......."Ulalume" is a ballad, a poem that tells a story. Like other ballads, "Ulalume" includes repetition of key phrases. Although the poem is not intended to be sung, its rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and alliteration give it a musical quality.
.......American Review published the poem in December 1847 under the title "To . Ulalume: a Ballad."
.......The action takes place on a bleak October evening, probably Allhallows Eve (Halloween), in a forest near a lake.
The Narrator (Speaker): Unnamed man whose beloved has died in the past year.
Psyche: The narrator's personified soul, addressed as a female. Psyche is described as having wings.
Astarte: Moon goddess of fertility, love, and reproduction in the ancient Middle East. She beckons the narrator to follow her.
Dian: Another name for Diana, the virgin moon goddess in Roman mythology. In Greek mythology, her name is Artemis. The narrator compares Astarte to Dian. Dian herself does not appear in the poem.
Ulalume: The narrator's deceased beloved. Poe conceived the idea for the poem several months after his wife, Virginia, died. It is likely that he had her in mind when he was writing the poem.
Ghouls: Demons that haunt the forest. They exhume and eat corpses.
The Lion: A reference to the constellation Leo, a group of stars that include one very bright star. In "Ulalume," the narrator refers to the Lion as a threat when Astarte passed by him.
.......The speaker/narrator tells the story in first-person point of view. When he carries on a dialogue with Psyche, he uses quotation marks. The narrator uses past tense except in the quotations.
.......As in other works of Poe, the narrator is distraught and subject to the whims of his imagination. His state of mind, of course, opens the way for elaborate metaphors depicting surreal images. In other words, a touch of madness makes the poem work.
.......The central theme of "Ulalume" is the profound and prolonged sadness which the death of a beautiful woman causes her beloved. This theme, a favorite of Poe, appeared in many of his other works, including "The Raven" and "Ligeia."
The Pain of Old Memories
.......The narrator seeks relief from the agony of remembering his lost love. But seeing the tomb of Ulalume in the "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir" revives his memories of her and renews his agony.
.......Astarte deceives the narrator. Promising to lead him to a peaceful region, she leads him instead to the tomb of Ulalume, causing him to relive painful memories.
.......No one knows for certain why Poe named the poem Ulalume. It is possible, however, that he coined the word from ululare, a Latin word meaning to shriek, howl, lament, or wail. But instead of using that Latin infinitive as he found it, he cut off the last three letters and replaced them
with ume (pronounced oom) so that the word would rhyme with other words in the poem, gloom and tomb, and rhyme with an unspoken word that looms over the poem: doom. Keep in mind, too, that the vowel in ume rhymes with the vowels in ghoul. It all makes sense, but is it so? You be the judge.
Following are examples of figures of speech in "Ulalume":
.......The atmosphere of "Ulalume" is not only bleak and depressing but also mysterious and otherworldly. To create this atmosphere, Poe uses words connoting decay, disease, death, destruction, loneliness, and suffering; he combines them with words connoting vagueness, ethereality, and mystery. Among the words enabling Poe to create his nightmarish poem are ashen, withering, lonesome, dim, misty, dank, ghoul-haunted, sulphurous, groan, agony, sorrowfully, senescent, liquescent, nebulous, and Lethean.The phrase mid region in Stanzas 1 and 9 seems to suggest a place halfway between the world and the underworld.
.......Poe uses end rhyme throughout the poem. In each stanza, the first line rhymes with the fourth, and the second line rhymes with the third. The rhyme scheme of other lines varies, since not all stanzas have the same length.
.......The meter varies, but Poe relies mainly on anapestic feet, sometimes mixed with iambic feet. Catalexis (an incomplete foot at the end of a line) occurs occasionally. Following are examples:
.......anapest anapest . anapest catalexis
There were DAYS..|..when my HEART..|..was vol CAN..|..ic.......................Tetrameter (metric line of four feet)
......iamb anapest anapest
Though ONCE..|..we had JOUR..|..neyed down HERE................................Trimeter (metric line of three feet)
.......Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless coupleJohn Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poes godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled
in schools there.
.......After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. After beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem The Raven in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today.
.......He also was an outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
By Edgar Allan Poe
Written and Published in 1847
sere: dried up, withered
immemorial: lasting a very long time. The narrator has spent an "eternity" agonizing over death of his beloved.
mid region: term suggesting a place halfway between the world and the underworld; a nether region
ghoul: demon that digs up graves and feeds on corpses
Summary: The narrator says he once walked in a path through this forest, where cypress trees grow, while communing with his soul. At times, his heart erupted with emotions that flowed like rivers of lava down the slopes of a volcano, Mount Yaanek, in the arctic region.
alley: passageway bordered by foliage or trees
cypress: evergreen tree with dark-green leaves. It can attain heights of 80 to 90 feet.
Psyche: soul of a human
scoriac rivers: flowing lava
sulphurous: fiery, with a stifling odor
ultimate climes: farthest, most remote climate zones
pole: North Pole
Summary: The narrator's dialogue with his soul was rational, sensible, logical. But his thoughtsthat is, memorieswere fevered and frenzied, dysfunctional. Consequently, he was not aware of the month or the dayapparently October 31, Allhallows Eve ("night of all nights"). Nor was he entirely aware of the locale, although he had visited it before.
palsied: tremulous, disabled, diseased; paralyzed
Summary: As night neared its end and dawn was moments away, a strange glowhazy and cloudy, like a liquefying mistappeared to the narrator. Out of it arose a crescent resembling the shape of the visible part of the moon in its first or last quarter. (Click here to see a crescent moon.) It is the diamond-studded crescent of Astarte, a moon goddess of fertility, love, and reproduction in the ancient Middle East.
senescent: becoming old
liquescent: melting, liquefying
nebulous: cloudy, vague, unclear
duplicate horn: the two points of a crescent
bediamonded: having diamonds
Summary: The narrator says Astarte is more sensual than Diana (Dian), the virgin moon goddess in Roman mythology. After all, Astarte "revels in a region of sighs." She sees that the narrator still grieves for his lost love, for tears remain on his cheeks. After moving past the constellation Leo, containing a very bright star, she points out a path to a peaceful region in the skies where painful memories die. Astarte shines on the narrator and his soul with bright eyes full of love.
Dian: virgin moon goddess in Roman mythology. See also Characters, above.
Lion: in astronomy, the constellation Leo, containing a very bright star
Lethean: referring to Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Greek and Roman mythology. Anyone who drank its water would lose his memory.
Summary: Psyche, the narrator's soul, mistrusts Astarte and urges the narrator to leave the place immediately. So terrified is Psyche that her wings trail in the dust. Here, the narrator is in conflict. His rational side, Psyche, attempts to control his impressionable emotional side, represented by Astarte.
Summary: The narrator tells Psyche that she is dreaming, then declares that they must follow the light of Astarte in all of its splendor. For it is a beautiful light that offers hope. They can surely trust it.
Sybilic : having the power of prophecy. The light of Astarte offers the narrator hope that he may overcome his sadness.
Summary: Having pacified Psyche, the narrator and she walk on to the end of the pathway. There, however, they come upon the door of a tomb on which is written "Ulalume"the name of his lost love.
legended: inscribed with writing
vault: enclosure of metal or concrete built into the ground to receive a casket
Summary: The scene saddened and distressed the narrator, for he now remembered that on the same night the previous year he "brought a dread burden" (apparently the body of his wife, for burial) to this place. He now realized that Astarte, or what appeared as a Astarte, was a demon and that he was well familiar with the lake of Auber and the forest of Weir.
ashen: This word, which describes the skies in Line 1, Stanza 1, seems inappropriate here.
dread: One cannot help but notice that dread rhymes with dead.