Poe's Annabel Lee

October 9: On this day in 1849, the New York Daily Tribune published Edgar Allan Poe's last poem, "Annabel Lee." Poe had died two days earlier from mysterious causes and in odd circumstances, even for him—theories include political thugs, rabies, brain lesion, or the most likely, a final binge either chosen or forced upon him by brothers of his newly-betrothed, who viewed Poe's interest in their sister as opportunism.

 

"Annabel Lee" was written the previous May. Ever destitute and never without flair, Poe grandly gave a copy to a friend the day before his disappearance, passing it off as a recently-penned "little trifle that may be worth something to you," though he had already sold it to a handful of magazines. He had also sent a copy to Rufus Griswold, a personal enemy but also the editor of the popular anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America. After Poe's death, Griswold became his agent-editor-biographer, though a hostile and unreliable one: Poe had "no moral susceptibility," he deserved to die "without money and without friends," as a critic he was "little better than a carping grammarian," and other similar comments. Griswold is also responsible for shaping the Poe myth: he "walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses"; he wrote of "worlds no mortal can see," and spoke "in forms of gloomiest and ghostliest grandeur." It was Griswold, in a rambling and ranting obituary notice, who first published "Annabel Lee" in the Tribune.

 

Although many other women, some encouraged by Poe, claimed to be his inspiration, the poem is generally thought to reflect Poe's relationship with his child-bride/cousin/"sister" Virginia, who was thirteen at the time of her marriage and just twenty-three when she died of tuberculosis:

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….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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