what is the symbolism or "Annabel Lee?"

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Im looking for interpretation of Poe's "Annabel Lee." I don't understand what everything means or what the symbolism is. What is the Kingdom by the sea? Who is the speaker? Who are her "high-born kinsmen"? Please help me out.

-- Anonymous, May 23, 2001


Poe complicated matters a bit by selling or attributing this poem to different people, but it is hard to imagine that he wrote this in the memory of Virginia, his recently deceased wife. "This Kingdom by the sea" seems to set this back in ancient times, a medieval type of ballad. "The Haunted Palace" "The City in the Sea" show more detailed settings.Most detail is stripped away except for the most basic Poe imagery. Sea and shore, Plutonian shore(Silence, The Raven. The borderland local seems to point to the meeting place of life and death, this world and the next, the survivor and the deceased. The high born kinsmen and the jealous angels symbolize the universe conspiring against their love, the dividing force. The man is forever joined to her by the starry, haunting light most expressly in her eyes still watching him. So he sleeps in her sepulchre, they both still suspended on the edge of the two worlds- this and the next- frozen and cut off from both sea and kingdom- he barely alive, she not quite really passed over. This is JUST a personal analysis!!! There are variants such as the ending "by the side of the sea" and "the sounding sea," both written in the brief period before his death. I think he would have preferred "sounding" at least for the slowing effect on the final verse and the fact that "side" was too repetitious, and used importantly at the top of the stanza. Wind and sound usually bring dread unpleasantness while light is a beacon of hope. When both occur at night there is a frightening tension between the two that helps us feel the haunting shadow Poe often speaks of, layered over his passionate hope(love). The sea-like SOUND of the poem is stronger than the light(like the wind killing his love with inexorable force)though the passion keeps the lovers in a room BETWEEN angels and demons, land and sea, with the hopeful LIGHTS of heaven above.

-- Anonymous, May 28, 2001


This is offered as an alternative view and let me preface the following by reiterating Mr. Murphy's important point that, likewise, this too simply represents my own personal views. While some points may be at odds with his opinions, it is respectfully so and I do not mean to suggest or even infer his views are in error... merely different than my own. Frankly, I agree with much of his post. This diversity of interpretations is not at all uncommon with Poe's works, or his life for that matter, and it is a testament to the broad perspectives his works provoke and, perhaps, to the genius of a remarkably enduring author. Having studied dozens of biographies, any number of character profiles and hundreds of brief biological sketches of Edgar Allan Poe over the years, of one thing I am fully confident. No other American author, then or now, engenders more speculation, supposition and just pure silliness than Mr. Poe. Curiously, the only one that seems to approach parity in this regard is the incredibly prolific, Mr. King. While I am not a particularly indulgent fan of Stephen King, I have read some of his latest works with considerable enjoyment, especially his "On Writing".

Actually, I do not find it at all difficult to imagine that the poem "Annabel Lee" found its inspiration in the love and devotion Poe shared with his wife, Virginia. If there is an element of Poe's brief existence that appears to stimulate any sense of global consensus, it is that Poe and Virginia shared a profound and enduring love for one another. Even many of Poe's most bitter enemies appear to agree that their devotion was absolute, their love, unquestionable. Her death on January 30, 1847 was a devastating loss for Poe and one certainly filled with emotional agony. For the brief remainder of his life, Poe would have no other relationship that would fulfill his emotional and personal needs. Even his dearest Annie (Richmond) was married and unapproachable.

Yet, while inspiration may be derived from once source, it does not necessarily follow that a given character of prose or poetry would embody or represent that specific muse. Ms. Jane Stanard may have inspired "To Helen" (1831) but clearly, the Helen of the poem was not intended to be representative of Ms. Stanard. I prefer to believe that the name Annabel Lee was very carefully crafted for its alliterative value, musical quality and its youthful overtones. The sentiment expressed in this sonnet is fully consistent with his expressed feelings for Virginia, her delicate nature and her youthful beauty. I will concede that some elements of the poem appear to suggest a composite characterization of several women in Poe's life but the depth of passion for the loss of so youthful a bride most clearly suggest Virginia.

The poem "Annabel Lee" was completed in the spring of 1849, just a few months after his failed engagement to Sarah Helen Whitman and prior to his trip south to Richmond to begin a lecture tour in June. While Poe professed no ill will toward Helen for breaking the engagement, neither was he free of bitterness because of Helen's lack of resistance to the acrimonious attacks by her Mother upon Poe's character and her Mother's determined and manipulative opposition to their marriage. Poe's letter from Fordham on January 25th to Ms. Whitman makes his feelings quite clear. Sarah Helen Whitman was, most assuredly, not the inspiration for this poem.

While Poe read this poem during his lectures, I know of no available documents, lectures, essays or personal correspondence whereby Poe expressed who may have inspired the poem or who the poem was intended to represent, if anyone. In May 1849, Poe enclosed a copy of this poem to Rufus W. Griswold for the tenth edition of his "Poets and Poetry of America". Additional copies were sent or promised to several people including Henry B. Hirst, Annie Richmond, Sarah Heywood and others. There is no discernable evidence, beyond conjecture, that Poe "sold" the poem to anyone other than John Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art for $10.00. The October 9, 1849 first print of "Annabel Lee" in the New York Tribune was most likely taken from the copy Poe had sent to Rufus W. Griswold and it is highly unlikely Poe nor his family were compensated for it.

Particularly amusing is a recent post in another thread where a presumably young enthusiast expresses her astonishment that the final passages of this beautiful ballad could be interpreted as anything other than definitive evidence of Poe's predisposition for necrophilia. I do not suppose myself as sufficiently naive to think that I could change her views and will, therefore, not make the attempt. However, I would make the curious observation that to parse and piecemeal this poem in an effort to expose the symbolism, explain the metaphors and reveal the figurative imagery and then accept this final stanza in the most literal and silly fashion imaginable, is singularly obtuse and innately illogical. Perhaps, it says more about the young reader than it could ever reveal about the author.


-- Anonymous, June 03, 2001

The symbolism is about hw he went to his dead wife's tomb and engaged in anal sex with her right after smoking opium and drinking a lot of alcohol.

-- Anonymous, October 27, 2001

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