by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Form and Meter
Rhythm and Rhyme Grab Bag
Poe uses a variety of different poetic techniques in this poem. We'll get specific about some of them, and talk about some of the ways he gets weird and fancy. But lets start by breaking it down into the basic categories. That way we can see how he sets up patterns and then messes with them. The first thing to notice is the poem is broken into different sections. These groups of lines are called stanzas. The first one ends with line 6. There are a total of six stanzas in this poem.
The other important thing to notice right off the bat is that in almost every case, the poem is made up pairs of long and short lines. First you get a long line, then a short line, and so on. The lines aren't always the same length, but they tend to go long/short/long/short, etc. But then, in a few spots, Poe switches it up. Look at lines 28 and 29, for example – two "shorts" in a row. You don't have to catch every one of these tricks to enjoy the poem and understand it, but it's good to have your eye open for patterns, and then to look for the ways that they change.
Another big tool is rhyme, and that's another place where Poe sets up a basic pattern and then plays with it a fair amount. The long lines sometimes rhyme, and sometimes don't, but the short lines always end in the same sound. Here's a quick example from the first stanza (we'll use letters to represent the rhymes):
It was many and many a year ago, A
In a kingdom by the sea, B
That a maiden there lived whom you may know A
By the name of Annabel Lee; B
And this maiden she lived with no other thought C
Than to love and be loved by me. B
See how that works? Sometimes the ends of the long lines don't rhyme with anything else in the poem (like "thought" at the end of line 5). On the other hand, the short lines always end in an ee sound. In fact, Poe only uses four words to end the short lines: "sea," "Lee," "we" and "me."
Finally, let's take a look at the meter. This is where Poe gets fancy – you could probably teach a whole English class on this poem. We won't drag you through every line, but it's worth a peek, because Poe was interested in how poems fit together, and the effect that meter could have on a reader. We'll show you two of the gadgets in his poetic toolbox. In the first lines, he mixes what's called an anapest (which is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable) with what's called an iamb (which is the meter you hear most commonly in poetry, an unstressed syllable followed by a stress). Don't worry, we'll show you how it works. Let's start with that first line:
It was ma/ny and ma/ny a year/ ago/,
The first three groups have three syllables each, and each one ends with a stressed beat (shown in bold). Those are the anapests. The last group (or foot) only has two syllables – that's your iamb. Same trick in the next line:
In a king/dom by/ the sea/
That's an anapest followed by two iambs. We'll resist the urge to dissect every line, but let's look at one more spot. The last stanza (lines 34-41) is made up almost completely of anapests. If you want to impress someone you could tell them that it alternates between anapestic tetrameter (four anapests per line) and anapestic trimeter (3 per line). The main thing to remember is the rhythm, which goes: da da DUM, da da DUM, da da DUM. Let's try it out one last time, with just the first four lines:
For the moon/ never beams,/ without bring/ing me dreams/
Of the beau/tiful Ann/abel Lee;/
And the stars/ never rise,/ but I feel/ the bright eyes/
Of the beau/tiful Ann/abel Lee;/
Voila, now you're a master of anapests. What good is that, you ask? Well, we think having a name for this meter and being able to see it helps us to understand all the careful work that Poe did to make "Annabel Lee" sound the way it does. That should make the experience of reading it more textured and alive.