Study Guide

Annabel Lee Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By Edgar Allan Poe

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

The Kingdom

This is the first major image we come across in the poem. Poe uses it a bunch of times, always as a part of the phrase "a kingdom by the sea." In poetry we call that repeated phrase a refrain. You can think of it like a chorus in a song. The verses tell a story, but the chorus comes back to the main images again and again. Rhythm is a big part of poetry, and this refrain helps give this poem its rhythm.

  • Line 2: We see the phrase "a kingdom by the sea" over and over. Thinking about what this phrase means will help to set the tone for the entire poem. We think it gives the whole thing a kind of fairytale feel. When it comes to Poe's writing, we can't always be sure exactly where we are. He uses this word four more times in the poem, but we never get any specifics about the kingdom. A lot is left to our imagination. It seems like it's there to give us an intense image of a time and place a long way from our own.
  • Line 20: In this line the wording is the same as in line 2, but now the word kingdom comes right after the story about the "highborn kinsman." So now the kingdom might call up images of powerful, rich people who can just take things without asking. In that case, the kingdom becomes a symbol of tyranny and cruelty. It's part of what makes the world such a bad place to live for our poor speaker.

The Sea

If we were going to have a contest for biggest, fattest symbol in this whole poem, we'd probably bet on the sea. It comes up again and again in the poem, and it's the image that ties everything together. We think of the ocean in this poem as being huge and lonely and cold. It's a nice reflection of the emptiness and desolation that the speaker feels now that he has lost Annabel.

  • Line 2: This is the first time we hear about the sea, and it's part of that "kingdom by the sea" refrain. If the kingdom becomes a symbol of the power of people, then the sea is all about the power of nature. It's kind of neat how Poe can tie humans and the natural world together in one phrase like that.
  • Line 31: Poe switches it up a little here, and mentions the sea for the first time without mentioning the kingdom too. In this line the sea is filled with demons that want to tear him and Annabel apart. You can see how this makes the image of the sea more intense. Before we just knew that it was by the kingdom, but now we can imagine it full of demons. We can almost see them slithering along under the water. If we imagine hell or any place where demons live, we usually imagine it being underground. In this poem, though, the evil things live under the sea. This makes the idea of the sea a dark and scary thing in "Annabel Lee."
  • Line 40: Annabel's tomb is apparently right beside the water too. See how the sea pulls everything together in this poem? We can almost imagine the water lapping up against it. Like we said, we're pretty convinced that this is a creepy, evil, deadly ocean we're dealing with here. Also, notice the way Poe repeats the s sound and the beginning of "sepulchre" and "sea." That alliteration gives the end of the poem a sort of hissing, evil sound, and is also another way that Poe builds its rhythm.
  • Line 41: It's important that "sea" is the last word in this poem. It rounds the whole thing out, and leaves us with the familiar haunting image of the open lonely ocean. The phrase "sounding sea" is cool too. There's that alliteration again, but there's also the fact that it's kind of tough to figure out what it means. The word "sounding" gives us an open, echoey feeling that fits with the mood at the end of the poem, but it's also a bit mysterious.

Annabel Lee

She's the one. She's the reason for the poem and she's clearly the only thing our speaker can think about. She was young and beautiful and one half of the perfect couple. But even though Poe tells us all that, we don't learn very much about Annabel. She doesn't talk, we don't hear what color her hair was, or how tall she was or anything like that. If you have a picture in your head of Annabel Lee, it's because you made it up. No detail is given here. Because of that, we think she's meant to be a symbol of impossible, pure beauty and love. In fact, she seems a little too good to be true.

  • Line 4: Here's our first introduction to Annabel. There are a couple of things worth noticing about the way she pops up here. First, we learn that she's a "maiden," which fits really well with all this business about the kingdom. Second, he says that she's a maiden "whom you may know." That pulls us in and almost makes her seem famous and a little bit unreal. Again, she seems more like a fantasy or a fairy-tale character than a real girl. Lastly, he says that she has "no other thought" than loving him. That would be sort sad if it was true, but we suspect that the speaker is fooling himself with this poetic exaggeration (or hyperbole).
  • Line 26: At the beginning of the poem, the memories of Annabel are all sweetness and beauty. Then, things begin to change, and the memory of her death creeps in. The image in this line is particularly strong. When he talks about the wind "chilling" Annabel, we can almost feel the coldness of her body as life slips away. Then the speaker rhymes that word with "killing," which is the harshest mention of death in the entire poem.
  • Line 33: The last three times he mentions Annabel, it's in this repeated line: "Of the beautiful Annabel Lee." It's another refrain, in a poem that's full of them. In these sad last lines, her name becomes almost like an echo, as the speaker builds up into his last cry of despair in line 39. Her name finally becomes like the words of a spell that he's saying over and over again to try to bring her back.

The Highborn Kinsman

We get the feeling that our speaker thinks this guy is a not a good guy. He shows up for a line, takes Annabel away, and shuts her in a tomb. Then again, he's burying his dead relative, which is really what you're supposed to do, so we think it's maybe a little unfair to blame him.

  • Line 17: Even though we don't know exactly who he is (father? brother?), this kinsman is the main symbol of the interference of older people in the speaker's life. The speaker seems convinced that other people don't understand him and Annabel, and he's pretty annoyed that they would try to take her away, even though she is dead.

The Sepulchre

There's only one spot where the speaker can bring himself to say straight out that Annabel is dead (that's in line 26: "killing my Annabel Lee"). For the rest of the poem, this "sepulchre" is his way of talking about death. It stands in for all of the horror of death, and gives the speaker a way to talk about losing her without explicitly saying it. (It's also an extra cool-sounding word as far as we're concerned. It has a great spooky, Halloween feel to it, doesn't it? It would also be a great name for a metal band.)

  • Line 19: If the kinsman represents the society that tries to keep these lovers apart, the sepulchre is a symbol for the cold reality of death. Notice how Annabel gets "shut up" in this tomb. It's a harsh phrase that makes it sound more like a prison than a final resting place.
  • Line 40: At the end we are left with only the sea and the sepulchre. With their similar sounds, the words seem almost married to each other, a pair like Annabel and the speaker. Notice that the kingdom and the sea are a pair at the beginning but now the sepulchre has taken over, and death has replaced life.

The Angels/Seraphs

Interestingly enough, these are the bad guys in this poem. They take the blame for killing Annabel. It's not a standard view of angels, but our speaker has a dark outlook on everything, so we're not too surprised. Like with the sepulchre, we can see Poe playing around with a fancy "s" word here too, just to spice things up, and then falling back on a much more common synonym. He could have just said angels right away, but he's Edgar Allan Poe, and for him, atmosphere is everything.

  • Line 11: There's that fancy phrase: "winged seraphs." That choice of words helps to lend a lofty, mythological flavor to the poem, just like the kingdom and the maiden. Right from the start, these seraphs are cruel and jealous. They covet the young lovers. Angels are supposed to represent beauty and light and joy. Here they are dark and unjust and evil. It's a whacky, upside-down world in this poem.
  • Line 21: More mean angels here, jealous of Annabel and her boyfriend. Poe circles back to the same few themes a number of times, which may be a way of giving us insight into the unstable mind of the speaker. It also allows him to set up that hypnotic rhythm, like he does with the alliteration of "half so happy in heaven."
  • Line 30: Now he hits back at the angels a little. They thought they would win by killing Annabel, but his bond with her is too strong. Notice the way they are paired with the demons under the sea in the next line. This might look like an allusion to a particular religious view of the world. However, since both the angels and the demons are ganging up against Annabel and the speaker, they aren't really representatives of good and evil at all.

The Moon and Stars

If there's any part of the natural world in this poem that feels like it might be sort of positive and friendly, this is probably it. While the wind chills and kills and the ocean is full of demons, at least the moon and stars bring memories of Annabel Lee. At the same time, it's clear that memories of the moon and stars aren't very happy ones for our speaker.

  • Line 34: Here the moon, with the way it "beams" and "brings him dreams" feels almost like a character. Poe's flirting with personification here, but the moon slips away quickly. Finally, it's Annabel who matters, always and forever.
  • Line 36: Here it almost seems like Annabel is there again. We can't quite tell if the stars are meant to be a metaphor for her eyes or if our speaker might think that he sees her eyes in the sky. The vision is a little bit beautiful and sad, and also a little bit scary.