The last poem Edgar A. Poe ever wrote, ‘Annabel Lee’ is the most explicit manifestation of his obsession with the idea that “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” This poem is brief and very much to the point. Perhaps its simplicity is part of what has made it such an enduring favorite:

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

   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 there by the sea—

   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Poe died in loneliness and without any friends. On his deathbed in Washington College Hospital, the presiding physician had difficulty finding anyone to visit Poe as he lay in his final delirium. Even at Poe’s burial, hardly anyone attended.

Poe lost his only wife, Virginia, to tuberculosis years earlier, and in Poe’s own final years he wooed a string of women. Perhaps it is only fitting that his final verse (not even published till after his death) would be a mournful remembrance about a lifelong love, a love greater than anything even the angels could comprehend.

The image comes from my visit to Poe’s grave several years ago in Baltimore.  

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