“These trifles are collected and published chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements to which they have been subjected while going at random “the rounds of the press.” I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it, if it circulate at all. In defence of my own taste, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to say that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very credible to myself. Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion; and the passion should be held in reverence; they must not- they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.”
-Edgar Allan Poe (Preface)
The loss of a loved one in our lives can be one of the most powerful things that an individual can experience in their life. The poem “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, is just such an example as we witness the speaker’s transformation through the text. This isn’t the type of loss in which someone chose to walk away, but the expiration of a loved one’s life. Moreover, this type of experience can be very impactful, due to the capability it has to transform a person. The loss of a lover can change a being in either a positive or a negative way. This poem shows us a negative manner of transformation. The speaker’s love, as initially introduced in the poem, fell under the “good” category of love. However, subsequently falls under the “ugly” category of love as we dissect into the poem. Once an individual experiences the loss of a loved one, their grieving processes can differ. There are many factors that contribute to how a person might handle the loss of a lover. In this case, the speaker turns to a distorted way of viewing the situation, as is true to most of Poe’s writings.
The poem opens with the speaker describing his love, “Annabel Lee; this maiden she lived with no other thoughts then to love and be loved by me.” (lines 4-6) The word maiden used implies that she was young, and connotes their love as devoted. He continues, “She was a child and I was a child,” (line 7) which further indicates the youth of the lovers. Without a doubt, the speaker believed that their love was very special saying, “but we loved with a love that was more than love- I and my Annabel Lee- with a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven coveted her and me.” (lines 9-12) The speaker illustrates a very narcissistic view that young people have about their love. He even suggests that the angels desired their love. A youthful romance often has the initial impression that it will be indefinite. Granted, in modern society this has proven to be less the case, but still the hope.
Unfortunately, Annabel Lee dies, according to the poem from a chilling wind. The speaker then reveals more about their relationship, “So that her highborn kinsmen came and bore her away from me, to shut her up in a sepulchre.” (lines 17-19) This divulges that he really had no right over the body. Her family took care of his deceased lover’s body and placed it in a tomb. Indeed, this is where we start to see where this love turns ugly, “The angels, not half happy in Heaven, went envying her and me: Yes! That was the reason… that the wind came out of the cloud, chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.” (lines 21-23… 25-26) The now disturbed speaker insinuates that the angels are to blame for the loss of his beloved Annabel Lee. He correlates the wind that came from heaven, where angels reside, to her death. In fact, he now more evidently displays more of an obsession to Annabel Lee. “But our love it was stronger by far than the love of those who were older than we- of many far wiser than we-.” (lines 27-29) Finally, the speaker leaves us with the most disturbing picture as he states, “ And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride, in her sepulcher there by the sea- in her tomb by the side of the sea.” (lines 38-42) Surely, the final lines are the most morbid use of imagery. It evokes images of us imagining an obsessed man lying in s tomb with his lover. This speaker has gone from having no right to the body, to calling Annabel Lee his bride.
The transformation of this speaker is evident as his love goes from an innocent youthful love to obsession. The grief he experienced seems to have overwhelmed him to the point of the speaker losing his sense of reality. The speaker is the victim in this story, which is how he justifies the loss of his lover. The fact that he probably had no decision in what would happen to the body, may be part of what created the obsession that leads him to stay by Annabel Lee’s side, even after death. It’s interesting to note that he completely removes God from the picture, and instead completely blames the angels. Young love is usually considered very innocent. Since, at this point in a person’s life you really don’t understand all the facets of love. A young person has not experienced love in multiple relationships, to know the difference between a love that is fleeting or lasts a lifetime. However, young love isn’t necessarily innocent as it is more passionate. Adolescents usually do not have the experience to hold back, at times due to hormones. It’s hard to really know the true circumstances of Annabel Lee’s death. This is because as we go on in the poem and see the speaker’s distorted way of viewing things, it calls to question everything in the text we had read preceding the more obsessive and disturbing thoughts. The type of love this speaker shows turned ugly. He may have simply been obsessed with Annabel Lee from the beginning.
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. "Annabel Lee." Literature: Craft and Voice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. 824-25. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "PREFACE TO THE POEMS." Preface. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Vintage, 1975. 887. Print.