Very often, literature studies in the primary level always allude to Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee and The Bells as childhood experiences. Nonetheless, Poe’s life story, undoubtedly often do not mention such experiences in his childhood. Many sources agreed however, that Poe experienced death or loss of the women he cared for in his lifetime. It is safe to conclude then that some of these experiences contributed to and had inspired the contents of his poems and stories.
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While it can be argued that these poems were inspired by death or loss, it can’t be denied that some would attribute, especially the ladies, would claim to be the very people mentioned in these them. Both poems however, points to death as a common theme viewed through a childish facet. Nonetheless, these could not be childhood experiences even as it is presented through a child’s view point. Poe’s psyche must have been childish or impish owing to his lifestyle and that he viewed his world like a child who must endure the rigors of his time – most of his loved ones died of diseases when advances in the medical field has yet to be discovered and developed.
Edgar Allan Poe was born Edgar Poe in January 19, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts. When Edgar was only 2 years old in 1811, his mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe died and the Poe children parted ways as they lived to different people. Accordingly, he was in the room with his older brother when his mother died, and he spent more than two days with the corpse before someone else showed up, so it may be said that he had an intimate relationship with death from very early in his life (Holman & Snyder, 2). The young Edgar came to live with the Allan’s, a quite prosperous family whom he lived with until he was 18 years old due to Edgar’s behavior (Ingram, “Memoir”, 2). At a young age, it could be argued that Edgar Allan Poe will have little recollection of his biological mother, even the impoverished life he had before, and thus the incident may not have a direct effect on his psyche as told above.
Accordingly, he wasn’t officially adopted by the Allan’s but assumed the name by the way (Wikipedia, “Edgar Allan Poe”, 2). Nonetheless, the Allan’s having no children of their own and quite affluent, as some accounts would say that they spoiled the young Edgar (Ingram, 1874). Since it was well known to many biographers of Edgar Allan Poe that he has been spoiled by his adoptive parents, it is safe to say that Frances Allan has a special place to Poe’s heart. Further this was accounted for as, “In 1875, Mrs. Shelton noted that ‘He [Poe] was devoted to the first Mrs. Allan and she [sic] to him’” (The Poe Log, p. 65).
Poe has a childhood sweetheart by the name of Sarah Elmira Royster. Since her family disapproved of their relationship, Sarah’s father intercepted Poe’s letter to her. Thinking Poe had forgotten her, Royster married Alexander Shelton (Wikipedia, “Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton”, 1, 2 & 3), to which to the despair of Poe having heard of such news dropped out of school and joined the military as “Edgar A. Perry”. In 1829, Poe’s foster mother, Frances Allan, died in Richmond, having reunited with his foster father in a short-lived good relationship (Holman & Snyder, 4). Mrs. Allan was so close to Edgar that he said, “she I believed loved me as her own child”(Poe to John Allan, January 3, 1831, Ostrom, Letters, p. 41), to that her death he grieved much.
In 1836, Poe married his much younger cousin Virginia from Baltimore, and they moved to New York in 1837, Philadelphia in 1838 (Holman & Snyder, 3, 4 & 5). In 1847 Poe’s wife Virginia died of tuberculosis at home in Fordham, New York. After her death, his struggles only increased and his alcoholism waxed (Holman & Snyder, 6 & 7). This was because as, “a friend said of him, ‘the loss of his wife was a sad blow to him. He did not seem to care, after she was gone, whether he lived an hour, a day, a week or a year; she was his all.’” (Meyers, 1992, 207).
On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found near death in a public house in Baltimore and several days later succumbed to “congestion of the brain.” (Holman & Snyder, 8). His death had been a mystery as there are many theories on the nature of it had been brought forth (Wikipedia, “Edgar Allan Poe”, 19; Holman & Snyder, 8). Some would conclude that Poe was a victim of cooping because it was election time. Surely, his interest and relationship to death in his poems and prose goes along with his mysterious death.
In a note written by Ingram (1874) in one of the earliest anthologies of Poe’s work, he said, “Annabel Lee was written early in 1849, and is evidently an expression of the poet's undying love for his deceased bride although at least one of his lady admirers deemed it a response to her admiration.” Accordingly, the poem has given rise to many analyses concerning the inspiration of the woman Annabel Lee. Commonly, the poem has allusion of the same recurring theme as to many other works of the poet has been - the death of a beautiful woman (Meyers, 1992, 243), which Poe called “the most poetical topic in the world.”
Yet, the most interesting point-of-view of the poem was seen through the eyes of a child (Empric, 1973, 26). The happiness of the experience of love and the gloom of the death of his love is seen through innocence as, “The child's vision of reality is, in relation to the larger proportions and understanding of the adult mind, a vision of the grotesque. Time, for example, exists for the child as a present in which, somehow, past and future are simply amalgamated rather than sequential, separate entities.” (Empric, 1973, 26). Dealing mainly on Poe’s experiences, it can be argued that he must have reminisced or had withdrawn to his childhood losing tract of time as with the poem. Psychologically, any traumatic experience has subsequent defence mechanism as regression, “He has remained a child, because of inability or unwillingness to change, and this frozen perspective is lent a peculiar strength by the characteristic and simple cadences” (Empric, 1973, 26). Some would argue that Annabel Lee refers to his wife Virginia (Wikipedia, “Annabel Lee”, 5), who died of tuberculosis before the poem was published. The lines “he wind came out of the cloud by night / chilling and killing my Annabel Lee” can be an allusion of the affliction of Virginia. Yet Poe lost many women in his life, first his mother – to whom he could not have a recollection but may have some quaint memory and his foster mother, whom had given him all his wants as a youth that may have contributed to the “inspiration” of the poem.
Nonetheless, this could not be literally attributed to death alone as the departure of his love represented by death might be a figurative loss. His childhood interest, Sarah Elmira Royster married another man and could be a representation of a love lost forever as, “So that her highborn kinsmen came / And bore her away from me”. All throughout, Poe had expressed the losses he had all his life, feeling the emptiness and longing to be with his loved ones. While some would chronicle that Poe attempted suicide, his own words in the poem might give light to this matter as, “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 side of the sea.” It might seem that Poe also wanted his life to end.
The Bells was published in 1849, having been altered for many times according to Ingram (1874), one the first anthologists to compile Poe’s poems. It is an interesting poem because it is biographical having to present a sort of timeline (Williams, 1968, 24-25) from wedding bells to alarm bells that are quite related to death and anguish as to:
The sequence of time references in the poem is significant for this theme. The first two stanzas reveal scenes of sleigh riding and marriage which seem to bring their merriment and happiness into the present, but the third line in each of these stanzas reads that a world of merriment and a world of happiness was foretold. In the third stanza, however, line three brings the terror of the alarm bells into the present world and time. The despair and horror is immediate, created by a present fire leaping with, “. . . a resolute endeavor / Now — now to sit, or never / By the side of the pale-faced moon.”
The time reference of stanza four also emphasizes the present world and time — and the presence of death in it. Line three here reads: “What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!” (Williams, 1968, 24-25)
It is very interesting that the auditory “images” of the bells can relate to the happiness as to the first stanza as “the jingling and the tinkling” to the horror of death and emergency in the fourth stanza as “moaning and the groaning”. As with the poem Annabel Lee, it seems that somebody like a child narrates the poem. The onomatopoeia of “bells” is like a child’s repetition of the sound of the thing. The relationships of both poems are quite clear that, Poe has a childish inclination towards his narratives incorporating suffering or death into the point-of-view of the child.
While the similarity of the point-of-view is clear, the poem alludes what seems to be his life. The wedding bells seems to be his wedding to his wife, then the alarm bells, forceful and strong seems to represent his wife’s death. Although the last part of the poem relates to an event such as fire or catastrophe, the intensity of death or seeing somebody die weights down on the narrator or the reader.
In a Nutshell
Poe’s Annabel Lee and The Bells are good examples of Poe’s favourite subject – that is death. As we look into his life, it is quite apparent that he suffered and had witnessed death all throughout. His childish inclination on his poems is quite clear that Poe might be regressing because of his traumatic experiences for the death of his loved ones. It may not be possible that these losses can first be attributed to Elizabeth’s death, but his fondness to Frances Hall as his mother can be. Although, Sarah Shelton outlived Poe, it was her marrying another alluded death … of losing someone figuratively.
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