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The Romance of Poe (By J.C. Macek III)

The Romance of Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven", and "Annabel Lee" are romantic poems not only in form and structure, but also in their use of dark romantic imagery to enthrall the very mind of the reader. Poe’s use of allegory and the supernatural expose his audience to Poe’s inner mind with horrific as well as romantically, though uniquely beautiful imagery.

On the surface, Poe’s "Annabel Lee" appears to be a tale of romantic love and deep loss of love to death, coupled with a conquering of death by that same love, as displayed in the lines "neither the angels in heaven above,/ Nor the demons down under the sea,/ Can ever dissever my soul from the soul/ Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE" ("Annabel Lee" 654). However, evidence exists that this poem is, in fact, an allegory. Poe figuratively treats the impending death of his beloved wife Virginia (accredited to the lingering effects of a burst blood vessel in her throat) under the guise of a romantic love story taking place in an unverifiable place, and a forgotten time. Marie Bonaparte writes in her book The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, that "whether or no he denied it, or was even conscious of the fact, ‘Annabel Lee’ was none the less inspired by Virginia." (Bonaparte 126). Bonaparte goes on to say "Nor was it necessary for her to be dead: it was sufficient that she was dying… Virginia’s impending death was the immediate factor which occasioned the poem" (Bonaparte 126-127). Since it appeared that Poe’s wife was to come to the ultimate end of death, a sort of "sado-necrophilist" drive seems to have been awakened in Poe, and translated on to the poetic page (Bonaparte 125). The fact that the character of Annabel Lee is entombed causes the speaker of the poem little dismay. In fact he still feels that this love has conquered death, "and the poem thus… conforms to the idea of a love that finds its romantic completion in death." (Kennedy 70). The lines themselves seem to betray Poe’s insistence "that [the poem] bore no relation to Virginia." (Bonaparte 126). To prove that this is, in fact, an allegory for his concerns over Virginia the line "I was a child and she was a child" ("Annabel Lee" 654) shows the much younger Virginia (whom Poe married at the age of thirteen and buried at the age of twenty-five) as a child to him and also his regression into a child-like state at the similarity of this situation to that of his mother, who also died quite young (Bonapatre 127). The line "many and many a year ago" ("Annabel Lee" 654) seems also to suggest Poe’s own youth (Bonaparte 127). The closing lines of the poem "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." ("Annabel Lee" 654)displays in allegorical terms Poe’s need to hold on to Virginia even in death. The speaker’s "action seems an unconscious betrayal of anxiety." (Kennedy 71), which is reflected in Poe’s desire to "keep in loving remembrance [Virginia’s] last words and [her] fervent prayer." (Bonaparte 124). Comparing the lines to the life it is seen that "Annabel Lee" is indeed a romantic, symbolical narrative, representing his own struggle with imminent loss.

"The Raven" also shows its romanticism within its context. Exaggeration of horror and the supernatural abound in this poem. "It revolves around a mysterious word, as terrible as infinity… Nevermore!" (Baudelaire 156). The heroic triumph (albeit demented) of "Annabel Lee" is missing from "The Raven", in fact the telling of "The Raven" seems almost an inversion that of "Annabel Lee". Bonaparte likens the raven itself to the "highborn kinsmen" of "Annabel Lee". Both separate the narrator from his love, yet while the narrator in "Annabel Lee" overcomes the strife imposed upon him, the narrator of "The Raven" falls into despair and fails to transcend death for his Lenore (Bonaparte 131). Still "The Raven" relies on the supernatural to tell its story and seemingly derives this from the mind of the speaker. In this case the romantic notion of the setting being unverifiable (in time or place) is satisfied in that the setting is the speaker’s mind. Whereas "Annabel Lee" is derived "from the unconscious mind where the pleasure principle dwells" (Bonaparte 131), "The Raven" issues from the narrator’s conscious despair. The narrator furthers the supernatural aspects of the bird itself in the lines "’Prophet!’, said I, ‘thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or devil!" ("The Raven" 650). The romantic inclusion of classical references is also shown with the line "is there balm in Gilead?" ("The Raven" 651), a reference to Jeremiah 8.22.

Both "Annabel Lee" and "The Raven" display romantic tendencies in the writing form itself. "The Raven" is composed in a metrical form reminiscent of Wordsworth (Gerber 24). "The Raven" also contains a "suggestive conjunction of similar settings" (Gerber 24) and handles its "Nevermore" refrain "in an idle gesture of despair more than one dreamer has written on the corner of his table to try out his pen" (Baudelaire 156). "Annabel Lee" is romantic in form because it "achieves its unique effects largely through its narrative voice and its haunting repetitions." (Reilly 23). "Annabel Lee" also is a true ballad that begins in "fairy tale fashion beside the sea" (Reilly 23), showing its romantic roots.

Poe tends to display the ideal state of a beautiful woman to be that of the woman in death, therefor there is nothing more romantic to Poe than the death of a beautiful woman. To Poe "the death of a beautiful woman offered the most poetical subject imaginable because that motif conjoined the essential elements essential elements of desire: irresistible loveliness, and the impossibility of its preservation or recovery." (Kennedy 67). This is evident in "The Raven" as the far away Lenore is clearly dead. This is evident in the lines referring to Eden: "It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-" ("The Raven" 651). Lenore seems to reach her ideal form, that being "rare and radiant" ("The Raven" 651), in "obsessive memory" (Kennedy 67). Similarly in "Annabel Lee", the title character’s beauty is double evanescent, being both an aspect of youth (which is lost daily) and a symptom of illness (which must end in death)." (Kennedy 67-68). In fact, Annabel’s loveliness is so intense to the poem’s narrator that it is irresistible even in death. She is continually described as "the Beautiful ANNABEL LEE" ("Annabel Lee" 654) postmortem. His love for her coupled with the spiritual bond he feels, evident in the lines "the angels in heaven above/ Nor the demons under the sea/ Can ever dissever my soul from the soul/ Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE" ("Annabel Lee" 654), is displayed in full as he is compelled to "lie down by the side" of his love’s corpse ("Annabel Lee" 654). Both of these ideal states of the objects of love in these poems show Poe’s outlook on the forms of beauty, and although both cause the poems’ respective narrators no small amount of despair, they also show Poe’s grasping of romantic forms, divergent from the status quo though they are (Kennedy 70).

It is clear to the reader that Edgar Allan Poe was a romantic poet who followed the example of his romantic counterparts in form and structure. It is also clear that Poe displayed his own form of romanticism in his works with his portrayal of idealism and beauty, along with his use of allegory and the supernatural. However Poe’s "dark" romanticism gives the reader ideal forms and concepts seldom seen in romantic works, these make Poe’s romanticism uniquely his, and definitely apart from the norm.


Works Cited

Baudelaire, C.P. .Baudelaire on Poe: Critical Papers. State College, Pa.: Bald Eagle Press, 1952. 156.

Bonaparte, Marie. The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-Analytic Interpretation. New York: Humanities Press, 1971. 125-131.

Gerber, Gerald E. ."Epes Sargent and ‘The Raven’". Poe Studies. 19.1 (June 1986): 24.

Kennedy, J.G. .Poe, Death and the Life of Writing. New Haven : Yale UO, 1987. 67-71.

Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Raven". The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. Eds. Nina Bryan, Wayne Franklin, et al. New York : W. W. Norton & Company. 1995. 648-651.

Poe, Edgar Allan. "Annabel Lee". The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. Eds. Nina Bryan, Wayne Franklin, et al. New York : W. W. Norton & Company. 1995. 654.

Reilly, John E. . "Mrs. Osgood’s ‘The Life-Voyage’ and ‘Annabel Lee’". Poe Studies. 17.1 June 1984): 23.

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