Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Annabel Lee Comes to Life After Poe's Death



The anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe on October 7 was duly noted in many media outlets and social media as well. For some fans of Poe, October 9 is the more important date. October 9, 1849 is the date of Rufus Wilmot Griswold's infamous obituary in the New York Tribune.

Much ink has been spilled about how our perception of Poe has been formed by Griswold. Not only was he Poe's literary executor he was also his rival in literature and in love. Griswold's obit set about to belittle Poe in the hope of raising Griswold's own literary standing.

What is often overlooked in Griswold's obit is that the obituary also included the first publication of one of Poe's best poems. Annabel Lee.

Written months before his death Poe had sent out three copies to three people. One to Rufus Wilmot Griswold; one to John Thompson to pay off a debt and; another to John Sartain to be published in his Union Magazine. Griswold got the beat on the others by publishing his copy of Annabel Lee alongside his scathing obit. Thompson followed by having his copy published in the Literary Messenger that November and poor Sartain had the first "authorized" publication of Annabel Lee in January 1850.


Annabel Lee

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.


— Edgar Allan Poe


Owing to the circumstances of its initial publication, Annabel Lee has always been a source of fascination. Who was Annabel Lee? Edgar Allan Poe was no longer around to answer this and other questions. Almost immediately after his death a plethora of theories popped up as to Annabel Lee's identity and quickly promulgated. What is certain is that Annabel Lee became one of Poe's best regarded poems and would also also serve as an inspiration — one hundred years later — for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.