The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 510 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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