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Interpreting Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”: College Essay Examples

This essay writer focuses on the poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. Two different interpretations of the poem from two different articles are compared to give a more in-depth analysis of the poem.

The first article is “Inspiring Death: Poe’s Poetic Aesthetics, “Annabel Lee,” and the Communities of Mourning in Nineteenth-Century America” by Adam Bradford. It puts emphasis on the poetic aesthetics of Poe and the connection of “Annabel Lee” to the communities of mourning during the 19th century in America. The article emphasizes that the articulations of the speakers can make the poem appear as subversive criticism of a culture of mourning and memorializing. This is depicted by the poems “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” These poems describe mourners who seem lost in despair, indifferent with their communities, and unable to overcome grief. Poe’s articulations of grief were easily interwoven into the experience of grief after losing a loved one. Readers also perceived Poe to be either giving representation or seeking empathy. With this is the establishment of a community of grievers that is united not only by their shared feeling of grief and pain but also by their hope of a better world.

On the other hand, the article “Sonority and Semantics in “Annabel Lee”” by Sławomir Studniarz demonstrated that the said poem by Poe is a good example of how metrical and phonetic orchestration in poetry can result to improved meaning and understanding of the poem. “Annabel Lee” features a prosodic shape and a sound texture that puts emphasis on its theme – viewing love as a union that transcends the earthly and the unearthly. The article further compares “Annabel Lee” to “The Raven,” another poem of Poe. Both poems share common thematic concerns, which is the death of a beloved partner, particularly a woman, and the speaker’s grief in response to it. The two said poems are believed to use paronomasia, which is similarity of sound to recommend the similarity of sense.

The two articles use different ways to interpret the poem “Annabel Lee.” The first article focuses on poetic aesthetics and on the context of community mourning, while the second article revolves on the sound phenomena and poem construction. The former is on context, while the latter is on structure. Nonetheless, they may both be used to have a better and more effective understanding of the poem. “Annabel Lee” has been largely characterized by the culture of mourning and memorializing that also delivers a message of empathy, but the poem’s sonority and semantics suggest an idea of love as a union of the earthly and the unearthly.

“Annabel Lee” revolves on the culture of mourning and memorializing. The works of Edgar Allan Poe is composed of a critique of rituals, practices, and activities that revolve on mourning and memorializing. “Annabelle Lee” is considered to be the most subversive of these poems (Bradford 73). In fact, there is a part where the speaker states “by the side/Of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride,/In her sepulcher there by the sea,” where the “angels in heaven” and the “demons under the sea” are shunned due to the fear of wishing to “dissever my soul from the soul/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.” According to David Reynolds, the poem subverts death, mourning, and the afterlife “by having the speaker favor a ‘purely imaginative rather than religious context,’ one in which ‘envious angels in heaven killed his child-love’ and in which his perpetual connection to her is not grounded in a cultural and religious understanding of death as a sphere of divine reunion.” Further, Kenneth Silverman proposed that Poe neglected principal elements of the consolation literature of the time such as those that revolve on the death of children, Christian ideas, and morals. As such, Poe’s critique was obvious. In addition, Karen Weeks and John Reilly pointed out that “Annabel Lee” featured bizarre behaviors, such as the husband sleeping with Annabel Lee in her tomb, and disturbing ambiguities like Annabel Lee became the victim of angels and demons (Bradford 74). “Annabel Lee” was found to be similar to the poem “The Mourner,” which was printed in the Courier, a newspaper, on December 4, 1807. It is believed that Poe might have read it while he was an editor or that he saw an old file of the Courier. It was observed that the theme of both poems “Annabel Lee” and “The Mourner” is solitary mourning that laments the speaker’s separation from his long-lost wife and they both had similar names–Annabel and Anna (Law 343).

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“Annabel Lee” delivers a message of empathy. The poem has the capability of instilling a sense of empathy as it allows individuals to see that they are not alone in experiencing anger, fear, and dismay after losing a defining relationship. In simpler terms, “Annabel Lee” can begin “a powerful sense of empathetic community” for people who are like Griswold “whose grief was so intense, so raw, that more ‘conventional’ means of consolation were, as yet, ineffectual, a sense of community which, according to the logic of contemporary cultural practice, was itself a prelude to a more complete and successful process of mourning” (Bradford 89). A reviewer of the poem said that the settled melancholy of the poet as he underwent despair was the most appropriate and suitable. Further, P. Pendleton Cooke said that the poem introduced a “wild and tender melancholy” to its readers with its use of excessive despair as a kind of “tender” offering. One reader claimed that “Annabel Lee” established an empathetic connection between the speaker/poet and its reader, which later led the reader to hope for better things than what the world at the time can offer (Bradford 91). Another reader believed that the poem the empathetic connection is built through the “deep pathos” of the poem (Bradford 92). Frances Sargent Osgood, a poet who had a controversial relationship with Poe himself, claimed that Virginia Poe was the subject of the poem for she was the only woman that Poe ever loved (Jones & Ljungquist 275). If this is true, this suggests that the poem was rooted on love and that the speaker sought empathy for the love he lost.

The sonority and semantics of “Annabel Lee” suggest an idea of love as a union of the earthly and the unearthly.According to Andrzej Zgorzelski, poems must be understood as “sound-and-sense structures” for they are often composed of complicated networks of relations that include sound patterns, stress regularities, compositional divisions, and syntactical linguistic units. It is assumed that sound phenomena are “the only possible ways to express the poem’s message” and that sound elements comprise of semantic and semiotic functions (Studniarz 109). Floyd Stovall stated that the repetition of harmonized sound and sense all throughout “Annabel Lee” produces a hypnotic effect. He also emphasized that the poem had increasingly complex rhyme pattern, different lengths of stanzas, and a “predominantly anapestic” rhythm. Edward Davidson stated that each stanza coiled back on and absorbed its preceding stanza prior it moves on again. This is achieved by using repetition (Studniarz 113). In addition, there is also irregularity in the construction of the poem. It has six stanzas of unequal length with six, seven, or eight lines. Each line has its own unique length as well, ranging from six to thirteen syllables. It is believed that the alternating short and long lines as well as the rhymes in the short, even-numbered lines point to the ballad stanza. In general, the ballad model is not strictly observed in the poem. However, the metrical pattern on the stanzas is evident. Alfred Corn stated that “Annabel Lee” is composed of alternating anapestic tetrameter and anapestic trimeter. Thorpe emphasized that “the poem’s anapests create an artful valse triste: a lovely melody and haunting rhythm” and that their “music” is made to develop “the soul’s yearnings for a world beyond time and fate” (Studniarz 114). It can be observed that the death of Annabel Lee was the major turning point of the speaker of the poem. The line that described this represents transition. It is evident that there is a semantic shift due to the new ordering principles on several levels in the construction of the poem (Studniarz 116). Sequences derived from the same phonemic nuclei and their permutations result to the establishment of a central paronomasia. This can be observed in the fifth and sixth line of the last stanza: “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride.” It must be emphasized that paronomasia must be evaluated only after the proper acknowledgement of recurring sound combinations (Studniarz 118). The phonosemantic processes develop the union of the souls of the lovers. It was stated that the said union “is envisaged as an ideal order and perfect harmony that overcomes the chaos and disruption, the emptying of values, caused by the unnatural and abrupt death of Annabel Lee” (Studniarz 119). In its entirety, it was evident that the poem had prosodic, phonetic, and constructional patterning. An analysis of this may aid in understanding the uniqueness of the poem of Poe. In connection to the poem “The Mourner,” “Annabel Lee” had similar lyrics to it– “a line of anapestic tetrameter, followed by a line of anapestic trimeter, with alternate lines riming” (Law 343). Another poem that may have served as a model for “Annabel Lee” is Osgood’s “The Life-Voyage.” The latter’s second stanza shares great similarity with the former. Osgood used the alliterative “sounding sea,” which is an epithet in “Annabel Lee” (Jones & Ljungquist 276).

The poem “Annabel Lee” is a beautiful poem filled with grief, pain, and despair. Its focus on the culture of mourning and memorializing with the overall plot of the poem later delivered a sense of empathy for readers who experience similar situations and feelings such as those by the speaker of the poem. To further improve the themes, situations, and feelings brought by the poem, the sonority and semantics of the poem can be considered. All these entail that the interpretation of any poem requires the evaluation of various aspects and contexts.

Works Cited

Bradford, Adam. “Inspiring Death: Poe’s Poetic Aesthetics, “Annabel Lee,” and the Communities of Mourning in Nineteenth-Century America.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review, vol. 12, no. 1, 2011, pp. 72-100.

Jones, Buford and Ljungquist, Kent. “Poe, Mrs. Osgood, and “Annabel Lee”.” Studies in the American Renaissance, 1983, pp.275-280.

Law, Robert. “A Source for “Annabel Lee”.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1922, pp. 341-346.

Studniarz, Sławomir. “Sonority and Semantics in “Annabel Lee”.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review, vol. 16, no. 1, 2015, pp. 107-125.

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Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.
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