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.)