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An analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," exploring the reasons behind its creation and examining its characters and their contributions to the poem

Summary:

Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" is believed to reflect his deep sorrow over the loss of his wife, Virginia. The poem's characters, particularly the narrator and Annabel Lee, symbolize eternal love and the impact of loss. The narrator's undying love and grief drive the poem, while Annabel Lee represents an idealized, pure love that transcends death.

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe write "Annabel Lee"?

It is difficult to know with certainty why an artist picks a certain theme. In "Annabel Lee," Poe's last poem, he continues, however, to explore a subject that has been important to him: the death of a beautiful young women.

Many critics and biographers have settled on Virginia, his young wife, as the subject of this poem. She had died of tuberculosis two years before, so like Annabel Lee, she died young. Like Annabel Lee, she was beautiful. The speaker in the poem falls in love with Annabel as a child, just as Poe did Virginia, a girl he married when she was only 13. Annabel was a "maiden" when she died, and some biographers believe Poe and Virginia never consummated their marriage.

While Virginia is the most likely candidate as a model for Lee, and while it is likely that Poe was grieving his young wife's death, it is important to keep in mind that a poem has a life of its own. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between Annabel and Virginia: a great artist's imagination will transform a subject.

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe write "Annabel Lee"?

On a broader scope, the poem also deals with social injustice and the denial of basic rights to certain underprivileged people. The abolition of slavery in the South was still a few years away, so some critics consider this a statement against racism as well as a personal statement of loss. Check out the following references, which give more information concerning this aspect.

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe write "Annabel Lee"?

Many scholars and readers have speculated that Edgar Allan Poe wrote Annabel Lee about his wife Virginia. She had passed on two years before the poem was written in 1849. This may explain why Poe gave copies to various people and a magazine at the time, almost as a way to make sure that the poem would be published. Then again, Poe may have just written Annabel Lee as a continuation of his commonly used theme of death to a beautiful woman. Some people speculate that this theme is mirrored by the death of Poe's mother, step mother and his young wife Virginia.

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Who are the characters in Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee"?

That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee...

Interestingly, the poem “Annabel Lee” was published after the death of Poe.  Appropriately, it was his last poem. This is a delicious, yet horrifying love poem.

The narration is first person with the narrator remembering a painful memory of a lost love.  The narrator knew the young woman many years ago.  They were both children that lived in a kingdom by a sea and loved each other even as children. When the angels looked down from heaven and saw the love between them, the angels were jealous. Blaming the angels causing the death of Annabel Lee, the speaker feels that they sent a wind that made her sick with a chill which finally causes her death.

After she died, her highborn kinsman comes and buries her in a tomb. The narrator does not appreciate this severance.  Nothing is going to separate the two lovers, not even death.  Not angels, nor devils—no one will keep them apart.  He is haunted by her and sees her everywhere from the stars to his dreams. 

There is little information provided about either the speaker or Annabel Lee.  The speaker is obviously greatly enamored by the young woman.  Apparently, they are about the same age since they were children together.  The reader may wonder if he is not of the same social status as Annabel since he calls her relative a highborn kinsman. This may indicate that he was from a different social class background. It is obvious that the speaker has lost touch with reality and is obsessed by his dead lover.  Now, here is the horrifying part…every night he goes to the tomb and lies down with her which has been going on for years.

Other than the probability of nobility, no real characteristics are given about Annabel either. The speaker although certainly prejudiced states repeatedly that she is beautiful and young.  She may have been frail since it took only a wind to make her chill. 

Describing the inevitability of the two being together, Poe created what is one of the most beautiful rhythmic lines in American verse:

And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee…

The poem begs to be read aloud as does the poem in general. The poem’s intensity shows a different side to Poe than his other poetry.  One wonders if he was writing a tribute to his late wife Virginia whom he married when she was only 13 and who died soon after of consumption.

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Who are the other characters in "Annabel Lee", and what do they add to the poem?

The main character in the poem is the speaker.  He is responding to the death of his love, Annabel Lee.  Annabel Lee is another character, but she is dead.  She died when a breeze from the sea came, “chilling and killing” her.

Although Annabel is not really a character in the present, her death has a great effect on the speaker.

And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me. (lines 5-6)

It sounds like the two were very close, and very much in life.  Her early death still affects him this much later.  They were both young, so he probably expected to spend his life with her.

There are other characters that covet Annabel and cause her death, making the tone of the poem angry as well as sad.  For example, the angels were envious of Annabel, according to the speaker.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. (Stanza 4)

There is also mention of “demons down under the sea.”  At the end, the speaker personifies the sun and the moon, saying their actions remind him of her.

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