‘Annabel Lee’ and ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe
Both poems express the griefs of speakers who have lost their loves, discuss the similarities and differences in the methods of these poems and the ideas they suggest.
Both ‘The Raven’ and ‘Annabel Lee’ deal with the speaker’s memories of a loved one and both, perhaps necessarily because of their subject matter, reveal an obsession with death. Poe, to a certain extent, uses similar methods in both poems and yet the tone and mood of each poem is rather different, and, this essay will argue, the effect on the reader is different as well.
Both poems make extensive use of the very simple technique of repetition – both phrases and words. This repetition is so adroitly used by Poe that the effect is not tedious but helps to make the poem memorable and also suggests his obsession with his lost love. In ‘Annabel Lee’ he uses her name seven times (and twice in the last stanza) and the phrase “the kingdom by the sea” becomes almost a refrain (although its position varies in each stanza) and Poe achieves a finality, a sense of closure, in the final stanza by ending with a couplet that rhymes ‘sea’ twice. He also makes extensive use of internal and mosaic rhyme which creates a sense of his obsession but also makes the poem memorable and serves to foreground the words which are rhymed. Even simple lexical repetition is used as in line “But we loved with a love that was more than love” – where “love/loved” occurs three times.
Similar techniques are used in ‘The Raven’, especially the internal and mosaic rhyme, which creates a hypnotic quality which suggests that the speaker is not only obsessed, but almost in a trance-like state because of what happens in the poem, but also because of his grief for Lenore. In ‘The Raven’ Poe does use a refrain – the truncated last line of each stanza which might suggest the brevity of Lenore’s life. The shortness of the line certainly brings the reader to an abrupt halt which makes us stop and think. The imagery in each poem varies for reasons that I will explain, but there is a major similarity: both Lenore and Annabel Lee are associated with angels and Heaven: in ‘Annabel Lee’ the speaker claims the angels were so envious of Annabel Lee’s beauty that they made her die, so that they could enjoy her company in heaven; here, in ‘The Raven’ Lenore is a “sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore”. We might notice that both poems idealize the lost lover and the relationship that the speaker had with them when the lover was alive. Both poems seem obsessed with being re-united with the lost lover. In ‘Annabel Lee’ the narrator lies “by the side/Of my darling – my darling – my life and my bride”; in ‘The Raven’ the narrator asks the raven whether or not there is a chance that he will be re-united in heaven with Lenore and “clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore”. The raven replies, as usual “Nevvermore”, suggesting, some readers argue, a lack of faith in an after-life and, therefore, the complete hopelessness of the speaker – he will never have his soul lifted “from out that shadow that flies floating out the door/Shall be lifted – nevermore!”
The poems are very different too in some ways. ‘Annabel Lee’ is a short lyric poem that expresses a simple idea very concisely. It hints that the narrator and Annabel Lee loved each other from when they were children and that there was a class difference between them. The “highborn kinsmen” of Annable Lee “bore her away from me” to put her corpse in the family mausoleum – which also suggest their social standing. This is an economical poem, set in a strange and alien “kingdom by the sea”.
In the seventh stanza the raven enters and Poe introduces some humor into the poem in stanzas eight and nine at the thought of having a talking raven perched on a bust of Pallas in his study. Still in a sorrowful, melancholy mood, the narrator mutters of the raven
“other friends ahve flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
After speculating that this is simply a word that the bird has learnt from a former owner, the narrator gradually realizes that “Nevermore” means, firstly, that the bird will never leave him and also that he will never recover from the loss of Lenore. This is a major difference between ‘The Raven and ‘Annabel Lee’: the raven becomes symbolic as we read the poem or, at least, it takes on a symbolic significance for the narrator which we, as sympathetic readers share. What does the raven symbolize? Death? The inevitability of death? The narrator’s alienation from life? The narrator’s grief at the loss of Lenore? All these things and more.
In conclusion, these two poems, although both written by Poe and having broadly the same subject matter have very different effects. Although they both idealize the lost lover and are heavy with thoughts of death, ‘The Raven’ stands out for the way it builds tension, includes humor, and leaves us with a symbolic significance to explore.