Poe's Poetry

Poe's Poetry Summary and Analysis of "Lenore"


Guy de Vere cannot weep for his dead beloved Lenore. He gives an elegy in which he berates everyone for loving her wealth and hating her pride, suggesting that people had wished her ill and effectively killed her. The narrator asks him not to speak in this manner, although Lenore has taken away Hope in her death. Guy responds that he does not mourn because her soul has ascended to Heaven.


Poe returns to his frequent themes of death and beauty in "Lenore," where, as in many of his works, the spirit of a recently deceased young woman dominates the narration despite her lack of a physical presence. As in a number of his other poems, such as "Ulalume" and "Annabel Lee," the dead beloved is seen through the eyes of her male living lover and consequently comes to embody the pinnacle of beauty and perfection in her death. The emphasis on her fairness and aesthetically pleasing body suggests a connection between inner and outer beauty while also ironically making her appear more substantial than either the unnamed narrator or Guy de Vere, who only appears as a disembodied voice.

In this case, Guy de Vere is not the narrator, but he has his own two stanzas of monologue within the four stanzas of the poem to answer the questions asked of him. Despite the Biblical diction of his words, his speech is not a typical funeral elegy since it speaks as much about the mourners as it does about Lenore. His love for Lenore is clear, but he does not cry, as he tells the narrator, because he hopes to meet her in heaven, a sentiment echoed in his other works. On the other hand, in Poe's poem "The Raven," which reuses the name Lenore, the dynamic is reversed as the narrator progressively loses all hope of his future with her in heaven. Here, Guy de Vere is more optimistic in his assessment of life after death.

Like Annabel Lee, Lenore died in her youth, and Guy de Vere's anger and grief stems partly from the idea that her beauty and life were frozen in death at too early an age. The frequent repetition of the phrase "died so young" emphasizes this source of regret, and the narrator refers to Lenore as "the dear child," a phrase that infantilizes Lenore. Some have connected the poem to Poe's wife Virginia Clemm, who was married to him at a very young age. Poe's idealization of her youth also appears in "Annabel Lee," a poem that celebrates and mourns the eternal love of two children.

Although it is an elegy, "Lenore" takes the form of a dialogue between two people, leading to a dichotomy and use of doubles that appears in much of Poe's fiction, such as his poem "Ulalume" or his short story "William Wilson." The narrator is wistful as he alludes to the River Styx, which in Greek mythology was the river that bordered Hades' realm of the dead, and as he describes the meeting of life and death that characterizes Lenore's current appearance. Guy de Vere, however, is defiant and accuses others of having caused Lenore's death, while the narrator is conciliatory, saying "peccavimus," which is Latin for "we have sinned." Lenore's youth matches her innocence in death.

Poe's use of the name "Lenore" sets a precedent for the melancholy "L" and "O" sounds that dominate the poem's four stanzas. In particular, the internal rhyme in the first two lines features this sound, in "broken is the golden bowl" and "let the bell toll," while the alliteration of "a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river" brings attention to the assonant vowels of "soul" and "floats." The poem does not have a strict rhythm, but it uses a rhyme scheme that features couplets, as do many of Poe's poems. The last three lines of each stanza form a triplet, usually with two lines of end word repetition, to emphasize the words "young," "eyes," and "Heaven," all of which contribute to the poem's overall concern with the body and youth of the dead woman and her fate in Heaven.