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Edgar Allan Poe

Annabel Lee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1849

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Summary and Study Guide


The last poem Edgar Allan Poe—infamous poet and fiction author of the macabre—completed during his tumultuous life, “Annabel Lee,” was first published in the New York Tribune in 1849, two days after Poe’s death. Displaying the melodic lyricism, gothic overtones, and memorable imagery which informed so much of Poe’s work, “Annabel Lee” is considered one of the defining entries in his canon, and a classic of 19th century American poetry.

The poem concerns the death of a young woman (the titular Annabel Lee) and the narrator’s belief that her death is a result of the jealousy the angels feel for the love the couple shares. Throughout each of the poem’s six stanzas, the narrator alternates between describing the lasting intensity of the lovers’ union and the angels who decide to rob Annabel Lee of her life.

Through his use of phrasal repetition, melodic rhyme, nature-based imagery, Biblical language, and occult signifiers, Poe masterfully creates a haunted, brooding world in this poem. The work concludes with the narrator’s insistence that not even death can sever the love between the enduring couple.

Poet Biography

Born to David and Elizabeth Poe in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809, and orphaned by the age of three, Edgar Allan Poe was raised in the home of Johnathan Allen—a Virginian businessman who never formally adopted him. During a childhood and adolescence spent in both Richmond, VA and in the United Kingdom, Poe was educated in a series of prestigious schools, culminating in a one-year stint at the newly formed University of Virginia. His time at the university was cut short: Having accrued a sizable amount of debt through excessive gambling, he was unable to cover his school fees and was forced to drop out.

Deciding against resettling in Richmond, Poe relocated to Boston where, unable to support himself, he enlisted in the United States Army. While stationed at Boston Harbor, Poe published his first collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which was quickly followed by a second collection, Aaraf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, neither of which sold well nor attracted much in the way of critical attention. While a student at West Point Military Academy in 1829—and after a bitter falling-out with unofficial foster father Allan (who eventually disowned him)—Poe deliberately got court-martialed in order to extricate himself from the military. Soon after, he left to pursue his creative endeavors in New York City.

Upon reaching New York in 1831, Poe’s third collection, Poems, was released; shortly thereafter, however, Poe returned to Baltimore to live with family—including his brother Henry, who died in August of that year after years of poor health exacerbated by alcoholism.

For the better part of the next two decades, Poe published a staggering quantity of stories, poems, and novels, including classics such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Purloined Letter,” “A Descent Into the Maelstrom,” “Some Words With a Mummy,” “The Bells,” “The Raven,” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. As a fiction writer, Poe is considered a literary father of American detective and horror fiction, and as a poet, his finest work remains among the most frequently-anthologized poems from the 19th century—as recognizable to readers as the poetry of his contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. In addition, Poe financially supported himself by editing a succession of literary journals, including The Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, and The Broadway Journal.

In 1835 at 27 years old, Poe married his 13-year-old first cousin, Virginia Clemm; she died from tuberculosis in 1847. Just two years later in 1849, Poe perished at the Washington Medical College in Baltimore, after having been found by Joseph W. Walker—an employee for the Baltimore Sun—in a state of “semi-consciousness” (Poetry Foundation). Significant mystery surrounds the final days of his life and scholars continue to research and debate what led to Poe’s physical breakdown and subsequent demise.

Poem Text

It was many and many a year ago,

   In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom 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.

I was a child and she was a child,

   In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love—

   I and my Annabel Lee—

With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven

   Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,

   In this kingdom by the sea,

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

   My beautiful Annabel Lee;

So that her highborn kinsmen came

   And bore her away from me,

To shut her up in a sepulchre [sic]

   In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,

   Went envying her and me—

Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,

   In this kingdom by the sea)

That the wind came out of the cloud by night,

   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love

   Of those who were older than we—

   Of many far wiser than we—

And 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;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

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 [sic] there by the sea—

   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” 1849. Poetry Foundation.


Long ago in a seaside kingdom, there was a young woman named Annabel Lee with whom— according to the narrator—many readers may be familiar. Annabel Lee, the narrator believes, spent her every waking moment thinking only about the love that existed between the narrator and herself. Although both Annabel Lee and the narrator were but children in this seaside kingdom, their love was so deep, mature, and eternal that it inspired jealousy in both heaven’s angels and in the demons beneath the ocean.

The narrator explains that this jealousy is the impetus for Annabel Lee’s death by wind from a cloud—a wind that enabled her “highborn kinsmen” (Line 17)—who could either be her rich relatives or the angels themselves—to take her body away from the narrator, and to “shut” (Line 19) her corpse in a coffin “by the sea” (Line 20).

The passage of time has only intensified the narrator’s belief that the angels were to blame for Annabel Lee’s untimely death—“Yes!—that was the reason” (Line 23)—and he wants the reader to both understand and be as angered by this as he is.

Still, the narrator believes that this doesn’t change the fact that his and Annabel Lee’s love was “stronger” and deeper than anyone else’s—even though those people may have been significantly “older” (Line 28) and “wiser” (Line 29). And this is why, according to the narrator, neither the jealous angels nor the “demons” (Line 31) of the ocean can ever part the narrator’s and Annabel Lee’s souls—no matter the circumstances.

All of this explains why, in the poem’s final lines, every time “the moon” (Line 34) shines and the “stars rise” (Line 36) the image and soul of Annabel Lee return to the narrator and inspire him to sleep beside her in her seaside coffin.