Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer well-known for his macabre poems and short stories. Written before his death in 1849, "Annabel Lee" keeps in line with many of his previous poems and centers around the theme of the death of a beautiful woman.
"Annabel Lee" features an unnamed narrator pining for the lost Annabel Lee with whom he claims he has an eternal bond. In "Annabel Lee," the narrator states he and Annabel Lee "loved with a love that was more than love -- / [He] and [his] Annabel Lee;/With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven/Coveted her and [he]" (Poe 9-12). The narrator believes that their love was so strong that it made the angels in Heaven jealous and thus they took Annabel Lee from him to end their relationship. The narrator is convinced that jealousy is the only reason the two were torn apart and exclaims, Yes! -- that was the reason (as all men know,/In this kingdom by the sea)/That the wind came out of the cloud by night,/Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee" (23-26).
Despite the narrator and Annabel Lee being torn apart, the narrator believes love to be transcendent and that it has the ability to overcome death. The narrator continues, our love it was stronger by far than the love/Of those who were older than we -- / Of many far wiser than we -- / And neither the angels in heaven above,/Nor the demons under the sea,/Can ever dissever my soul from the soul/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee" (line 27-33).
The narrator makes it clear that there is no force in Heaven or on Earth that will make him stop loving Annabel Lee. This point is further emphasized in the narrator's final statement,, "For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;/And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee" (lines 34-37).
By highlighting the devastation felt by the narrator, Poe was able to successfully demonstrate the heartbreaking impact the death of a beautiful woman. Furthermore, because he does not exactly specify what made Annabel Lee beautiful, Poe is able to convey that beauty can be defined a multitude of ways and the loss thereof will always be tragic.
William Blake (1757-1827) was an English painter, printmaker, and poet who often incorporated religious themes and symbols into his works. One of Blake's most well-known works are the complementary Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. While the poems in Songs of Innocence have a lighter, innocent tone, the poems in Songs of Experience have a darker and somber tone.
"The Chimney Sweeper" in Songs of Experience provides a stark contrast to its poetic counterpart in Songs of Innocence. Whereas "The Chimney Sweeper" in Songs of Innocence is optimistic and looks forward to the future, its counterpart focuses on the present and on negative aspects of the job. The chimneysweeper in this poem is described as a "little black thing among the snow," which works to set him apart from his surroundings. Moreover, the chimneysweeper argues that being apart from his environment contributed to his current station. He claims, "Because I was happy upon the heath/And smiled among the winter's snow/They clothed me in the clothes of death/And taught me to sing the notes of woe" (Blake 5-8).
The poem is also tinged with a sense of hopelessness as the chimneysweeper claims that his parents are blind to his pain. The narrator states, "And because I am happy, & dance & sing/they think they have done me no injury" (9-10). The narrator contends that simply because he does not emote his unhappiness and does not allow his parents to see how miserable he is does not mean he is not suffering. Hopelessness is further emphasized through the chimneysweeper's belief that the church and state ignore condition and support the horrors he is subjected to. The narrator does not understand why his parents "praise God & his priest & King/Who make up a heaven of our misery" (11-12).
Blake allows the reader to understand how difficult it was to survive during this time and the sacrifices that had to be made by children and parents to ensure that they had enough to live.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet who often explored the theme of death in her works. In "Because I could not stop for Death," published in 1890, Dickinson uses repetition or anaphora to demonstrate how time passes by in the unnamed narrator's life.
In the poem, the narrator describes how Death, as personified by Dickinson, rides alongside her carriage during the final leg of her journey of life. As the narrator goes on her journey, she notes the various things that she passes. Through the use of anaphora, the narrator not only points out the memories that stand out most in her life, but also allows the reader to visualize the passage of time. The anaphora Dickinson uses in "Because I could not stop for Death" is best represented in the third and fourth stanzas. Dickinson wrote, "We passed the School, where Children strove/At Recess -- in the Ring/We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain/We passed the Setting Sun//Or rather -- He passed us" (Dickinson 9-13).
In addition to referencing the passage of time, Dickinson places emphasis on passed to demonstrate that the narrator was not anxious to get away from Death, but rather acknowledges her companion as an essential part of her journey, which subsequently, is an acceptance of Death as a final end and something that she will not be able to pass regardless of how hard she tries.
By incorporating anaphora, or repetition, into her poem, Dickinson gives "Because I could not stop for Death" a cyclical feel that compliments the overarching tone of the poem. Repetition allows Dickinson to illustrate that Death is a natural part of the cycle of life and allows her to convey her beliefs to her audience.
Set against the backdrop of the horrors of trench warfare during World War I, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was able to convey a first person account of what he experienced during his service. Through the use of imagery in "Dulce et Decorum Est," Owen is able to allow the reader to visualize the horrors he witnessed.
The poem begins with a description of how soldiers marched through the trenches. Owen describes them as being, "Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,/Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,/And towards our distant rest began to trudge" (Owen 1-4). Not only does Owen clearly describe how the soldiers moved through the trenches, but he also continues to describe how despite how they were feeling, kept moving towards their goal.
While the first stanza is calm in tone and reflects the fatigue of the soldiers, Owen quickly and unexpectedly changes the tone of the poem as the soldiers are attacked. Owen writes, "Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling/Fitting the clumsy helmet just in time/But someone still was yelling out and stumbling/And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime" to describe how the soldiers hastily -- and clumsily -- scrambled to put on their gas masks, which are supposed to protect the soldiers from a gas attack (9-12).
The most poignant aspect of the poem is Owen's description of the devastating effect the gas has on the soldiers that did not, or could not, put on their gas masks in time. Owen is horrified by how a soldier "[plunged] at [him], guttering, choking, drowning" and contends that it is hard to accept the reality of the effects of the gas by claiming that only in a dream could someone "pace/Behind the wagon that we flung him in,/And watch the white eyes writhing in his face/His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin" (17-20). Owen states that anyone who witnesses the horrors of war first-hand knows that the blind patriotic claim that "Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori" and that it is not sweet and right to die for one's country.
Through his use of imagery, Owen allows the reader to understand his position on war and enables them to visualize the horrors and tragedies he witnessed. Furthermore, he is able to refute the adage that it is sweet and honorable to die for one's country by writing about how his fellow soldiers suffered at the hands of their enemies and how it was not only their lives that were taken from them, but also their physical identities.
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was heavily influenced by his father, a literature professor, who ignited his love of literature. One of Thomas's most known works "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is a response to his father's death and helps the poet come to terms with his passing. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is unique in its villanelle structure, which allows Thomas to provide…