Written in 1847 by Edgar Allan Poe, this poem takes place on a night in the “lonesome October” with a gray sky as the leaves are withering for the autumn season. In the region of Weir, by the lake of Auber, the narrator roams with a “volcanic” heart. He has a “serious and sober” talk with his soul, though he does not realize it is October or where his roaming is leading him. He remarks on the stars as night fades away, remarking on the brightest one, and wonders if it knows that the tears on his cheeks have not yet dried. His soul, however, mistrusts the star and where it is leading them. Just as the narrator calms his soul, he realizes he has unconsciously walked to the vault of his “lost Ulalume” on the very night he had buried her a year before.
Unlike Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee”, this poem presents a narrator who is not conscious of his return to the grave of his lost love. This reveals the speaker’s dependence on Ulalume and her love; his losing her leaves him not only sad but absolutely devastated and, by visiting her grave, he unconsciously subjects himself to further self-inflicted anguish. The poem has a heavy focus on decay and deterioration: the leaves are “withering” and the narrator’s thoughts are “palsied”. Like many of Poe’s later poems, “Ulalume” has a strong sense of rhythm and musicality. The verses are purposefully sonorous, built around sound to create feelings of sadness and anguish. The poem employs Poe’s typical theme of the “death of a beautiful woman”, which he considered “the most poetical topic in the world”. Biographers and critics have often suggested that Poe’s obsession with this theme stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother Eliza Poe, his wife, and his foster mother Frances Allan.
The identity of Ulalume in the poem is uncertain. Poe scholar and distant relative Harry Lee Poe says it is autobiographical and shows Poe’s grief over the recent death of his wife Virginia. Scholar Scott Peeples notes that “Ulalume” serves as a sequel to “The Raven”. Poetically, the name Ulalume emphasizes the letter, a frequent device in Poe’s female characters such as “Annabel Lee”, “Eulalie”, and “Lenore”. If it really stands for a deceased love, Poe’s choosing to refer to Ulalume as “the thing” and “the secret” do not seem endearing terms. In one possible view, Ulalume may be representative of death itself.
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