The Perils of Love: a Comparison of “My Last Duchess” and “Annabel Lee”

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Updated: Mar 30, 2023
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The Perils of Love Jacques Benigne Bossuel once said, “the heart has reasons that reason does not understand.” The theme of complicated love conveys the idea that love can be strong and powerful yet also toxic and manipulative. Robert Browning’s beguiling poem “My Last Duchess” and Edgar Allan Poe’s tragic poem “Annabel Lee” both interpret this theme; however, “My Last Duchess” is a poem of malevolent love in contrast to the everlasting love in “Annabel Lee.” Robert Browning is regarded as of the “most important poets of the Victorian period” (Robert). Edgar Allan Poe was an arguably profound poet that often wrote in the realm of grotesque literature and stories that bore expository events of human nature and the depths of the raw torment that could occur in one’s own mind. He was critiqued as writing with what critics “termed ‘Germanism’ and gloom” (Poe, 1840).

Both Robert Browning in “My Last Duchess” and Edgar Allan Poe in “Annabel Lee” interpret the theme of complicated love using symbolism, rhyme, and imagery. Robert Browning is arguably one of the greatest poets. Though he is regarded as a “major figure in the history of English poetry” (Robert), he was more modestly also a writer of children’s stories. However, this area of his fame rests mainly on the poem “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Robert Browning wrote “My Last Duchess,” a dramatic monologue in which the Duke of Ferrara illustrates a painting of his former wife, whom he killed for being too friendly and flirtatious. In this poem, Robert Browning plays on the theme of complicated love as the Duke held such intense love and adoration for his late wife that he deemed any attention she gave to any other person or thing, almost an act of betrayal, for her attention was on something other than himself.

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Thus, his jealousy and love lead him to commit murder. Robert Browning uses symbolism when he writes: “Such stuff/Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough/For calling up that spot of joy” (13-15). The wording chosen for her “spot of joy” is symbolism to show that the Duke’s love for her was conflicted with jealousy towards anything that made her smile. Stating it so plainly as a spot gives her blushing a blameworthy connotation. Throughout “My Last Duchess,” Robert Browning uses rhyme to give rhythm and emphasis to the poem. The use of rhyme helps Robert Browning bring attention to the meaning behind the words paired together. For instance, the use of “fool” (28) and “mule” (29) emphasize the comparison between the things that make her blush, giving them a lackluster meaning and belittling the things she enjoys.

The main focal point of this poem is the painting of the Duke’s former wife. The imagery used to describe this painting further develops the theme of the Duke’s complicated love for her when he states: “none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (line 10). This imagery is used to hint that the Duke is the one who closed the curtain on his wife; he was the one who killed her because of his jealousy of her love and attention. Edgar Allan Poe is often looked at as one of the most prolific poets in history. Edgar Allan Poe worked as an editor, a poet, and a critic. “His stories mark him as one of the originators of both horror and detective fiction” (Edgar).

In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe wrote the tragic poem “Annabel Lee,” a dramatic monologue about the death of a woman named Annabel Lee and the complicated love a man feels for her after her death that makes even the angels sad. Edgar Allen Poe uses symbolism throughout this poem to address the theme of complicated love, a love that lasts even after death. In this poem, “In a kingdom by the sea” (line 2) symbolizes the barrenness and desolation the narrator of this poem feels after the death of Annabel Lee, the love of his life. Poe also uses rhyme to highlight the theme he’s portraying in this poem.

The rhyme scheme of this poem is abab, which aids to accent the meaning of the poem and the despair the narrator feels, such as: “But we loved with a love that was more than love- I and my Annabel Lee- With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven Coveted her and me” (9-12). The rhyme used illustrates the connection between the narrator and Annabel Lee, further showing how deeply he loved her. Throughout “Annabel Lee,” Poe also uses imagery to discuss his theme of complicated love. Edgar Allan Poe uses imagery in the last stanza of “Annabel Lee” And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride, In her sepulcher there by the sea, In her tomb by the sounding sea (38-41). These lines express the narrator’s misery and despair.

The melancholic images paint a very heart-wrenching image that furthers the development of the theme; the narrator has such a deep love this is complicated by the death of Annabel Lee. While Robert Browning and Edgar Allan Poe are not often discussed in similarity, both “My Last Duchess” and “Annabel Lee” make use of the theme of complicated love. Both authors utilize symbolism to embellish this theme. While Browning uses a “spot of joy” in the portrait of the Duke’s late wife, Poe uses the sea to elaborate the depth and expanse of the depression the narrator feels after the death of his love. The two great poets also similarly use rhythm to emphasize the emotions of both narrators.

However, in contrast to Browning’s murderous Duke, whose love was born of jealousy, Poe uses rhyme to further illustrate the despair the narrator feels after Annabel Lee’s death. Although Robert Browning and Edgar Allan Poe are writing on the theme of complicated love, Robert Browning is the writing of a malevolent and jealous love, while Edgar Allan Poe writes of a despairing love complicated by an unbeknownst death instead of murder. In “My Last Duchess,” the portrait of the Duke’s Duchess that is “painted on the wall, /Looking as if she were alive” (1-2) symbolizes the objectification of the Duke’s views of his wife. He saw her as his overly eager and friendly property instead of his faithful companion.

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In contrast to Browning’s Duke, the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” symbolizes Poe’s real-life lost love, Virginia. This symbolization gives an even deeper sense of grief for a complicated lost love, as Poe uses Annabel Lee to describe his own grief. Thus, giving a great contrast between the two poems, despite the common theme. Robert Browning and Edgar Allan Poe are two of the most influential writers of poetry. Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” illustrates the theme of complicated love in a malice and dark story.

Although Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” takes on the theme of complicated love, contrastingly to “My Last Duchess,” he illustrates this theme in a tone of despair and anguish at the death of his love, instead of her murder than the Duke committed in “My Last Duchess.” Both poets use symbolism, rhythm, and imagery to elaborate on the theme of complicated love. They both depict this theme. However, they do so in dramatically different ways, showing the complexity that love can hold, with the ability to be strong and true while contrastingly jealous and malevolent.

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The Perils of Love: A Comparison of "My Last Duchess" and "Annabel Lee". (2023, Mar 30). Retrieved from