Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer known for his works of poetry distributed throughout the Romantic era. Poe’s brand of romanticism was characterized by elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and high emotion. Edgar Allan Poe’s last completed poem and one of his most famous, Annabel Lee, embodies the dark romanticism/gothic literature style that he perfected throughout his lifetime. The poem is the retelling of a beautiful memory that has a tragic twist. It adopts a dark and melancholy tone while simultaneously encompassing a fairytale, sing-song manner. Poe creates heartbreaking imagery, symbolism, alliteration, and repetition to induce the pain the narrator felt and establish the theme of the inevitability of death replacing life and prevailing love.
The poem is a story of love between two children (one being the narrator) who felt so strongly for one another that the angels in Heaven became envious and casted “the wind” from “out of the clouds at night” (line 26), causing Annabel Lee to get sick. Her family took her home and “shut her up in a sepulchre” (line 20), bedridden, in order for her to try to get healthy again. Annabel Lee, however, could not recover from her sickness and died in her young age, physically separating the two lovers. But the narrator reiterates that their “love it was stronger by far” (line 28) and neither demons nor angels could separate their souls, for she is in his dreams and in the stars. Also, he lays next to her tomb by the sea at night.
Edgar Allan Poe was a product of dark romanticism meaning he wrote about, not only the goodness in the world, but also the dark and evil. So while “Annabel Lee” has the main theme of eternal love, it delves deeper into the overwhelming meaning of love and the dangers of the emotion. As seen in lines five and six, the narrator states that their love consumed one another to the point where there was “no other thought than to love and be loved…” which means he knew nothing else and essentially became attached and trapped in a never ending cycle of intense emotion. Mentally, the narrator can be seen as unstable following the progression of the poem due to his assurance that everyone and everything was against their love. He is convinced that cruel, envious angels were to blame for killing his Annabel Lee because they were “not half so happy in heaven” (line 21), this form of alliteration helps create reasoning for their wicked jealousy while also creating a pleasing rhythm. The narrator also blames Annabel Lee’s “kinsmen” for taking her away from him. Using harsh diction to describe Annabel Lee as being “shut up in a sepulchre” and particularly using the word “sepulchre” shows how angered he is by outside forces. It is as though he saw her family as imprisoning Annabel Lee. The sepulchre, then, transforms itself into a symbol for death. Through the progression of the poem the repetition of the line, “In a kingdom by the sea”, establishes a variety of interpretations that helps to create the overall emphasis of the theme and meaning. It starts as a way to embody the fairy-tale melody of the poem as it fabricates a simple, almost glorious setting. By line 20, the poem has taken a twist and with that, the repeated line becomes a symbol for power that withdraws control from the narrator and leaves it with the outside forces he so despises. In line 31, the sea is mentioned without the kingdom and made more intense by stating that “the demons down under the sea” (line 31) are inhabiting it. This allows for the sea to become a symbol for darkness and terror. By the end of the poem, in lines 40 and 41, the “sepulchre” replaces the “kingdom” as the accompanying word next to “sea” which is a symbol for death replacing life. “In her tomb by the sounding sea” is the last line of the poem and forms the image of a haunting, open, and lonely ocean that lays next to Annabel Lee. The narrator begins as a boy consumed with love and then is quickly left with the empty feeling of loneliness, which adds to the overall theme of the dangers of love and the meaning of the poem.
Annabel Lee is a tale of love, heartbreak, and a touch of madness that enfolds through the entirety of the poem. Through repetition, alliteration, symbolism, and imagery, Edgar Allan Poe develops a chilling world where love stories are not predictable and death does not always do us part.