Edgar Allan Poe– Death of Annabel Lee

“Annabel Lee” is the last complete poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe.  It was written in 1849, but was not published until shortly after his death that same year.

This poem follows Poe’s favorite theme: the death of a beautiful woman; which Poe called, “the most poetical topic in the world”.  His frequent use of this topic most likely stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother, Eliza Poe, his foster mother Frances Allan and his wife, Virginia (who died two years prior to the composition of this poem).

It is unclear who Annabel Lee is, however, local legend in Charleston, SC tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee.  Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor’s time stationed in Charleston was up.  While away, he heard of Annabel’s death from yellow fever.  Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met.

 

Annabel Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

 
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 winged 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 sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half to 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 darkling–  my life and my bride,
In her sepulcher there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

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John Keats…TO AUTUMN and his own inevitable winter

To Autumn was one of John Keat’s last poems; he died one year after it was published.  What makes this particular poem so moving is the context in which it was written.  Keats was dying, slowly, from consumption as he wrote this piece.  His focus on autumn, the ripest of all seasons… the time when all life reaches fruition… corresponds with his own condition in such a way!

Keats attempts to trap autumn in all its fullness; to stop the apple from falling from the tree… as he desires to keep himself from his own inevitable winter.  Alas, as the apple falls… so does he.

Happy Birthday John Keats!

To Autumn
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid they store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

And I, cut off from the world, remain… Alone with the terrible hurricane.

William Cullen Bryant is considered one of the most accomplished and popular American poets of the first half of the 19th century.  He was an early proponent of Romanticism in American literature and his work is often compared to English Romantic, William Wordsworth.

    

The Hurricane
by William Cullen Bryant (1854)

            Lord of the winds! I feel thee nigh,
I know thy breath in the burning sky!
And I wait, with a thrill in every vein,
For the coming of the hurricane!
 
            And lo! On the wing of the heavy gales,
Through the boundless arch of heaven he sails;
Silent and slow, and terribly strong,
The mighty shadow is borne along,
Like the dark eternity to come;
While the world below, dismayed and dumb,
Through the calm of the thick atmosphere
Looks up at its gloomy folds with fear.
 
            They darken fast; and the golden blaze
Of the sun is quenched in the lurid haze,
And he sends through the shade a funeral ray—
A glare that is neither light nor day,
A beam that touches, with hues of death,
The clouds above and the earth beneath.
To its covert glides the silent bird.
While the hurricane’s distant voice is heard,
Uplifted among the mountains round,
And the forests hear and answer the sound.
 
            He is come! He is come! Do ye not behold
His ample robes on the wind unrolled?
Giant of air! we bid thee hail!—
How his gray skirts toss in the whirling gale;
How his huge and writhing arms are bent,
To clasp the zone of firmament,
And fold at length, in their dark embrace,
From mountain to mountain the visible space.
 
            Darker- still darker! The whirlwinds bear
The dust of the plains to the middle air;
And hark to the crashing, long and loud,
Of the chariot of God in the thunder-cloud!
You may trace its path by the flashes that start
From the rapid wheels where’er they dart,
As the fire-bolts leap to the world below,
And flood the skies with a lurid glow.
 
            What roar is that?—‘tis the rain that breaks
In torrents away from the airy lakes,
Heavily poured on the shuddering ground,
And shedding a nameless horror round.
Ah! well known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.

Wordsworth’s “Lucy Gray, or Solitude”… Evolution of Body to Spirit

Lucy GrayOne of Wordsworth’s most haunting ballads of childhood, “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” describes the death of a young girl who went out one evening into a storm and was never found again.

Written while Wordsworth was in Goslar, Germany, it was founded on a true circumstance told to him by his sister, Dorothy, of a little girl who was bewildered in a snow-storm. Her footsteps were traced by her parents to the middle of the lock of a canal, and no other vestige of her could be traced.  Her body was later found in the canal.

Noteworthy in this poem is Wordsworth’s use of the bridge.  Lucy’s parents follow her footsteps to the middle of the bridge (a connection of two sides) and then they disappear.  The fact that she disappears in the center of two opposing sides poetically launches Lucy into another realm of existence altogether.

Lucy becomes the symbol of the interface between life/death, body/spirit, this life/the next, realism/imagination, civilization/nature (an interplay of opposites reminiscent of 17th century poet, John Donne).

Wordsworth’s description of Lucy’s spirit singing a solitary song “That whistles in the wind” connects her to nature and makes her evolve out of and pass back into the landscape; just as she passes in and out of this world and the next.

Lucy Gray, or Solitude by William Wordsworth

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray,
And when I cross’d the Wild,
I chanc’d to see at break of day
The solitary Child.

No Mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wild Moor,
The sweetest Thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the Fawn at play,
The Hare upon the Green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

“To-night will be a stormy night,
You to the Town must go,
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your Mother thro’ the snow.”

“That, Father! will I gladly do;
‘Tis scarcely afternoon—
The Minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the Moon.”

At this the Father rais’d his hook
And snapp’d a faggot-band;
He plied his work, and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe,
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse, the powd’ry snow
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time,
She wander’d up and down,
And many a hill did Lucy climb
But never reach’d the Town.

The wretched Parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlook’d the Moor;
And thence they saw the Bridge of Wood
A furlong from their door.

And now they homeward turn’d, and cry’d
“In Heaven we all shall meet!”
When in the snow the Mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downward from the steep hill’s edge
They track’d the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn-hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they cross’d,
The marks were still the same;
They track’d them on, nor ever lost,
And to the Bridge they came.

They follow’d from the snowy bank
The footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank,
And further there were none.

Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living Child,
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome Wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

While “Lucy Gray, or Solitude” was written in 1789 and published in Lyrical Ballads, it is not one of Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems.  It is excluded from the series because the traditional “Lucy” poems are uncertain about the age of Lucy and her actual relationship with the poet; Lucy Gray provides exact details on both.

As a contrast to “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” Lucy Gray is not idealized in death through the Romantic notion of love; her loss is quiet obvious in the poem to those who loved her.  Rather, Wordsworth uses this poem to provide an “escape of spirit” for a lost child through the interplay of realism and imagination.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream”…. lost memories a dark sun

Young Edgar Allan Poe

A Rare Portrait of Young Edgar Allan

“A Dream”, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s first poems (written in 1827), is rife with longing and sentiment for memories trapped forever in the past.

The poet’s dreams or “visions of the dark night” are more real…. more bright, than the waking light of day.  These “holy dreams” become his sun; even as the outside world tells otherwise.

This early work by Poe is part of a larger series inspired by the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, and includes the long title poem “Tamerlane”, which depicts an historical conqueror who laments the loss of his first romance.  Tamerlane and Other Poems includes themes of love, death and pride.

Poe’s “A Dream” captures a yearning to hold onto a lost past… a  lost love…. lost joy… lost inspiration; so much so, the poet’s truth becomes his dreams.

A Dream, by Edgar Allan Poe

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed-
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted,

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?-

That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

Wordworth’s Lucy: Death of Idealized Love… or his Muse?


She dwelt among the untrodden ways“She dwelt among the untrodden ways” is a stirring meditation on both William Wordsworth’s feelings of loneliness and loss as well as his Romantic notion of unrequited, idealized love.  It’s a stirring ode to the beauty and dignity of an idealized woman; one who lived unnoticed by all except the poet himself and died young.

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, by William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:/
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky./

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

William Wordsworth’s “Lucy” series was written in 1798, when he was 28 years old.  They include five poems in total:

They were not conceived as a group, nor did he seek to publish them in sequence and only after his death in 1850 did publishers treat them as a fixed group.

Many speculate who or what inspired these poems.   Some guess that they are an attempt to voice his affection for his sister, Dorothy; his life-long companion.  Dorothy was never married and lived with her brother even after he was married.  Dorothy eventually fell seriously ill in 1829 and spent the remainder of her life in “a deepening haze of senility”.

Others believe that Lucy represents Peggy Hutchinson, who he loved deeply before her early death in 1796.  Wordsworth later married Peggy’s sister Mary in 1802.

Some conclude that Lucy is the personification of  Wordworth’s MUSE– feared dead.  Wordsworth was traveling in Germany when he wrote these poems and, as a series, they focus on his longing for the company of his friend-Coleridge, who had stayed in England.

Wordsworth himself never commented on the details of her origin or identity.