Poe Study Guides
Notes and Annotation by Michael
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.
Review published the poem in December 1847 under the title "To — —
—. Ulalume: a Ballad."
action takes place on a bleak October evening, probably Allhallows Eve
(Halloween), in a forest near a lake.
and References to Entities
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
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.
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.
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.
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
The Pain of Old Memories
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.
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
of the Title
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":
year (Line 5, Stanza 1)
and Word Choice
talk had been serious and sober
(Line 1, Stanza 3)
night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir-
down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
Simile: There were
days when my heart was volcanic / As the scoriac rivers that roll- (Comparison
Reference to the soul, Psyche, as a person
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.
Scheme and Meter
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.
varies, but Poe relies mainly on
feet, sometimes mixed with iambic feet.
(an incomplete foot at the end of a line) occurs occasionally. Following
(metric line of four feet)
There were DAYS..|..when
(metric line of four feet)
(metric line of three feet)
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 couple–John Allan,
a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed
to be Poe’s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans
and was enrolled in schools there.
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.
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
The skies they were ashen
The leaves they were crisped
and sere -
The leaves they were withering
It was night in the lonesome
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake
In the misty mid region
of Weir -
It was down by the dank
tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland
Summary: The skies
were gray and somber. All around were crisp, dried up leaves. The time
was a lonesome October evening. The place was a lake named Auber in a misty
forest named Weir, which was haunted by ghouls. The gloomy surroundings
appear to symbolize the narrator's melancholy state of mind. (Poe wrote
the poem not long after his wife, Virginia, died. Apparently, she is Ulalume.
dried up, withered
lasting a very long time. The narrator has spent an "eternity" agonizing
over death of his beloved.
region: term suggesting a place halfway between the world and
the underworld; a nether region
demon that digs up graves and feeds on corpses
Here once, through an alley
Of cypress, I roamed with
Of cypress, with Psyche,
There were days when my
heart was volcanic
As the scoriac
rivers that roll-
As the lavas that restlessly
currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate
climes of the pole-
That groan as they roll
down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal
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.
passageway bordered by foliage or trees
evergreen tree with dark-green leaves. It can attain heights of 80 to 90
soul of a human
rivers: flowing lava
fiery, with a stifling odor
climes: farthest, most remote climate zones
Our talk had been serious
But our thoughts they were
Our memories were treacherous
For we knew not the month
And we marked not the night
of the year-
(Ah, night of all nights
in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake
(Though once we had journeyed
Remembered not the dank
tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland
And makes me end where I
Summary: The narrator's
dialogue with his soul was rational, sensible, logical. But his thoughts–that
is, memories–were fevered and frenzied, dysfunctional. Consequently, he
was not aware of the month or the day–apparently October 31, Allhallows
Eve ("night of all nights"). Nor was he entirely aware of the locale, although
he had visited it before.
tremulous, disabled, diseased; paralyzed
And now, as the night was
And star-dials pointed to
As the star-dials hinted
At the end of our path a
lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous
Arose with a duplicate
Distinct with its duplicate
Summary: As night
neared its end and dawn was moments away, a strange glow–hazy and cloudy,
like a liquefying mist–appeared 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
cloudy, vague, unclear
horn: the two points of a crescent
And I said- "She is warmer
She rolls through an ether
She revels in a region of
She has seen that the tears
are not dry on
These cheeks, where the
worm never dies,
And has come past the stars
of the Lion,
To point us the path to
To the Lethean
peace of the skies-
Come up, in despite of the
To shine on us with her
Come up through the lair
of the Lion,
With love in her luminous
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.
virgin moon goddess in Roman mythology. See also Characters,
in astronomy, the constellation Leo, containing a very bright star
referring to Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Greek and Roman mythology.
Anyone who drank its water would lose his memory.
But Psyche, uplifting her
Said- "Sadly this star I
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:-
Oh, hasten!- oh, let us
Oh, fly!- let us fly!- for
In terror she spoke, letting
Wings until they trailed
in the dust-
In agony sobbed, letting
Plumes till they trailed
in the dust-
Till they sorrowfully trailed
in the dust.
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.
I replied- "This is nothing
Let us on by this tremulous
Let us bathe in this crystalline
splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty
See!- it flickers up the
sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust
to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead
We safely may trust to a
That cannot but guide us
Since it flickers up to
Heaven through the night."
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.
: having the power of prophecy. The light of Astarte offers the narrator
hope that he may overcome his sadness.
Thus I pacified Psyche and
And tempted her out of her
And conquered her scruples
And we passed to the end
of the vista,
But were stopped by the
door of a tomb-
By the door of a legended
And I said- "What is written,
On the door of this legended
She replied- "Ulalume- Ulalume-
'Tis the vault
of thy lost Ulalume!"
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.
inscribed with writing
enclosure of metal or concrete built into the ground to receive a casket
Then my heart it grew ashen
As the leaves that were
crisped and sere-
As the leaves that were
withering and sere-
And I cried- "It was surely
On this very night of last
That I journeyed- I journeyed
That I brought a dread
burden down here-
On this night of all nights
in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted
Well I know, now, this dim
lake of Auber-
This misty mid region of
Well I know, now, this dank
tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland
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.
This word, which describes the skies in Line 1, Stanza 1, seems inappropriate
One cannot help but notice that dread rhymes with dead.