By Nicholas T. Spatafora
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee.
Edgar Allan Poe
It was several months ago while promenading the streets of downtown Baltimore that I stumbled upon the graveyard of the Father of Mystery, the late author and poet Edgar Allan Poe. There he lay six feet underground beneath a relatively large tombstone side by side with his deceased love Virginia Clemm and stepmother (also aunt and mother-in-law) Maria Clemm. A chilling feeling of awe would ravage through my spine; however, an even greater feeling of awe such as that which one receives when she or he experiences an epiphany would envelope me that night, for it was here that I had also discovered Poe’s fabled “kingdom by the sea” in his final poetic classic “Annabel Lee.” And this kingdom by the sea was none other than the port city of Baltimore itself, a harbor town in Maryland where the late writer and his beloved wife and mother would dwell in everlasting love, and finally, everlasting peace.
Poe and his wife would live together in Baltimore for four years, two “[children]” sharing a “love that was more than love” (lines 7-9). Baltimore is in fact a port city, thus the metaphorical phrase “kingdom by the sea” (2). Poe and his wife would share a special, loving relationship, one that he would never cease to get over, till his dying day in 1849, two years following the final publication of this classic lament. He would also share a loving, close relationship with Maria Clemm. Although London is thought by some to be this “kingdom,” it was in fact Baltimore where his wife, metaphorically depicted as “Annabel Lee,” would die of consumption symbolically depicted as a chilling: “the wind came out of the cloud by night/chilling and killing my Annabel Lee” (25-26).
The loss of a love is a devastating and tragic experience, insidiously and deliberately luring its victims into despondency and despair. Poe would sadly spend his remaining years pining away at the loss of his wife, fictionally expressed in this ballad and elegy. It warrants credence that the late author would in fact return to this city, mysteriously changing course on a boat enroute from Virginia to Philadelphia, debarking the vessel onto Baltimore with the intention of dying here and accompanying his departed wife whose body would lay at rest awaiting his. The poet’s eerie narration of eternally lying beside his beloved’s sepulcher would indeed come to eventual fruition when his deposed body would be placed alongside that of Virginia’s under a tombstone in downtown Baltimore (40-41). His soul would indeed never “dissever from [hers]” (32).
Poe’s obsession with death would also and eventually manifest itself in his desire for mutual oblivion with Maria. Following the loss of Virginia, Poe, in a letter to Maria, would disclose his desire to end his life with a desperate plea for her to die with him: “We can but die together” (EAPoe 11). The two shared a unique and special mother-to-son relationship as evidenced by other epistles of correspondence by both Poe and Maria. Maria would die of natural causes twenty-two years later and her body placed alongside Poe’s and her daughter’s, a “fictional” prophecy that would ultimately come to fruition.
“Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/in the sepulcher there by the sea,/in her tomb by the sounding sea” (39-41). Annabel Lee was truly the love and eventual death of Edgar Allan Poe, his beloved wife Virginia Clemm. And it was truly a moment of epiphany, reverence and wonder to encounter so sacred a burial ground where he lay with his “maiden” and his beloved mother in a kingdom by the sea known as Baltimore(3).
EAPoe.org. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. 10 May 2009. Web. 4 July 2009.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Comp. Barnes and Noble. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 2007. 89-90. Print.
Nicholas Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty five years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. The author is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. Spatafora is the author of Hurt, the feature article “Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: A Fictional Account of the Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha,” “A Review of Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and Other Poems and “Challenging Perspectives: A Review of Thomas Fink’s & Maya Diablo Mason’s AutopsyTurvy,” featured in Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects. He and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.