Critical Discussion

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 210

"Ulalume" is one of the many Poe works (both poems and short stories) that revolve around the narrator's loss of a beautiful woman through an untimely death. Several poems on this theme are set in an imaginary landscape in which the narrators interact with mythical figures, like Venus, as they search for an impossible reunion with their lost loves. These excursions are almost invariably futile and only reinforce the melancholy mood of their speakers. Here the narrator's Soul intuitively senses that following Venus will only lead the narrator to greater despair. Psyche does not wish to confront the spectral thought of an idealized beauty gone forever, but the rational narrator pushes forward, driven by a desire to know.

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In the end, all that the narrator learns is that contemplating the lost "Ulalume" will plunge him into a dead and dreary domain. Whether Venus has tricked him or not, by following a light that promises hope and beauty, the narrator arrives at its opposite. The poem can thus be read as a tragedy grounded in the inherent limitations of the human condition as it strives for perfect ideals like beauty and truth. Yet at the same time, the poem highlights the irrepressibly strength of the human will's drive for the unattainable.

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