Edgar Allan Poe Meets Stevie Nicks

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.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Is it part of our times , that she thought changing words here and there….was a good thing to do to improve on Poe..lol..? Besides , the whole strong rhythm , vital to the poem..is completely abandoned and lost here. That’s my 2 cent worth anyway…but thanks for posting David. Was interesting to realise, once again..the power of reading..!


    1. Yes, it’s very interesting, isn’t it, that much as I like her song, the addition of music does not make it more powerful than the original. And I hadn’t thought of what you said about the “strong rhythm” of the poem being lost here. It feels more in a minor key than the original doesn’t it? Still, though I don’t like it as well as the poem, I think I like it because I like both Nicks and Poe, and I’m thrilled that someone has put him to music in modern rock.

      I think the subtraction that upset me most, more than even that whole stanza, was the dropping of the word “chilling.” The substitution of the repeated “my” and the name to “Killing my Annabel” Lee is not nearly so descriptive and, well chilling, as Poe’s “chilling and killing, my Annabel Lee.”

      Thanks for your insight, dear!


  2. keatsbabe says:

    I adore Stevie Nicks – I sort of dressed like her for a ‘goth’ party a couple of years ago (there are a few pics on Facebook somewhere!) but I prefer to read this poem in its original form. It is one of the most haunting in the language, I believe. What a strange man Poe was. ‘Melancholy’ is a wonderful subject for study and I have a copy of ‘Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy’ which should really be the Emo’s set text. Keats was heavily influenced by it at times and his ‘On Melancholy’ …

    Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
    Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
    And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes. 20

    She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
    And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
    Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
    Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:

    ..resonates with Poes themes. Thank you once again for giving me a morning poetry ‘hit’ to go with the caffeine 🙂


    1. I could so see you dressed as Stevie Nicks! And thanks for these insights into Poe’s influence on Keats! Excellent. As for the hit, I am honored to have been your poetry dealer once again this morning.


  3. So, is it still true that there are more poems to sublime dead women than to any other topic? How perfect we are until, not perfect and so we die and rebecome perfect. my wholly mine, Annabel Lee. So yes, lovely… and at the same time, bah! ah the anguish. sorry, get the creepy horror, love the gothed out stevie, and still… isn’t there just a bit of the obsessed stalker about this?


    1. Yes, that’s always troubled me too. Same with the Highway Man by Alfred Noyes, and Lady of Shallot by Tennyson. I love the poems, but I think they say more about the plight of women in early to late Victorian times. Actually, Lady of Shallot was 1832, I think, the original publishing. Then came this one by Poe in 1849 and last was The Highwayman by 1906. . . Health issues? Tuberculosis and such, combined with the stalker nature of certain genius poets? Wow, I imagine an English professor getting very uptight right now reading this. But yes, there is something about this theme that is just horrendous, and makes one wish men obsessed over something more than war and objectifying women’s beauty. I know, I know, the young noble men reading this are probably thinking of a higher form of love, but maybe I’m older and cynical.

      Having said all of that, yeah, I still like these poems, particularly the Lady of Shallot, of which I wrote a paper once regarding what Tennyson seems to be telling us about Victorian women and the trap their men had them in.


  4. P.E.A.C.E. says:

    Well, if your nightowl tendencies have you producing insightful and informative posts like these all I can say is, can I get you another cup of coffee? Truly David, thank you for this excellent post. I deeply appreciate learning more about poetry, especially old poetry, and I too like to imagine Poe smiling and applauding in the audience. I believe he would do the same as a follower of your wonderful blog. Hugs, Gina


    1. Wow! Poe reading my blog? That would be awesome, but I imagine he would, like Whitman, mostly be looking for mentions of his name. 😉 Thanks, Gina! I appreciate your comments so much.


  5. Mélanie says:

    wonderful post, Sir! I love them both… 🙂 I used some of Poe’s lines here:
    * * *
    my very best, tons of inspiration and sunny greetings, cheers! 🙂 Mélanie


    1. Nice! And I need those sunny greetings. We’ve warmed up to minus 9° F here. It was -13. Thanks for all the blog love this morning!


  6. John says:

    I think Stevie pays Mr. Poe the highest of compliments by taking his words and giving them a new, different life (though, I’m sure there are those who find the idea horrifying)!

    I like Poe very much, ever since reading “The Cask of Amontillado” in seventh grade. And, while I can appreciate the compliment Stevie is paying to Edgar … (Steve and Edyie … ha! good one!)

    Any way …

    I like the poem very much … and, I like the song very much … but, at the same time, it seems much too happy and pop-ish. I think it almost needs a bit more of a melancholy, sad feeling to it … something along the lines of this Stevie song:

    I think if the Annabelle Lee music was this sad and moody, it would be a much better song … but, that’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear what you are saying about the new life to the words. Seryph would be a bit too archaic, but I still miss that word chilling, otherwise it seems a bit bizarre to have a wind come out of the sky and simply kill
      someone. It makes me think tornado rather than tuberculosis. But I’m also sure that I’m being overly fussy.

      As for the mood of the song, you may be right. I’ve been intrigued by the Lumineers, and Fun and other groups lately, dealing with sad songs in major keys. Interesting. But it may not always work. I think I was so taken with this simply because it was Stevie bringing to life Poe… heck anybody putting Poe to music, but I especially Stevie. That just made me ecstatic. So I might be a very biased judge. Your points are very good and wel, taken, as always, John.

      Thanks for chiming in!


    2. John says:

      I agree that Poe and music seems to be something that should have been done long ago, and very often …

      ….and, as a big Stevie Nicks fan, the criticism was rather tough to make. But, the Rock n’ Roll Witch Queen is the perfect candidate to write Poe: The Musical. 🙂

      I’m with you in noticing that there have been some sad songs in major keys, and upbeat music with downbeat lyrics … and it’s interesting, but doesn’t always work for me. I like my sad songs to feel sad all the way around. 🙂


    3. Cue Elton John! Sad songs, they say. . . 😉


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