalume” shares many characteristics with “The Raven,” for the basic situation is the same. Instead of a repetition of a refrain as in “The Raven,” however, the important repetition here is a dramatic one: the speaker’s return to the place where he buried Ulalume exactly one year before—a return he seems to make in a dreamlike and hallucinatory trance.
The subtitle of the poem, “A ballad,” justifies the...
(The entire section is 538 words.)