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How to Weave a Gothic Wail- An Analysis of Edgar Allen Poe's Ulalume

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 -October, 7 -1849) was an American writer passionate about the macabre occurrences of everyday life.

As well as being a writer, Edgar Allen Poe was also an editor and literary critic.

Ulalume is a gothic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, written in 1847.

Ulalume explores themes of grief, fantasy, loss, and self-revelation.

Ulalume uses literary devices like parallelism, anaphora, and repetition.

Ulalume is a dark fairy tale that explores human reasoning.

Table of Contents

Poe's Leimotiff - Twilight Streaked Beckoning, Grief Streaked Reckoning

Poe's Literary Devices- Parallelism, Anaphora, and Repetition




Cypress and Cyparissus- Journeying as a Planted Being

Symbolism and Allusions of Feminine-Divine: Psyche, Astarte, Dian, and Lethean

Poe's Leimotiff - Twilight Streaked Beckoning, Grief Streaked Reckoning

Ulalume is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe written and published in the American Whig Review in December 1847. Its initial title was "To ---, Ulalume: A Ballad."

In later publications, the title was shortened to Ulalume, possibly to heighten the intrigue.

Some theories posit that Ulalume refers to ululare- Latin for wailing and lumen- a (mournful) illumination.

As with Poe's The Raven, Lenore, and Annabel Lee- Ulalume carries themes of loss, grief, haunting, eternal limbo, and otherworldly incarnations visited upon a fractured mind.

Poe characteristically invokes mystique by creating a fictitious realm whereby the narrator wanders, with his soul companion Psyche, on a night of October.

It is then revealed to him that he has journeyed to the grave of his beloved on the very night he buried her a year before.

This poem is an excellent study of how different literary devices can yield a haunting, gothic fairy tale.

Poe is one of the most valued contributors to Dark Romanticism.

Ulalume strikes into our spiritus mundi, alluring readers with profound sorrow, eternal loss, and resolve via allusions to an enchanted beauty lyrically conjured.

Poe's Literary Devices- Parallelism, Anaphora, and Repetition

Parallelism, anaphora, and repetition are devices frequently employed by Poe in his poetry.

These three techniques are variations of the same poetic function, utilized to different degrees to create a harmonious effect.

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a line or sentence. The leaves they were crisp and sere- / The leaves they were withering and sere; / Of Cypress.../ Of Cypress...

Poe uses anaphora at the beginning in this way for several reasons. It launches the rhythm of the poem. Cypress and leaves enact a crucial role in this piece.

The rhythm cast by initial repetition is found in the echo of the words at the end of each sentence.

The purpose of the initial repetition other than rhythm is to stand out for the reader where this journey began.

As you read on, you'll understand how essential the focus of Cypress and the withered, sere leaves are.

Parallelism describes the recurrence of mirrored concepts arranged throughout a piece of literary or poetic work.

Parallelism organizes themes (or concepts) by reflecting the essence of the single idea in either phrases, sentences, or paragraphs.

Another aspect of parallelism is the use of two different words that slightly shift in meaning, like serious and sober, or are similar in appearance but different in meaning as with sere and seer.

Parallelism synergizes concepts by repeating the exact thought in a different form or different words at various points throughout the written piece.

The ideas expressed are treated with equal relevance which permits a semblance of proportion to the work. These parallel, counterpoised ideas provide an almost imperceptible rhythm.

Parallelism blueprints rhythmic structure in poems, especially free verse.

The relationship of the idea or ideas is connected at various stages.

Parallelism of ideas is represented in equal degrees of relevance.

This accentuates the harmony and message of the poem.

Meaning of ideas have greater impact repetition in any form creates emphasis.

Parallelism is subtle and can be a masterful tool if used correctly.

Cypress and Cyparissus- Journeying as a Planted Being

In the second stanza of Ulalume, Poe repeatedly conjures ideas of journeying, from the

movement of lava and rivers to the reaches at the furthest point of the map -the boreal pole (the Artic).

Cypress is an interesting word as it refers to the evergreen coniferous tree, for all of that journeying the narrator roams as a planted being.

Cypress has its etymology in the Greek myth Cyparissus.

The myth tells a tale of a beloved relationship, an accidental killing, and the resulting outcome of the soul's deep anguish and ultimate transformation into the Cypress tree.

The story of Cyparissus is depicted on the ash-preserved frescoes of walled Pompei.

Transformation is a relevant theme as there is a magical quality of the undead.

An unfinished life that was never meant to end and so, she stays in that twilight realm between life and death.

Psyche, is a distinct counterpart of the narrator, like a shadow or an echo.

The conversation between the narrator and Psyche illustrates they are of one mind and attitude.

This attitude is grounded and grave. The skies in the first stanza are ashen and sober, weighing in the repetition of themed solemnity.

The theme of time and journey is prevalent as memories have the potential to forecast, this is seen in seer.

Why do memories have the potential to forecast?

Palsied suggests total incapacitation and inability. Sere emphasizes total loss, this concept is repeated in withered and crisped.

Memories are revealed to possess treacherous intent. In this limbo-land memories are willed unto themselves.

Repetition is another poetic device in Ulalume.

The use of simple repetition highlights the

haunted psyche of the narrator. The repetition also lends a lyrical quality to Ulalume.

This is important as Poe endeavors to allow his readers to appreciate the October evening.

We are not to be brought into anguish or despair so deeply felt by the narrator, instead we are meant to be delighted and enticed.

I believe the reason for this dark romanticism is to emphasize the experienced pain through contrast.

It also bears hope throughout the read, although there is loss and suffering the sing-song feature of the poem carries and lightens the load.

In prose or in poetry repetition serves to highlight the role of memory and for Ulalume, this is particularly poignant.

The narrator is haunted by the echo of his past.

As steadily he journeys, there is a constant reminder, relentlessly setting him back. Repetition assures the reader of the inevitability of the narrator's journey. The feeling that the narrator finds himself in the same position time and time again.

Symbolism and Allusions of Feminine-Divine: Psyche, Astarte, Dian, and Lethean

The Symbolism of Ulalume calls upon Psyche, Astarte, Dian, and Lethean. These are Allusions and an important technique in creating an otherworldly space.

Lethean has its etymology in Greek; it describes oblivion and forgetfulness. It is a poetic word and refers to the rivers of Lethe one of four in Hades (the underworld in Greek mythology).

Spirits who sampled from the River Lethe would forget entirely their existence in their life lived before. Once again the theme of memory surfaces, this is a great example of parallelism the idea is repeated yet explored in a different form.

Dian is a shortening of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon. Apparently, Poe removed the second syllable to allow the meter to fit.

Diana was sometimes an ice queen of sorts that insistently refused the advances of men (she killed a few).

The narrator, when trying to convince Psyche of Astarte's intent, compares her warmth to the otherwise frigid Diana.

Psyche alludes to the harrowing descent of the narrator unknowingly confronting his subconscious mind. Psyche is personified as a female companion. She is a rational voice that alerts the narrator of Astarte's possibly suspicious motives.

Astarte is a goddess referred to as the queen of heaven, with her dediamonded crescent. There is a subtle sinister air around Astarte. She is venus, the first light, and is associated with sensuality and fertility.

Whereas Psyche is trustworthy and grounded, Astarte ultimately reveals the end stop to the night; which is the tomb of his beloved.

Astarte although devious is frightening in her clarity and in her resolve.

Astarte is beauteous and luminous to behold, the narrator is initially conned by her. He convinces Psyche that all is ok only to be broken by her revelation.

Again we find the narrator ashen, sober, withered, and sere. Anaphora in the beginning and now echoed toward the end. Keeping the themes and rhythm regular and steady.

The feminine as spirit, divinity, ghoul, or otherworldly entity, is a consistent theme. I can only suppose all of these are reflections of the lost love and symbolism of the narrator's yearning.

These feminine manifestations are also symbolic of mother nature and the eerie role she inherently plays in creating a space for these extra-terrestrial presences.

The Weir forest and Auber lake are not actual geographic areas, they are entirely fabricated by the author and assisted by mother nature.

The enunciation power of the poem is provocative. Other than the repetition of whole words, assonance (the repetition of vowels) and alliteration (the repetition of constants) aid in the lyrical journey of the haunting October evening.

The overall hypnotic rhythm breathes life into the narrator's doomed venture. Entranced, we journey with him and try, in vain, to not be as bewitched.

Was Poe onto something? Are there spiritual gates, governed by variations in planetary alignment, that will open on certain October evenings? If so, remember to listen to the rationale Psyche and proceed with caution.


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Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe


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