Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American writer who is one of the most influential and popular figures of American literature. His poetry is famous for its dark romanticism and he often used the theme of the death of a young, beautiful woman. Poe’s poems appear throughout popular culture and lines from them are often quoted. Here are the 10 most famous poems by Edgar Allan Poe including The Raven, Eldorado, The Bells and Annabel Lee.
“Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
“And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her–that she died!
“How shall the ritual, then, be read?–the requiem how be sung
“By you–by yours, the evil eye,–by yours, the slanderous tongue
“That did to death the innocent that died, and died so young?”
A Paean was the original title of this poem and it was first published as part of an early collection in 1831. The poem follows Poe’s favorite theme of the death of a beautiful woman which he called “the most poetical topic in the world”. It discusses the death of a woman named Lenore. There are at least two different speakers in the poem among who is Guy De Vere, Lenore’s grieving lover. A character by the name of Lenore is also mourned in Poe’s masterpiece The Raven, adding to the fame of this poem.
#9 The City in the Sea
LO! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
First published as The Doomed City in 1831, the final version of the poem was re-titled The City in the Sea when it was published in 1845. The poem tells the story of a city in the west ruled by a personification of Death. The city is predestined for catastrophe, and in the end, the waves turn red and the city begins to fall into the sea. The descent into the sea is portrayed as a descent into hell. The City in the Sea is considered one of the best poems from Poe’s early years.
But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
El Dorado (Spanish for “the golden one”) was initially a term used to describe a mythical tribal chief in the New World but with time the legend changed to make it a city or a kingdom. Several unsuccessful expeditions took place in search of El Dorado. Poe’s poem describes the journey of a “gallant knight” in search of the legendary El Dorado. The poem might be a reference to the unsuccessful quest of Poe, or humans in general, for impossible to achieve dreams. It might also be a comment on the California Gold Rush, which was taking place at the time.
#7 The Haunted Palace
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.
One of Poe’s most popular works, The Haunted Palace uses a decaying and haunted mansion as a chilling metaphor for insanity. The poem starts with a beautiful stately palace but it is destroyed by the end with its residents becoming phantoms. It can be interpreted as a representation of how negative thoughts attack the mind plunging it into darkness and depression. The Haunted Palace was incorporated in the famous short story by Poe titled The Fall of the House of Usher, which was published later that year.
#6 To Helen
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote this poem in honor of Jane Stanard, the mother of a childhood friend who had died recently and to whom he was very close. The use of the name Helen instead of Jane in the poem is most probably Poe’s way of connecting Stanard to the famous Helen of Troy. One of Poe’s most famous poems, To Helen celebrates the nurturing power of woman. Its lines “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” have been referred to as one of “Poe’s finest and most famous lines”.
#5 The Bells
Hear the loud alarum bells–
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Diacope is when a writer repeats a word or phrase with one or more words in between. The Bells is known for the diacopic use of the word “bells” and for its musicality. Published after the death of Poe, the poem can be divided into four parts – the silver bells of youth and excitement; the golden wedding bells of romance and marriage; the alarm bells of brass suggesting descent into terror and despair; and finally the iron bells of death. Though there can be several interpretations, The Bells is most often interpreted as a representation of the human life cycle from the excitement of youth to the horror of death.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
This is a 22-line untitled poem which was written by Poe in 1829 after the death of his foster mother Frances Allan. It was unpublished during his lifetime and was first published in Scribner’s Monthly with the title Alone in September 1875. It is seen as an autobiographical work expressing Poe’s feelings of isolation and inner torment when he was 20 years old. In the poem, the narrator presents his thoughts in first-person from the perspective of an adult looking back on his lonely childhood. The tone of the poem is dark with lines like “And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone.” Alone is seen as one of Poe’s most revealing works.
#3 A Dream Within a Dream
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
In this poem the narrator questions whether it is really important that life has robbed him of purpose, ambition or love since it all feels like a dream. He compares important things in life slipping away to the slipping away of grains of sands he holds in his hand; and unable to hold on to even one grain leads him to the question whether it is possible to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The poem’s line “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” is one of the most popular quotations from the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.
#2 Annabel Lee
But 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 down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
This was the last complete poem of Edgar Allan Poe and was published in New York Tribune on 9th October 1849, two days after his death. The poem follows one of Poe’s recurrent themes — the death of a young, beautiful, and dearly loved woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, believes that their love was so intense that angels became envious and caused her death. He retains his love for her even after her death and is sure they will be reunited. Annabel Lee is thought to be written by Poe in memory of his wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, who had died a couple of years earlier.
#1 The Raven
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
In January 1845, The Raven appeared in the New York Evening Mirror and became an immediate popular sensation. It was soon reprinted, parodied and illustrated; and made Poe a household name. The poem tells the story of an unnamed lover who, while lamenting the death of his beloved Lenore, is visited by a talking raven. The raven enhances his distress with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”, slowly plunging him into madness. The poem makes use of a number of folk and mythological references; and is noted for its stylized language and supernatural atmosphere. It influenced numerous later works including the famous painting Nevermore by Paul Gauguin. The Raven is not only the most famous poem of Edgar Allan Poe but also one of the most renowned in English literature.