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Like many other Poe poems including "The Raven", "Ulalume", and "To One in Paradise", "Annabel Lee" follows Poe's favorite theme: the death of a beautiful woman,which Poe called "the most poetical topic in the world".Like women in many other works by Poe, she is struck with illness and marries young. The poem focuses on an ideal love which is unusually strong. In fact, the narrator's actions show that he not only loves Annabel Lee, but he worships her, something he can only do after her death. The narrator admits that he and Annabel Lee were children when they fell in love, but his explanation that angels murdered her is in itself childish, suggesting he has failed to mature since then. His repetition of this assertion suggests he is trying to rationalize his own excessive feelings of loss.

Unlike "The Raven", in which the narrator believes he will "nevermore" be reunited with his love, "Annabel Lee" says the two will be together again.

Poe's wife Virginia is often assumed to be the inspiration for "Annabel Lee".

It is unclear on whom the eponymous character Annabel Lee is based. Biographers and critics often suggest Poe's frequent use of the "death of a beautiful woman" theme stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his own life, including his mother Eliza Poe and his foster mother Frances Allan. Biographers often interpret that "Annabel Lee" was written for Poe's wife Virginia, who had died two years prior, as was suggested by poet Frances Sargent Osgood, though Osgood is herself a candidate for the poem's inspiration.A strong case can be made for Poe's wife Virginia: She was the one he loved as a child, the only one who had been his bride, and the only one who had died.Autobiographical readings of the poem have also been used to support the theory that Virginia and Poe never consummated their marriage, as "Annabel Lee" was a "maiden".Critics, including T.O. Mabbott, believed that Annabel Lee was merely the product of Poe's gloomy imagination and that Annabel Lee was no real person in particular. A childhood sweetheart of Poe's named Sarah Elmira Royster believed the poem was written with her in mind and that Poe himself said so. Sarah Helen Whitman and Sarah Anna Lewis also claimed to have inspired the poem.

Local legend in Charleston, South Carolina tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee. Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor's time stationed in Charleston was up. While away, he heard of Annabel's death from yellow fever, but her father would not allow him at the funeral. Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met. There is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe had heard of this legend, but locals insist it was his inspiration, especially considering Poe was briefly stationed in Charleston while in the army in 1827.

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