The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ulalume” is a dreamlike ballad of 104 lines. It presents a psychologically divided poet in conflict with his soul over a temptation to escape the memory of his dead lover, Ulalume, by pursuing new love and new hope under the influence of Astarte, the moon goddess. The soul, however, forcibly calling the poet’s attention to lost Ulalume, reunites with the poet in rejecting the temptation to abandon sorrow by remaining faithful to the melancholy memory of the dead beauty.

“Ulalume” first appeared in the American Review in 1847, two years after the same magazine published Edgar Allan Poe’s more famous “The Raven.” The two poems together helped to secure Poe’s reputation as a poet in his own time and, along with the rest of his poetic canon, had an immense impact on European poets who believed in “art for art’s sake,” especially his champion, Charles Baudelaire, and fellow French aesthetes. These two poems became standard declamation pieces in American schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and thereby served to introduce generations of Americans to their first sampling of poetry. As W. H. Auden remarked in his introduction to Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Prose and Poetry (1966), “Ulalume” is worth reading because it “could have been written by none but Poe,” who pours into the verses his typical Gothic subject matter, phantasmagoric setting, and psychological themes.

The poem...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ulalume” is a ballad consisting of ten stanzas of varying length, averaging ten lines. The rhyme scheme is not always uniform, but each stanza does concentrate on two rhyming sounds to a hypnotic, incantatory degree. There is also regular use of feminine rhyme, which repeats the weaker sound in a polysyllabic final word of a line (“sober,” “October,” “Auber”).

The prevailing meter of the poem is anapestic trimeter with variations, a sound system that lends rapidity and musicality to a poem heavily dependent on incantatory effects of tone and mood for its success. The lines are filled with alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds in a line (“The skies they were ashen and sober”), and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds. Poe was fond of alliterating liquid sounds (l and r) as well as m and long o for a trilling and organlike musicality. He also notably repeated words, phrases, and almost whole lines within and between stanzas for the sake of imparting an obsessively incantatory effect. The very name “Ulalume,” in itself alliterative, echoes the evocative Latin word ululare, meaning “to moan or lament.” Such devices seduce the reader’s ear into entering the phantasmagoric nightmare region of Poe’s hallucinatory poetry.

Poe’s vague, fantastic scene-painting cooperates with the poem’s musicality to create a dreamy nightmare setting for the speaker’s...

(The entire section is 472 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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