I originally published post this back in February of 2014, but since today is Poe’s birthday, I thought it would be a good time to update some of the information (the old video was a bad link) and sing a song for him again.
Although she is a classy, gorgeous woman, I am not sure that she would be Poe’s type. Stevie Nicks might well be too strong and independent for the old-fashioned American Romantic, though I think he might have loved her in the season of American Horror Story Coven, where she played “herself in a universe where Stevie Nicks is an actual witch.”
The photo of Poe here is a touched up version of the daguerreotype taken by Edwin H. Manchester on November 9th, 1848, one year before his death, the same year in which it is believed that he wrote “Annabel Lee.” Our friend, the poet, well he had a thing for both death and beauty. In fact, the two went hand in hand for him. It’s been speculated and debated time and again if poems like “Anabel Lee” were in fact based in reality. I can only say that the emotions of the poem seem real. Whether based on the tuberculous death of his young bride Virginia or not, the material for inspiration was certainly abundant in Poe’s life.
In his essay “Philosophy of Composition” in reference to his themes and methods in the writing of his poem “The Raven,” Poe asserted, “Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.” If you have the patience to read the essay for yourself, and if you are inclined to believe that he was being honest, and not making a joke or just making up his “method” after the fact, you might forgive him for, his insistence that the death of a beautiful woman was the “most poetic topic in the world.”
I asked myself — “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious — “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.”
And why not the death of a beautiful man? Or the death of a child, or a parent, or a beautiful idea? A beautiful and well-loved dog, or planet? Well, setting aside discussions of misogyny and sexism for the moment, I don’t want to be too hard on him, knowing that he, like most of us, was at least in part a product of his own experience, and projecting that experience onto the larger world is not uncommon. In fact, perhaps this is how we find universal meaning in the particulars. In any case, Poe had lost women in his life, mothers and lovers, figuratively and literally, in courtship and in death. It’s an interesting topic to research (as usual there are great sources in those links).
I confess “Annabel Lee” is probably my favorite of the “Dead Bride” poems, with its archaic fairy tale-feel, young romantic love, celestial jealousies, tragedy and sense of the macabre. I remember in middle school wondering how literally we could take the lines at the end about lying down with his love in her sepulcher by the sea. Is it any wonder that Poe became popular with the goth and emo kids?
I think that he would be pleased that much of why I find the poem so beautiful springs from the poem’s form. There is an excellent analysis of Poe’s technique in this work on KHarger.com. The rhyme, meter, repetition all build the framework for this particular version of his favorite theme, and Harger explicates it exceedingly well. I encourage you to read it.
Poe, a champion of the “Art for art’s sake” creed, believed that poetry should be song-like in its aesthetics, and as such I suspect he would be tickled to hear how Stevie Nicks put his poem to music in her 2011 album In Your Dreams. He might be miffed about the dropping of one entire stanza, the poetic and specific term seraphim being dropped for the more general word “angels,” and the omission of the word chilling in the line “Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.” But overall I think he would be in the audience, beaming with pride and applauding if he could see and hear Stevie in concert.
Often in a post like this I copy the the full text below the video, but to keep the formatting the way Poe intended it, and to point you toward a wonderful resource, click here for the full text of “Annabel Lee” at The Poetry Foundation. This is the best video I could find. I thought that she had released an official video, but I must have been mistaken. Hopefully, this presentation of the lyrics doesn’t give the old guy rolling fits in his grave.