Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

The poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe is a perfect example of the Romanticism period that started in Europe and spread westward towards America. The most prominent qualities of Romanticism are nature, emotion, love, spirituality, and the supernatural. Despite the sadness of the poem, Poe captures the emotions of the reader and shows that not all of the aspects of Romanticism can be classified as happy ones. Compared to the works of authors like Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant, Poe captured the dark side of Romanticism in his short stories and poems, especially in the case of Annabel Lee, because this work in particular is about a very unfortunate event in his own life.

Annabel Lee is poem that is very tragic, emotional, and descriptive. The narrator goes through the poem and describes his love (which began many years ago in an unnamed "kingdom by the sea"), Annabel Lee, her beauty, and then her death. At the beginning of the poem, the narrator says that he and Annabel lived happily many years ago by the sea, and they did not have to think about anything but their love for each other. Though they were young, their love for one another burned with such intensity that angels caused her death. When Annabel Lee tragically dies, the narrator says that the angels up in heaven were jealous of the love and happiness they shared, and therefore took Annabel Lee's life (Poe). It is very clear that the narrator's love for Annabel Lee is eternal, and their love is strong enough to extend beyond the grave. The narrator deeply believes that their souls are still entwined. Every night, he dreams of Annabel Lee and sees the brightness of her eyes in the stars, even admitting that every night he lies down by her side in her tomb by the sea (Poe).

Although this poem is classified as a work of Romanticism, it does not exhibit the traditional aspects of Romanticism. However, instead of having ideal, young heroes and a happy ending, Annabel Lee is shrouded in darkness and loss, and is best categorized as a poem in the Dark Romanticism genre (“Intro”). While still fitting in with the Romanticism genre, Dark Romanticism is more mysterious and unsettling. Dark Romantics such as Poe are much less confident about the Romanticism idea that perfection is an innate quality of the human race, and tend to show characters fail in their attempts to make changes for the better (Langley). More focus was on emotions rather than rationalism (Kartha). These individuals are prone to self-destruction and making fatal mistakes, unlike the ideal heroes that traditional Romanticism introduced- heroes that possessed divinity and wisdom and seemingly had no faults. Other characteristics in traditional Romanticism include exoticism and poetic but still easy to understand vernacular (Kartha). Spirituality is also an extremely important part of Romanticism, but in Dark Romanticism nature is more sinister and gloomy rather than uplifting and beautiful (Langley).

Dark Romanticism is much more captivating than traditional Romanticism. The reader’s attention is held through intense intrigue, mystery, and dread of the terrible possibilities that could arise in the story (“Romanticism”). Another stark difference between the styles of Romanticism and Dark Romanticism is the way that the qualities of nature in the story are used. In Romanticism, authors like William Bryant Cullen and Ralph Waldo Emerson used nature to convey its’ beauty and the importance of self-reliance. Nature was valued for its physical beauty in poems like “Thanatopis” and essays like “Nature”, but was also revered for its ability to allow man the chance to be free from society and its influences (Emerson). Nature also plays a role in works of Dark Romanticism, but in a much different way. Authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe use nature as to set the scene, make it more mysterious, and give the story a more raw and sinister edge. In Dark Romanticism works, nature is not praised for its beauty but regarded as daunting and unpleasant and captivatingly mysterious.

Much like his dark poems and stories, Edgar Allan Poe is seen as a very morbid, disturbing, and most of all, mysterious man. Poe is portrayed in this light because there were a lot of troubling times in his life that influenced his original and acclaimed writing style. The first of his troubles began when he turned to gambling, which is usually seen as a character fault (“Poe’s Life”). Poe had flaws, just like the characters in his stories. Poe experienced a lot of hardships in his life. His mother, father, brother, foster mother, and wife died before he did, which definitely influenced the dark, sad side of his writing. Annabel Lee was heavily influenced by the early death of his wife, Virginia (“Poe’s Life”). "It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, there was a maiden who 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). The death of his young wife greatly swayed the style of his writing, most notably in the poem Annabel Lee, which was the last complete poem that written by Poe (Griswold). In the poem, Poe talks about the love he and his wife shared, her beauty, and the immense loss that he experienced in the event of her death (Poe).

Instead of capturing the beautiful aspects of nature and the emotions that come with love, Edgar Allan Poe captured a much darker side of Romanticism with his poem Annabel Lee. Nature, emotions, and love still play an immense part in the poem, but instead of being uplifting, these qualities are tragic ones (Kartha). The sea, a part of nature, took Annabel Lee away from her love, and the emotions depicted in the poem are more about grief and loss rather than happiness over being in love and love in general (Poe). These contrasts are what set Poe apart from many other authors of the genre and time period, because instead of being idealistic and optimistic, they were defiantly real and tragic with enough emotion to make the reader connect and identify with the story being told.

Works Cited:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Nature." Oregon State University. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/emerson/nature-contents.html.

Griswold, Rufus. "Death of Edgar Allan Poe." New York Daily Tribune October 1949. (Reprinted in Clarke 69-74.) Web. 9 December 2010.
http://www.eapoe.org/papers/misc1827/nyt49102.htm

"Intro to American Romanticism." Virginia Commonwealth University. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm.

Kartha, Deepa. "Romanticism: Characteristics of Romanticism." Intelligent Life on the Web. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/romanticism-characteristics-of-romanticism.html.

Langley, John. "Romanticism." Google Docs. Web. 04 Jan. 2011.
<http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxtcmxhbmdsZXlzcm9vbXxneDoxNjk3NDFmZjlhMzkyYzNk>.


Poe, Edgar Allan. "Annabel Lee." Poem Hunter. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/annabel-lee/.

"Poe's Life." Edgar Allan Poe Museum: Poe's Life, Legacy, and Works: Richmond, Virginia. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://www.poemuseum.org/index.php.

"Romanticism." Academic. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.
http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html.