Symbolism and Imagery in Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe often utilizes symbolism in Annabel Lee using something concrete to represent his views on the greater mysteries of human existence. By accomplishing this, he allows for a broader interpretation of his literary genius. Poe utilizes imagery and symbolism to develop his theme of eternal and forbidden love. Edgar Allan Poe spent his final months in poverty, tormented by grief, drowning his depression in alcohol and poetry.
In May 1849, in his small New York cottage, he wrote what was to be his last completed poem, Annabel Lee,’ in which he returned to the themes that had haunted him for much of his life. After Virginia’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe’s lifelong struggle with depression and alcoholism worsened. For unknown reasons, he stopped in Baltimore. On October 3, 1849, he was found in a state of semi-consciousness. Poe died four days later of acute congestion of the brain (Lepore 09).
Poe uses imagery to assist his audience in the way they see, feel, and recognize the immense love that the narrator and his beloved Annabel Lee share. Poe establishes the setting in line 2, giving the audience an image of a magical fairytale kingdom by stating In a kingdom by the sea (Poe 1987). Poe creates this fantasy image to mirror the speaker and Annabel Lee’s fairytale romance conveying the extent of the love he had for his wife. Line 38, which reads 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, (Poe 1987) uses imagery to explore another theme. It provides the audience with the heartbreaking image of Poe sleeping next to Annabel Lee’s tomb, making it known to readers that their souls would be forever intertwined. Despite their youth, they share a love that was more than love, (Poe 1987) a love so powerful that envious angels send an unnamed illness to shatter their happiness. Though she dies, his love for her endures, and even years after her death the moon never beams without bringing me dreams / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee (Poe 1987). He is drawn each night to her “sepulchre…by the sea,” (Poe 1987) where he lies down to sleep beside her lifeless body.
The most significant motif of this poem is Annabel Lee. The woman that Poe talks about isn’t ”actually named Annabel Lee. Her name is Virginia Poe (Poe 1987). Annabel Lee could be perceived as the love of his life who has passed away. Poe’s emotions spill through his symbolism. You can infer that Poe has a covalent bond with the woman that represents Annabel Lee. The poem represents the transformation of love after the loss of a loved one. It is a personal experience that Poe is expressing through the narrators monologue. Poe uses the speaker to describe who she was, and then emphasizes the reasons for why he loved her. Then, he explains how he has lost her. The speaker expresses his melancholy and heartache for her death. Annabel Lee can be perceived as an allusion. The allusion would be showing who Annabel Lee really is.
Poe is also super obsessed with the idea of death. In particular, he favorites death typified Victorian culture, which responded to the disease-defined realities of the nineteenth century by blending Christian and classical understandings of death(Schantz 1908). This principle takes a beautiful perspective on death and redemption, using it to express an artistic representation of one’s life. A ‘good death’ was one in which the individual embraced their own mortality with hope and acceptance. Death was spiritualized as focus shifted from the dying, decaying body toward the soul (Schantz 1908). Victorian artists believe that heaven was a concrete place where nature would reunite you with the most intimate people of your life. So to believe that a kingdom by a sea represented a darker heaven that would mend the souls in an eternal afterlife would be a very probable connection to make. The speaker in the poem is experiencing the deep emotional interaction of his lover that has passed on to the other side by crossing over into the spirit realm with her. It is a deep inference that can explain a lot of beautiful eeriness that surrounds the poem.
Another motif in the story is the sea or as it is referred to as the kingdom by the sea. The saying establishes a setting and is used as a literary refrain to represent different emotions at different times throughout the poem. In the first stanza, the kingdom by the sea is used to represent the romantic setting shared with his soulmate. By saying, It was many and many a year ago… that a maiden lived there whom you may know (Shear 06), Poe brings up the beauty of his love in a fantasy-styled way to bring incredible romance to the mood of the poem. In the second stanza, he adds to the romance by stating I was a child and she was a child,… but we loved with a love that was more than love (Shear 06). With this text, he is emphasizing that there love was innocent and playful while still containing the maturity and bond that was greater than love itself. In the third stanza, the mood begins to shift around the kingdom of the sea. By stating, …A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee (Shear 06). Poe adds a deathly shift to the mood of the poem. This represents the way Poe begins to transform his feelings about the sea. You can foreshadow that the perspective may begin to take a lonelier tone. In the fifth stanza, the sea is seen as the line of spiritual transcendence to hell. It states, Nor the demons down under the sea can ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Annabel Lee (Sova 23-26); which portrays the negative spiritual transformation of the sea as a motif in the poem. It’s seen to hold the demons of the sea, which can also represent all the hardships that Poe had to overcome. The sea with its vastness represents life. Sometimes, sudden humongous deadly waves shows how life may throw obstacles our way. The sixth stanza has already been mentioned earlier. It states that her tomb lies peacefully there by the sea. He lies down by her because even death cannot separate their bond. The mood here is completely serene, but the life doesn’t seem worth living without Annabel Lee. This also points to the loneliness that Edgar Allen Poe felt during the last year of his life when he was struck with poverty, depression, alcohol addiction, and loneliness (Lepore 09).
Poe uses symbolism to place emphasis on the transformation from light to darkness, reflecting the light stolen from Poe’s life when Annabel Lee was ripped from his arms in the darkness that took her place. The sea symbolism shifts from a peaceful, crystal clear paradise to the dark power of nature’s crushing forces when the speaker talks of The demons down under the sea (Poe 1987). Poe uses these lines to emphasize that nothing could sever their bond. Another allusion that could be made involve the “Seraphs”. Seraphs are angels, but he says that they are what killed Annabel Lee, and who took her away from him. If Poe had not utilized imagery and symbolism to develop his dark themes, he would not have created the same effect as the audience felt the narrators feelings of nostalgia, deep romance, and grief. Plus, he would not have been able to build the emotional connection with the speaker, to express the way he was feeling about the struggles going on in his life.
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