The greatest American teller of mystery and suspense tales in the 19th century was Edgar Allan Poe. In his mysteries he invented the modern detective story. In Poe’s poems, like his tales, his characters are tortured by nameless fears and longings. Today Poe is acclaimed as one of America’s greatest writers, but in his own unhappy lifetime he knew little but failure. (Bittner)
“Annabel Lee” was Poe’s last poem in his whole life. The theme was about a man remembering his lover – a beautiful lady who had deceased. Clearly sensing that “Annabel Lee” would be his last poem, Poe took the unusual step, after finishing it in May 1849, of writing out several copies, and circulating them among his friends to ensure that the poem would not go unnoticed. Poe read the poem in lectures in Richmond and sold it, along with “The Bells,” to Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art for publication. However, it was first printed in the New-York Daily Tribune on October 9, 1849, only two days after the poet’s death, rushed into print by Rufus Griswold, who had received a copy for later inclusion in the tenth edition of The Poets and Poetry of America. Although at least four of Poe’s women friends claimed to have inspired “Annabel Lee,” the poet’s real motivation may be a reflection of his continued mourning for his wife, Virginia, who died two years earlier.
Edgar Allan Poe was born to itinerant actors in Boston in 1809. His mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe died when he was two, by which time his father, David Poe, had disappeared. He was raised as a foster child by Frances Allan and her husband John Allan, a tobacco exporter of Richmond, VA. Poe spent his most of his life poorly, even after he married Virginia Poe in 1836. It was in 1847 that Virginia died of tuberculosis on January 30. According to Mrs. Frances Osgood, a good friend of Poe, despite Poe’s many “little Poetical episodes,” Virginia Poe was “the only woman whom he every truly loved” (Winwar 287). We can feel his grief inside “Annabel Lee” – “neither the angels in Heaven above, nor …… can ever dissever my soul from …… Annabel Lee.” After his wife’s death Poe became depressed and erratic. He died two years later toxicated by alcohol — apparently Virginia’s death was a contributing factor.
Though Poe was criticized as an “alcoholic” for many years, he was the first American author to be widely read outside the United States. His reputation in France, especially, was enhanced by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who read and translated Poe’s works in the 1850s. Poe was elected to the United States Hall of Fame in 1910. Since then his reputation in literature has been secure. “Annabel Lee” as his last work had become more and more famous into a world-class masterpiece.