The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

“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 death. He also takes pains to point out that those who were “older” and “far wiser” than the young couple did not understand the strength of their love. The clear implication is that the speaker was not the social equal of Annabel Lee and that the families did not bless their union.

It seems that the speaker’s primary reason for telling his story is not to reminisce and enjoy again for a moment the pleasures of that great love. Instead, his purpose is to accuse those who tried to separate him from his Annabel Lee and to tell them defiantly that their machinations did not work. Although her death occurred “many and many a year ago,” their love has not ended. The narrator is still devoted to her, still dreams of her, still feels that their souls are united. He has remained true to her; in fact, he has literally never left her side. He says in the poem’s last lines that he spends every night lying next to her in her sepulchre by the sea.

The entire story is told in the words of Annabel Lee’s lover, with no omniscient narrator to offer guidance. The reader must decide, then, how to interpret that story. Edgar Allan Poe may have intended this as a romantic tale of young lovers who could not be parted even in death. Perhaps, however, “Annabel Lee” is the demented reflection of a madman.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

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...

(This entire section contains 469 words.)

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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 missed.

The hypnotic rhythm operates on another level through the repetition of entire words and phrases. Variations of “in a kingdom by the sea” occur five times in this forty-one-line poem, and the name “Annabel Lee” occurs seven times. Key words appear a surprising number of times in such a short poem; for example, “love” occurs six times in the first two stanzas.

Within individual lines, the repetition is even more striking. Lines such as “But we loved with a love that was more than love” are almost numbing; the reader is not expected to pause over such a line and analyze its logical sense, but simply to experience the accumulation of “love” after “love” and derive meaning (perhaps “sensation” would be more accurate) that way.

The dreamlike feeling of this poem is further enhanced by the poet’s use of consonants that do not jar or explode, but rather glide smoothly. The poem is full of m, n, l, and s sounds, with very few harsh consonants. The only stressed word beginning with t, for example (excluding words beginning with th), is the dramatic “tomb” in the last line. 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.”

Historical Context

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 847

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, became agricultural, while the Northern states tended toward manufacturing economies that would have required more training for the slaves than would have been practical.

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, the issue of slavery was hotly debated. In 1768, the Mason-Dixon Line established the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, providing a line of demarcation between the slave-holding South and the free North. The first American society for abolishing slavery was founded in Pennsylvania in 1775. A number of states, including Southern states, passed laws outlawing the barbaric slave trade (it was eventually outlawed on a national level in 1808). The laws were empty gestures, though, because there were already more than enough slaves in the country with little need to import more. In Virginia, for example, there were as many slaves as there were whites, while South Carolina had twice as many slaves as free whites. Slavery was firmly established as part of Southern society, but Southern politicians could feel the pressure from Abolitionists to end the practice. To support their way of life, Southerners felt that they had to assure that slavery was accepted in as many new states as possible.

The first half of the 1800s was marked by expansion, and as each new state joined the Union, there were bitter debates in Congress about whether slavery would be allowed there. For the most part, the South remained slave territory and the North remained free, but there were bitter fights for states near the border or those west of the Mississippi river. The Missouri Compromise, in 1820, was one notable case of Congressional decision-making: there were eleven slave states and eleven free states when Missouri, a slave territory, applied to enter the Union, so Northern politicians insisted that the territory had to give up slavery if it wanted statehood. As a compromise, Maine, a free territory, was admitted, and Missouri was allowed to keep its slaves, and a new dividing line for states that came from the land bought in the Louisiana Purchase was established. The next major occasion for setting boundaries came in the 1840s, when President Polk, unsuccessful in his attempt to buy land from Mexico sent troops to the Southwest to start a war against Mexico. With the American victory, Mexico gave up everything north of the Rio Grande, losing 35% of its land and opening up the opportunity for new states. The struggle between Abolitionists and the supporters of slavery who felt threatened reached new levels as the government prepared to decide which new states, if any, would have slaves.

As the struggle continued between those who fought for the moral cause of freedom and those who fought to hold onto their traditions, the debate over what to do with slaves who escaped to free lands became more intense. Freed slaves became more prominent. Frederick Douglass an escaped slave, published his autobiography and started an Abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, which he supplemented with money raised from speaking fees in Europe. In 1838, a secret organization called the Underground Railroad established a path of safe hiding places that escaping slaves could follow north to Canada. In an effort to calm the growing rift between the North and the South, Congress enacted a new, harsh Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, toughening the penalties against escaping slaves and the people who assisted them. Free blacks in free territories could be arrested and taken south into slavery if anyone so much as accused them of being escaped slaves, while people accused of helping escaped slaves faced time in jail. The law was found unconstitutional in 1854 and then upheld by the Supreme Court in 1857. When "Annabel Lee" was published, eleven years before the outbreak of the Civil War, the question of slavery and its legal and moral ramifications was part of everyday American life.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

"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, the first syllable of "many" and the word "year" receive stress after two unaccented syllables, as shown below:

Itwasma / nyandma / nyayear / a go.

The anapest rhythm is an exciting, climactic one that builds in momentum just as the overall structure of the poem does. To vary the rhythm, the poem also uses iambic feet, or pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables, as in "ago" in the line shown above.

Compare and Contrast

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

  • 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 available, but are seldom used anymore.

  • 1849: Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and began her career with the Underground Railroad, the secret organization that helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada. She went on to make nearly twenty trips between the North and South, freeing three hundred slaves.

    Today: Harriet Tubman is recognized as an American hero.

  • 1849: The first talk of secession came from the Southern states, in response to President Zachary Taylor's decision to let Californians vote for whether they wanted slavery in their state when it was admitted into the union. Hardcore supporters of slavery thought this was a betrayal of the Missouri Compromise, which decreed that slavery should be allowed anywhere below thirty-six degrees latitude.

    1860: The South did secede from the United States, provoking the Civil War.

    Today: The United States is a prosperous and fairly harmonious country, with no powerful separatist movements.

  • 1849: The Women's Rights movement was on the rise in America: the first Women's Rights Convention was held in Seneca, New York, in 1848, with the first national convention held in 1850.

    Today: After strong advances in the 1960s and 1970s, the Women's Rights movement has suffered a great drop in popular support. Some of its detractors say that it favors women at the expense of equality. Others feel that the movement has become irrelevant.

Media Adaptations

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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 (1968).

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources 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.

Further Reading Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe, 2nd ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977. Buranelli's concise book briefly discusses each of the author's works of poetry, prose and criticism, providing a good general sense of context but not much depth.

Carlson, Eric W., ed. The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Criticism Since 1829. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1969. This book contains essays of critics ranging from Poe's early publications through to the 1960s. Some of the most important literary figures of the last two hundred years are represented here: Baudelaire, Swinburne Henry James Dostoevski T. S. Eliot W. H. Auden, Richard Wilbur, and many more. Of particular interest is the obituary published by the Reverend Rufus Griswold using the pseudonym "Ludwig": the slanderous lies told in this article haunted Poe's literary reputation for years.

Dayan, Joan. "Amorous Bondage: Poe, Ladies and Slaves," in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, pp. 179-209. This scholarly essay draws the connection between the institution of slavery in the South, where Poe lived, and his treatment of female characters in his love poetry.

Fletcher, Richard M. The Stylistic Development of Edgar Allan Poe. The Hague: Mouton & Co. Publishers, 1973. This book attempts to understand Poe's stories and his poems together: in particular, it pairs "Annabel Lee" with the short story "Hop-Frog."

Murray, David. "'A Strange Sound, as of a Harp-string Broken': The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe," in Edgar Allan Poe: The Design of Order, edited by A. Robert Lee. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1987. This essay questions Poe's reputation as a late figure in the Romantic movement and a forerunner of the Symbolist movement.

Porte, Joel. The Romance in America: Studies in Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and James. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1969. One of the clearest and most understandable works to put Poe into proper context among other figures who are not always thought of as his peers.

Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. This book gives a good overview of the social situation in America two years before this poem was published, in the year that Poe's wife, who is presumed to be the model for Annabel Lee, died.

Thomas, Dwight, and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987. With an almost day-by-day breakdown of events in and related to Poe's life from birth to death, this is an indispensable guide for anyone interested in doing research on the poet.


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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 Press, 1999.


Critical Essays