Monday, June 30, 2014
Do Me--And Edgar--A Favour With This Poem, Won't You?
June, my Golden Month of Summer, burns out at midnight tonight. When I was teaching, June was my True Summer month, for it seemed that once July blazed in, time began running much faster, the days sizzled so much hotter, and soon, my countdown of the days back to school would start in earnest.
This year, however, June proved to be my July. Over almost before it started, June made me feel as if I never stopped driving, doing, and squeezing things in. And now, Poetry Month is over with this post. Perhaps I shall beg your indulgence and discuss poems every now and then regardless of the month. As St. Patsy, whose birthday is in June (hence her middle name!), would say, "We'll see."
My final poem must be one of my favourites, and it must be by one of my favourite authors. All of my Loyal and Longtime Readers know that I have long felt a strange sense of responsibility toward defending the memory of Edgar Allan Poe. Vilified by a rival who wrote a scathing obituary, Poe's legacy was left to wallow in a mire of jealous inaccuracies and sad half-truths. The blanks were filled in by ignorant analyses of his macabre stories and poems, which, because they have first-person narrators, were mistakenly seen as autobiographical and psychological unburdenings.
As if the facts of his poor life, both childhood and adult, aren't pitiful enough.
This poem is sad, but I want to look at something else about it. First, of course, you need to read it. It is the incredibly beautiful
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 winged 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 kinsman 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 the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Edgar Allan Poe was a careful, meticulous, downright picky craftsman when it came to his poetry. Nothing--and I truly mean nothing--was by chance in his poems. Every single word, line, stanza, set of parentheses, and exclamation point had been sweated over. He was a bit of the egomaniac; he held most other contemporaries in disdain, so he had to be perfect by comparison.
This poem, like so many of Poe's works, has a first person speaker. He starts out very rhythmically, very calmly as he recalls for his listener the love of his life. But by the time you get to the third stanza, and the speaker is recounting a more emotionally taxing part of his love story, the meter/rhythm begins to unravel. Your reading is a bit choppier; it's as if you are perhaps fighting those sobs, that you are breathing a bit heavily, becoming upset. The fourth stanza is the emotional peak of the poem. You can really see the heavy punctuation, the frequent stops for breath. And the speaker stops using euphemisms for his dear Annabel Lee's fate: in the last line, he says "killing my Annabel Lee." Notice, however, that after this catharsis, the speaker begins to reassure himself, and the poem's sound reflects it. In the fifth stanza, he calms and regains the rhythm of the poem, and the language becomes beautiful again; it is about love and how romantic love is enduring. In the final stanza, the language is at its most beautiful in sound and imagery. The moonbeams bring him dreams of his love, and the stars are Annabel Lee's shining eyes. He will be by her side always as long as he is near the sea. The final stroke of Poe's mastery is that the rhythmic sound of this poem, especially the last stanza, is that of the ocean's waves. He uses repetition and internal rhyme to do it (beams/dreams; rise/eyes and "Of the beautiful Annabel Lee", among other things).
A great many of Poe's poems were meant to be read aloud precisely because of his attention to sound. There would be days when I could not get through this one, and eventually, I stopped teaching it. My threshold for beauty was ever inexplicable to many of my sophomores.
Bring joy to yourself and to Edgar and read this poem aloud if you can. Do it proudly and with great expression. I know you will be glad that you did. And so, somewhere, will he.