It's always a little hard to separate the life of the legendary Poe from his works. In this case,
there are some striking similarities.
„Annabel Lee“ is the last complete poem written by Poe, published shortly after his death in
1849. Like many of Poe's poems including "The Raven," "Ulalume," and "To One in
Paradise“, it explores the theme of the death of a beautiful woman, “the most poetical topic in
the world", according to Poe.
In particular, although the poem's stanzas have a somewhat irregular length and structure, the rhyme scheme continually emphasizes the three words "me," "Lee," and "sea," enforcing the linked nature of these concepts within the poem while giving the poem a song-like sound. The work shows Poe's frequent fixation with the Romantic image of a beautiful woman who has died too young unexpectedly. As indicated more thoroughly in his short story "The Oval Portrait," Poe often associated death with the freezing and capturing of beauty, and many of his heroines reach the pinnacle of loveliness on their deathbed. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, retains his love for her even after her death. Most people agree that Edgar Allan Poe wrote "Annabel Lee" about his departed wife, Virginia, who died of tuberculosis two years earlier. Some critics, however, contend that in the seventh line of the poem he states, "I was a child and she was a child," and he certainly was no child in 1836 at twenty-seven when he married his thirteen-year-old bride. Maybe the poem is about an earlier love, or perhaps it is purely fictional, but addressing Annabel Lee as his "life and his bride" in line thirty-eight and writing it two years after his beloved young wife's death, it seems only logical that it is indeed written about her and is simply embroidered with a bit of poetic license.
Local legend in Charleston, South Carolina tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee. Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor's time stationed in Charleston was up. While away, he heard of Annabel's death from yellow fever, but her father would not allow him at the funeral. Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met. There is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe had heard of this legend, but some insist it was his inspiration.
The poem focuses on an ideal love which is unusually strong. In fact, the narrator's actions show that he not only loves Annabel Lee, but he worships her, something he can only do after her death. The poem specifically mentions the youth of the unnamed narrator and especially of Annabel Lee, and it celebrates child-like emotions in a way consistent with the ideals of the Romantic era. Many Romantics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries viewed adulthood as a corruption of the purer instincts of childhood, and they preferred nature to society because they considered it to be a better and more instinctive state. Accordingly, Poe treats the narrator's childhood love for Annabel Lee as fuller and more eternal than the love of adults. Annabel Lee is gentle and persistent in her love, and she has no complex emotions. He explains that angels murdered her. His repetition of this assertion suggests he is trying to rationalize his own excessive feelings of loss.
In "Annabel Lee" the speaker argues in lines eleven and twelve that the angels were jealous of the happy couple: "the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me." The envious angels, he insists, caused the wind to chill his bride and seize her life. However, he contends, their love, stronger than the love of the older or wiser couples, can never be conquered:
And neither the angles in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee. (lines 33-36)
Unlike "The Raven," in which the narrator believes he will "nevermore" be reunited with his love, "Annabel Lee" says the two will be together again, as not even demons "can ever dissever" their souls.
The first time that death gets mentioned in the poem:
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee; (lines 15-16)
The speaker doesn't say she died. Actually, he never uses the word "death" in this poem at all. The speaker maintains that this world of dream remains even after the death of his bride:
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee (33-6).
The poem's setting has several Gothic elements, as the kingdom by the sea is lonely and in an
undefined but mysterious location. Poe does not describe the setting with any specificity, and
he weaves a misty, romantic atmosphere around the kingdom until he ends by offering the
severe and horrific image of a "sepulchre there by the sea." At the same time, the nostalgic
tone and the Gothic background serve to repeat the image of a love that outlasts all
opposition, from the spiritual jealousy of the angels to the physical barrier of death. Although
Annabel Lee has died, the narrator can still see her "bright eyes," an image of her soul and of
the spark of life that gives a promise of a future meeting between the two lovers.
The image invoked by this poem is of enduring love. Both this everlasting love and the
conclusion of the poem leave the speaker lying on the grave of his departed wife:
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling-my darling-my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea (37-41).
As in the case of a number of Poe's male protagonists who mourn the premature death of beloved women, the love of narrator of "Annabel Lee" goes beyond simple adoration to a more bizarre attachment. Whereas Annabel Lee seems to have loved him in a simple, if nonsexual, manner, the protagonist has mentally sacred her. He blames everyone but himself for her death, pointing at the conspiracy of angels with nature and at the show of paternalism inherent in her "highborn kinsmen" who "came and bore her away," and he remains dependent upon her memory. While the narrator of the poem "Ulalume" suffers from an unconscious need to grieve and to return to Ulalume's grave, the narrator of "Annabel Lee" chooses ironically to lie down and sleep next to a woman who is herself lying down by the sea.
A History of American Literature: Then and Now, Radojka Vukcevic, Podgorica, 2005
The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge University Press, 2002