The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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 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

(Poetry for Students)

In 1849, America was still expanding westward, and the addition of each new state stirred anew the debate between supporters of slavery and...

(The entire section is 847 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

"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...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

  • 1849: Two months after "Annabel Lee" was published Edgar Allan Poe was found...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

  • 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...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

  • 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...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

  • 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....

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Hammond, J. R. An Edgar Allan Poe Companion. Totowa, NJ: Barnes...

(The entire section is 612 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.