Gothic writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts to a family of actors. Both of his parents tragically passed before Poe was three years old, so he was raised by foster parents, John and Frances Allan (“Edgar Allan Poe”). Poe excelled in academics, later attending the University of Virginia, but the first of his many troubles surfaced in the form of gambling debts, and he was forced to withdraw after only a year. In 1827, he entered the military and began to publish the first of his many poem collections, Tamerlane, and Other Poems and Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. After his military stint, he sold short stories and began a career as an editor for literary journals. In 1835, Poe moved to Richmond, Virginia to live with his aunt and cousin Virginia (whom he later married).
It was during this period that Poe published many of his famous works, such as the stories “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and his iconic poem, “The Raven” (“Edgar Allan Poe”). His wife (and cousin) Virginia’s death from tuberculosis in 1847 prompted Poe’s downward spiral of alcoholism and depression, culminating in his death in Baltimore in 1849 of alcohol-related disease (and possibly rabies). Poe’s legacy in the literary canon cannot be underestimated. His works of Gothic horror, such as “The Telltale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” would inspire later generations of horror and suspense authors, while his seminal work “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” essentially invented the modern detective genre, as it predated and inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes series.
Poe published “Annabel Lee,” written in the Gothic tradition, in 1849, two years after his beloved Virginia died of tuberculosis and in what would be the last year of his life. The somber diction in the poem reflects Poe’s state of mind, as the speaker in the poem laments the loss of his dear Annabel Lee, whom the “wingèd seraphs of Heaven” (line 11) became jealous of and doomed her to a death “in a sepulchre / In this kingdom by the sea” (19-20). “Annabel Lee” is written in six stanzas of varying length, with an irregular and unusual rhyme scheme. This rhyme pattern gives the poem its lilting and musical feel. For example, the first stanza follows an ABABCB format, where all the short lines in the poem rhyme (as the “B” rhyme), and the longer lines sometimes rhyme and sometimes do not:
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me. (Poe 1-6)
Here, we see that “ago” rhymes with “know,” but not “thought” in line five, resisting the rhythmical pattern established in the first four lines. However, the shorter lines all rhyme, with “sea,” “Lee,” and “me” repeating throughout the poem, giving the verse a pleasing and graceful feel while adding to the melancholy engendered by the verse. The way Poe uses repetition, with the “B” rhymes, “sea,” “Lee,” and “me” connects each stanza from the one prior and traces a narrative that ends with the culmination of the speaker’s sorrow, as he lays at Annabel Lee’s side in tribute, making the statement that his life is meaningless without his beloved, as shown here:
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea. (Poe 38-41)
Poe ends with the same “B” rhyme in the final two lines, with the repetition of “sea” as a kind of epitaph for the speaker’s fallen lover, enhancing the somber and melancholic feel of the piece.
- “Edgar Allan Poe.” Poets.org, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/edgar-allan-poe. Accessed 15 June 2017.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Class handout.