October 9: Onthis day in 1849, the New York Daily Tribune published Edgar Allan Poe’s lastpoem, “Annabel Lee.” Poe had died two days earlier from mysteriouscauses and in odd circumstances, even for him—theories include political thugs,rabies, brain lesion, or the most likely, a final binge either chosen or forcedupon him by brothers of his newly-betrothed, who viewed Poe’s interest in theirsister as opportunism.
“Annabel Lee” was written the previous May. Everdestitute and never without flair, Poe grandly gave a copy to a friend the daybefore his disappearance, passing it off as a recently-penned “littletrifle that may be worth something to you,” though he had already sold itto a handful of magazines. He had also sent a copy to Rufus Griswold, apersonal enemy but also the editor of the popular anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America. AfterPoe’s death, Griswold became his agent-editor-biographer, though a hostile andunreliable one: Poe had “no moral susceptibility,” he deserved to die”without money and without friends,” as a critic he was “littlebetter than a carping grammarian,” and other similar comments. Griswold isalso responsible for shaping the Poe myth: he “walked the streets, inmadness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses”; he wrote of”worlds no mortal can see,” and spoke “in forms of gloomiest andghostliest grandeur.” It was Griswold, in a rambling and ranting obituarynotice, who first published “Annabel Lee” in the Tribune.
Although many other women, some encouraged by Poe, claimedto be his inspiration, the poem is generally thought to reflect Poe’srelationship with his child-bride/cousin/”sister” Virginia, who wasthirteen at the time of her marriage and just twenty-three when she died oftuberculosis:
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….
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.