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Pop quiz: What is an "Ulalume"?
Hehe. Trick question. Ulalume is actually the name of a woman. There's no way you could really guess that, though. Edgar Allan Poe liked to make stuff up. Especially women's names. If Poe wrote a book of baby names for girls you'd find weird ones like Ligeia, Morella, Eulalie, and Lenore. It seems he just liked to make up names that sounded cool and mysterious.
What's the deal with Ulalume? Well, since we're dealing with an Edgar Allan Poe poem here, you can probably guess that she's a dead woman who is beloved by some man. It's a topic we've read about in some of our other favorite Poe pieces, like "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "Ligeia." If you like any of those, you'll definitely like this one too.
"Ulalume" was first published in 1847, in a magazine called The American Review. At the time, it had a longer title "To - - -. Ulalume. A Ballad." In later publications, this would be shortened to just plain old "Ulalume," which we find all the more eerie and enticing.
This poem is a crazy ride. It's got mystery and suspense, ghouls and goddesses, exploding volcanoes and spooky woods. In just over a hundred lines it takes us from heaven to hell and from the North Pole to the shores of a dark, slimy lake. It's like a Halloween ghost story and a romance all rolled into one.
You might think we're overselling it, but seriously, Poe can get a lot done in not a lot of time. Plus, he always manages to send chills down our spines. That's why he's still the master of creepy poetry, more than 150 years later.
More than anything else, though, this poem is worth your time because of its sound. Like a great guitar solo, this poem was made to be heard. Read it aloud. Recite it in the shower. Shout it down an empty, echoey hallway. Listen to how it can take you on incredible journeys, not just with what it's describing, but with the way it sounds. Listen to how Poe can capture the howling of ghosts or a cry of pain in the sound of a word. We bet you'll be amazed.
Ulalume Short Film
This is a full-on original short film based on the poem, not just your usual You Tube slideshow. Definitely worth a peek.
Jeff Buckley reading "Ulalume"
A recording by the singer Jeff Buckley, who died young, like Poe. A spooky poem for him to be reading for sure, and the weird instrumentals make it even more intense.
Radio Theatre Group: "Ulalume"
A crisp, clear reading of "Ulalume," with some eerie background music.
Another Reading of the Poem
We think this reader does a great job of capturing the feeling of this poem. You can here him really chewing on each of those words, tasting them, which is exactly the point.
A Sketch for the Poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The famous artist made this illustration for Poe's poem. Not a finished masterpiece, but it's fun to see these great minds working together.
A Set of Illustrations of the Poem
We're not sure who was responsible for these, but we like the style.
A painting of the goddess Astarte by the American artist John Singer Sargent. From a mural in the Boston Public Library. Notice that she's standing on a crescent moon.
An award-winning interactive Poe website. Definitely worth checking out.
Historical Versions of the Poem (Poe Society of Baltimore)
A site that lets you check out some of the many published versions of this poem. It's worth a look to see the ways in which this poem changed over time. Actually, this whole site is worth your time. Poke around.
Biography of Poe
A page with a good comprehensive bio of Poe and some other useful information.