Lenore by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary & Meaning

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

'Lenore' is a well-known poem by American poet Edgar Allan Poe, a writer remembered for his dark tales and mournful poetry. 'Lenore' depicts the death of a beautiful young woman.

The Poet

Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Poe lived a short life, certainly by today's standards, dying in 1849. In literary terms, he wrote his many dark tales and melancholy poems during the Romantic Period. His family often struggled for money, even after his writing success. Poe's writing concentrated on poetry and the short story format, although he did complete one novel in1838, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

You may be familiar with a few of his short stories, such as ''The Tell-tale Heart,'', a story about madness creeping over a person at night. Perhaps you have also read the popular tale ''The Cask of Amontillado,'' included in literature textbooks for high school students. The tale ends with one man sealing another inside a wine cellar to die.

Poe's dark side is also reflected in his poems. One of his most popular is ''The Raven,'' which also features the name Lenore. Often, Poe deals with death, or the aftermath of death, in his work. Perhaps some of the works dealing with death were Poe's way of coping with his wife Virginia's untimely death at age 25.

The Poem ''Lenore''

Poe's poem about a beautiful girl dying young was not called ''Lenore'' until an 1843 publication. The same poem first appeared as ''A Paean'', which means a poem that praises or honors its subject. The name Lenore is also the name of the mourned woman in ''The Raven,'' which is perhaps why it seems familiar.

Like the subject of ''The Raven,'' the beautiful young girl in ''Lenore'' has died young and is mourned by those she leaves behind. This particular poem provides an opportunity for the bereaved Guy de Vere to air his feelings.

Structure

The poem has four stanzas, alternating between the poet/narrator and the voice of Guy de Vere. In the first stanza, the narrator mourns that the young woman has died so young and calls for an anthem or dirge to be sung on such a tragic occasion. He also questions why the bereaved fiancee is not crying as befits the death of his young love.

The second stanza is de Vere's answer. He accuses the assembled mourners of pretending to love the young girl simply for her wealth when they actually hated her. In fact, he suggests that their hatred may have brought on her early death.

The narrator returns in the third stanza to again focus on the proper way to mark the occasion. All should sing a Sabbath song and remember that the dead go before us into heaven and will be waiting there to welcome us.

Lenore as an Angel
Lenore as an Angel

Finally, in the last stanza, de Vere claims that he will not mourn but is so confident of being reunited in the afterlife that he sees only triumph in death.

Sounds and Odd Words

Though the poem does not have a particular set meter (pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables), the long lines and lofty language give a ceremonial sound to the poem. Certain phrases like:

''Ah broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!'''

and:

''The life still there, upon her hair--the death upon her eyes.''

sound like someone giving a sermon or eulogy at a funeral.

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