Poe Becomes a Lot More Disturbing After You’ve Lost a Spouse

   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 the sepulchre there by the sea,
         In her tomb by the sounding sea.
-from “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

The other day, Lucas told me that they’d be studying a poem by Edgar Allan Poe in English class at school. He seemed excited about it (although he was also like, “Um, why did Poe marry his 13-year-old cousin?”) and said that they’d be reading “Annabel Lee,” the only poem his teacher thought was at least a little light. I was pretty excited about this, too, as I’ve always enjoyed Poe’s work.

I also hadn’t read much of it in a while.

I remembered “Annabel Lee” was about a dead girl, but I couldn’t remember the details, so I decided to look the poem up. I believe that whenever the last time I read this was–surely before I became a widow myself–I focused on how much the narrator loved this woman and how sad it was that he was so lost in grief. I think I must have glossed over the part where he talks about sleeping in her tomb (the same way the first time I read “The Fall of the House of Usher,” I completely missed the fact that it was about incest–in my defense, I was in the fifth grade), but all I notice now is exactly how unhealthy this guy is. I mean, Poe’s point here is not about how strong this love is: it’s about this dude being off his rocker. Which, OF COURSE, it’s Poe, right? He only writes about crazy people.

I wonder how Lucas’s teacher plans to approach the poem. There is structure to study, but this is part of the class’s unit on relationships. Will the teacher focus on the romantic love or will she point out that this narrator’s sending us a letter from Crazytown? And will the seventh graders even get it? As ever, I’ll be interested to hear what Lucas has to say about it.

[Find today’s Poetry Friday roundup at Great Kid Books.]


  1. Posted October 7, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Poe seems hugely advanced for 7th grade! (And then I think, “wait, wasn’t there that one story about the beating heart in the walls/floor we read? And that stupid raven?”) Annabel Lee seems a bit advanced for junior high, but then, so much of what you get in school you don’t actually understand until it’s repeated your freshman year in college, and you’re like, “Ohhhhh.”

    But still: I, too, first of all admire Lucas’ teacher for going beyond The Raven for the 9999th time. If I were teaching Annabel we’d do a lot of dramatic reading and maybe costumes, and we’d DELVE into Crazytown. It’s not as if there aren’t enough authors who provide entry tickets.

  2. adrienne
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    And a lot of seventh graders are interested in Crazytown, probably in part because they know it’s there but don’t yet understand it. Lucas has, of course, witnessed serious grief first-hand, so that is bound to impact his understanding of this poem.

    Dramatic readings are always a good idea. Sometimes I like to do dramatic readings of things like recipes or dictionary definitions.

  3. Posted October 7, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    This is one of those poems whose meaning/impact changes as you read it at different points in your life.

    We were asked to memorize the poem in high school, so I was focused more on the high level of drama and haunting repetition.

    Now, having experienced more grief firsthand, I better understand how some become “crazed” with grief, how all encompassing it can be. It’s still a powerful poem, and will be a good experience for Lucas and his classmates to explore the expression of romantic love vs. obsessive love.

    Very cool that you do dramatic readings of recipes and dictionary definitions! :)

  4. adrienne
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I suppose that’s why the poem endures, because readers can see a lot of different things there.

    Also, it’s very fun to do dramatic readings of the REAL Suggestions from the Children’s Room. Many of those are quite animated. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen any in a while. Must look into that.

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  1. […] Justin at A Bit of Randomness agrees with Ms. Witt that Annabel Lee “gets a little creepy” when the narrator lies down next to a corpse! Adrienne also says that Poe Becomes a Lot More Disturbing After You’ve Lost a Spouse. […]

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