Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456
“Lenore” is a poem of twenty-six lines in four stanzas, reflecting on the death at a young age of the fair Lenore. Most likely, the Lenore remembered in this poem is the same “rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore” who is mourned in another of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, “The Raven.”
“Lenore” is a poem with at least two different speakers. The second and fourth stanzas are enclosed in quotation marks; the first and third, while not marked, are clearly spoken by a character or characters, not by an omniscient narrator. Beyond the quotation marks and a noticeable shift in tone and attitude, there is no indication who is speaking anywhere in the poem. Most critics have assumed that the poem presents a dialogue between Guy De Vere, Lenore’s grieving lover, and the family or priest of the dead woman.
The first stanza is addressed to Guy De Vere. In formal and very poetic language, the stanza announces the death of Lenore. She is described as a “saintly soul” and “the queenliest dead that ever died so young,” and yet there is no real mourning in this stanza. The stanza comments on the general sadness of a young woman dying, but there is no specific regret that Lenore herself has died. The tone is solemn and reverent but not truly sorrowful. The speakers ask De Vere why he has not cried.
The second stanza is spoken by De Vere. The tone here is much less restrained. The speaker rages against the speakers of the first stanza, calling them “wretches” and blaming them for their “evil eye” and their “slanderous tongue.” They never loved Lenore, he tells them, but loved only her wealth. It would be shameful hypocrisy for them to read the burial rite or sing the funeral song. She died to escape from their unkindness.
The original speakers reply to De Vere’s accusations in the third stanza. Again, there is little emotion in the speech. More platitudes about death and heaven are uttered, and De Vere is urged to calm himself. He is now only angry because Lenore has died, “Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride.”
The fourth and final stanza is spoken by De Vere. He notes that Lenore’s soul has risen to heaven from its turmoil on earth, and begs the others to leave off their rituals of mourning so that Lenore will not hear them. As for himself, he concludes, he is glad for Lenore that she is finally away from the “fiends” who tormented her in life. He will not mourn her at all but “waft the angel on her flight with a Paean of old days.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510
In revising “Lenore” for the final time in 1845, Poe made changes to emphasize differences in tone between the speakers of the poem. Death is a subject requiring great solemnity, but Poe worked within that framework to create drama as well.
Even the way the lines of the poem appear on the page contributes to the solemnity of tone. In an earlier version of “Lenore,” each of the subsequent version’s long lines was divided into two or three shorter lines. For example, the first stanza contained the lines “See, on yon drear/ And rigid bier,/ Low lies thy love Lenore!” The effect of these short lines is to lighten the tone. The “drear/bier” rhyme is emphasized because of the pauses that naturally occur at line breaks, and the iambic meter is heightened for the same reason. The resulting rhythm gallops—it is difficult to make the lines sound mournful. When Poe combined short lines into lines of iambic heptameter, he made them look and sound more dignified. The long lines and short stanzas look to the eye more weighty than do short irregular lines with complicated patterns of indentation.
More important, the revisions changed the sound of the lines, making them more suitable for exploring death and grief. Compare the three lines quoted above with their revision: “See, on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love Lenore!” The new line drops the internal punctuation and capitalization; the internal rhyme thus becomes less obtrusive—although it remains to add melody and beauty to the line. Read aloud or silently, the long line “sounds” more hushed, reverential.
Poe was a master at choosing words whose vowels and consonants would echo the feeling he was trying to convey. Consider the repetition of the l at the end of the same line: “low lies thy love, Lenore.” The sound is quiet and formal as the empty rituals for Lenore are mouthed. The first stanza is full of these repeated consonants: “flown forever,” “saintly soul,” “dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.” The beauty of these words and sounds is undeniable—even though it is revealed in stanza 2 that the beautiful words are empty and false.
The second stanza, in which the grieving Guy De Vere rails against Lenore’s hypocritical family, is harsher in sound as well as in meaning. Every line in stanza 1 is end-stopped, contributing to the regular, formal rhythm and tone. The reader encounters frequent strong punctuation (primarily dashes) within the lines, and two of the five lines are enjambed. The stanza’s third line, for example (“By you—by yours, the evil eye,—by yours, the slanderous tongue”), is punctuated five times internally and not at all at the end. The result is a much less regular rhythm. The sound is more like that of a man enraged, with abrupt stops and irregular phrasing.
Poe uses these devices throughout the poem to establish contrasts between the false formality of the dead woman’s family and the sincere emotionality of Guy De Vere.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 158
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