The Saddest Lines: Poetic Lost Love

by Ashley Kimura

Both Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and Pablo Neruda’s “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”] are poetic representations of mourning and lament over lost love. Although the narrators lose their respective loves to different circumstances, each poem channels the narrator’s sorrow to its readers. Within this context, readers can identify similar themes in each poem. Poe’s narrator grieves over the loss of Annabel Lee, the narrator’s young bride. Neruda’s narrator laments the loss of love as well, yet both the name and other identifying characteristics elude the reader. Even though the comparison of these two poems portrays inherent difference in the representation of each narrator’s beloved, these poems aim to have their readers identify universal sentiments of lamentation, mourning, and heartbreak through similar poetic techniques. Therefore, each poet utilizes nature and both physical and figurative distances to situate their readers simultaneously close to and removed from sentiments of grief. As such, readers identify empathetic familiarity in sentiments of losing love while feeling sympathetic awe at each narrator’s sense of losing their individual loves. Despite each poet utilizing nature as a poetic backdrop, their executions vary to portray their respective coping mechanisms in the aftermath of losing their loves.

Analyzing poetry of mourning, in general, situates the readers in the context of the genre. These particular poems employ a dialogue within the narrators, themselves, as well as to the readers directly. Johanna Nadine Schwartz’s dissertation, “Romantic Mourning: Poetry, Gender & Grief” examines mourning poetry in the Romantic period. Even though the following excerpt focuses upon Wordsworth and Coleridge, her analysis is strongly applicable to Poe’s and Neruda’s poems: “Yet, through their dialogical construction, [the poems] . . . stress the significance of compassionate listeners or witnesses whose attentions supply a necessary balm to the mourner’s ache. In this way, both poems link the process of story-telling to grief work, as well as emphasize the necessity of speaking and bearing witness to suffering in order for healing to occur” (34). Indeed, both Poe and Neruda’s poems use this “dialogical construction” in their narratives. Both poets utilize narrators who actively work through their emotions by writing poetry to search for closure over love lost, even though their differing circumstances result in different forms of closure. These narrators not only use their readers as “listeners or witnesses,” but the very act of writing poetry itself as a “balm” in their healing process.

In order to illuminate the individual significance of each poet’s writing, it is necessary to explore their unique historical contexts and traditions. The mournful tone and powerful language exemplified in Poe’s “Annabel Lee” (believed to be a biographical account of his young wife’s death) is also part of Poe’s own historical traditions of mourning, as noted by Adam Bradford, Luz García Parra, and Bradford Booth. Bradford discusses Poe’s connection to mourning in his dissertation, “Communities of Death: Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Nineteenth-Century American Culture of Mourning and Memorializing.” He explores the historical background of public rituals of mourning, particularly in Poe’s own life. It was commonplace to not only openly mourn those who had passed, but to commemorate their lives and departure into the after-life by wearing articles of the deceased’s clothing or hair (30). As noted by Bradford, after the death of Poe’s wife, Virginia, he wore locks of her hair and had a portrait of her done post-mortem (37). In connecting Poe’s own practice of public displays of mourning to his poetry, Bradford states, “While many question the extent to which Poe’s literature was a screen for a disturbed psyche, there is no question that his literature was constantly in dialogue with an antebellum culture that was intimately concerned with ways of conceptualizing and coping with death” (28). In this context, Poe as an author is positioned as a man who was already accustomed to publicly and unapologetically expressing remorse and grief for a deceased loved one. Since “Annabel Lee” was written shortly before his death (and published shortly afterwards) and not long after the death of his wife, this poem is not just one of true grief, expressed in his historical tradition. It is also the catalyst in which Poe is able to create a distinct, supernatural space to articulate this dialogue of coping with loss.

Hence, Poe’s experience with both a private and public connection to death enabled him to create a poem representing a personal account of mourning. His narrator entreats the reader to empathize with his perspective by creating an intimacy through poignant descriptions of his special and unique love for Annabel Lee, in turn triggering readers’ familiarity with love. Readers understand the universality in these emotions in that they, too, have experienced this kind of special and unique love, and the insurmountable grief of its loss. Bradford touches on this universality by stating, “In short, what these readers ‘saw’ when they looked at Poe’s poem was a speaker driven towards alienation and isolation by an overwhelming grief . . . which the culture of mourning generally sought to ameliorate by consoling the mourner with objects that testified that the mourner was not alone in his grief—which is precisely what these readers’ responses do” (58). Poe, then, carefully structured his poem to establish this sense of solidarity through a crescendo of temporality and distance through (super)natural elements. These elements express his “alienation and isolation” and beg his readers to acknowledge familiarity in this loneliness. The result is that neither the narrator nor the reader continues to feel lonely in the midst of losing love.

Within the focus of historical significance, Neruda’s “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”] is the twentieth of his Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada [Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair]. Unlike Poe, Neruda published this text early in his life, “nearly twenty years old when this second collection was published in Santiago de Chile by Carlos Nascimiento” (Wilson 44). Although not part of Poe’s particular social practices of mourning, Neruda still employs Schwartz’s “dialogical construction” in utilizing his readers as “compassionate listeners.” Neruda’s intentions in writing Veinte poemas were couched in “Verdadismo,” or what Stephen Hart describes as an inclination towards truthfulness (257). This is significant because it ties these two distant poets together across decades. As Poe was accustomed to a tradition of public mourning, he was, consequently, inclined to an unapologetic expression of loss. Similarly, as Neruda’s intentions were towards “Verdadismo,” so he too was poetically inclined to unapologetically expressing his true sentiments concerning love. Descriptions of Neruda’s use of “Verdadismo” are present in Jason Wilson’s book, A Companion to Pablo Neruda: Evaluating Neruda’s Poetry. Discussing the publication of Veinte poemas, Wilson notes the initial criticism Neruda received, expressions of confusion in light of acceptance of his first book. Neruda’s response, however, “answered these early hostile critics in the Chilean newspaper La Nación on 20 August 1924. He defended his ‘expression of my thought’ and his complete ‘sincerity’, and claimed that these poems poured out, without rational control: ‘libremente, inconteniblemente, se me soltaron mis poemas’ [freely, uncontainably, these poems freed themselves]” (Wilson 44-45). This significantly contextualizes Neruda’s relationship to Poe: the latter came from a tradition of public expression of feelings; the former’s personal style of writing echoes this unapologetic sincerity of expression. Further, both Poe and Neruda embed their sincere representation of lamentation in their uses of nature as a backdrop for their lost loves.

Poe’s use of nature, although not as overt as Neruda’s, is present through his imagery of the supernatural. Poe as an author is no stranger to the use of the supernatural, as it is present in much of his work. As stated by Lawrence Dotolo in his dissertation, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Quest for Supernal Beauty,” Poe identified the poet himself as the medium for the reader to obtain a sense of elevated beauty. Early in his discussion of Poe’s poetry, Dotolo states, “The poet, the artist, became for Poe the mediator between the real and the Ideal” (3). Within this context, Poe, as a poet, is the reader’s mediator between the real pain he felt and the Ideal representation of that pain through poetic construction. Within this space of the “real” and “Ideal” lies the supernatural forces which took Poe’s narrator (and, arguably, Poe’s own) love from him, “I was a child and she was a child, / In this kingdom by the sea: / 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” (738). This preliminary description of their love exemplifies an “otherness” or celestial connotation in that their love was more than love, more than that which either the narrator or reader can comprehend. This love transcended boundaries allowed or comprehended by earthly recognition and extended to the realm of heavenly desire, causing angels to succumb to mortal jealousy. Whether Annabel Lee dies from illness or a mysterious death, the narrator attributes the end of their supernatural love to that which is out of the narrator’s control. In this instance, the narrator invites the reader to empathize and familiarize himself with this desperate justification of loss to celestial jealousy.

Considering this poem as a constructed literary text helps the reader analyze its use of supernatural elements as an aid for the narrator’s justification of his lover’s death. Luz García Parra discusses these concepts in her article, “Poe: The Concept of Poetry and Poetic Practice with Reference to the Relationship between the Poetic Principle and Annabel Lee.” She discusses the poem’s use of supernatural elements under the umbrella of genre, “The fact that it is a ballad, a genre that allowed the inclusion of supernatural elements and tragic death, only attributable to the fatalism of destiny, enables Poe to idealize death as having been caused by the envy of celestial beings: ‘The angel[s], not half so happy in heaven, / Went envying her and me-’” (58). As mentioned earlier, Poe as poet operates as the mediator for his readers to bridge the gap between his real pain and the Ideal creation of that pain through poetry. Intertwined within this Ideal representation is that he (narrator and historical author) was powerless in preventing Annabel Lee’s (and Virginia’s) death, as it was already predestined. In this context, death, too, is idealized as an unavoidable part of nature.

This employment of nature as a form of the supernatural is evident in the beginning of the poem and repeated throughout. The ever-elusive “kingdom by the sea” operates as a mystical and mysterious place where Annabel Lee lived and died. The poem begins akin to a child’s fairytale, both removing the reader from, and beckoning the reader to, the familiar. Like the typical, “Once upon a time, long ago, in a far away land,” Poe begins his lament with, “It was many and many a year ago, / In a kingdom by the sea, / That a maiden there lived whom you may know / By the name of ANNABEL LEE.” Poe’s narrative structure at the beginning positions his reader in a two-fold distance through the supernatural. First, the reader is removed spatially by naming an elusive and mysterious “kingdom by the sea.” Second, the reader is removed temporally by stating that “It was many and many a year ago.” This dual sense of removal and distance operates to lead the reader to believe that this poem is reminiscent of a grandiose fictional tale. Moreover, this distance also cleverly operates to employ a notion of familiarity and universality, in stating the reader “may know” Annabel Lee; or, the reader may be familiar with this type of loss. García discusses this use of fairytale elements in stating, “Both of them [“Annabel Lee” and “The Raven”] have a distant kingdom situated by the sea and . . . a far-off time is spoken of. This vagueness and lack of definition is very typical also of folkloric narration; the poem begins as if it was a fairy tale . . . . The theme is developed very much to the poet’s taste: a feeling of sadness and melancholy about the death of a beautiful young woman” (58). In this context, this elusive “kingdom by the sea” operates as both a (super)natural backdrop and a representation of distance. This situates the reader in a similar position as the narrator constructs—that this “kingdom” not only represents unexplainable sudden loss, but represents the narrator’s emotional distance of bewilderment.

Similarly, Neruda’s narrator employs nature in his poem, “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”] as a backdrop for his emotions. Much like Poe’s work to represent the Ideal through supernatural representation in poetry, Neruda also believed that the poet’s work was to portray these “sincere” or “true” sentiments to readers. Both Neruda and Poe believed that the poet himself is the mediator between the reader and the poem to portray intimate sentiments of painful loss. Wilson continues in his observations of Neruda’s Veinte poemas: “But Neruda . . . wants to develop his individuality, his aloneness from women, so we can understand how suffering leads to ‘poetry’, for lovers would remain blissfully mute, without need for art. Neruda’s Veinte poemas de amor is as much about love as it is about remaining painfully alone and becoming a poet; soledad [loneliness] drives creativity” (50). Therefore, Neruda’s own beliefs, in the context of “Verdadismo,” portrayed the sheer need for poetry, for representations of the Ideal, to present intimate feelings of loss. As stated by Wilson, Neruda wanted to develop his individuality apart from the women who hurt him, part of which is his individual creation of poetry; for without this catalyst for creativity “lovers would remain blissfully mute.” “Soledad” not only “drives creativity” but is also inherent in his use of the night and its characteristics as a backdrop for his poem. The Ideal position of this “soledad” is in no better place than during the night, when the narrator is alone with nature in the midst of losing love. The reader feels the narrator’s sense of “soledad” in his solitude within the night and understands the circular reflection of loneliness and the night’s characteristics.

The beginning of Neruda’s poem is marked with a sense of urgency that echoes throughout the remaining lines, “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche” (32) [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”(33)]. This urgency is marked in this night, tonight, which serves as the perfect time for the narrator to write because the night’s characteristics and his own “soledad” operate as a symbiotic relationship through language. The poem itself serves as a meta-textual example of the process of writing a poem as the next stanza reads, “Escribir, por ejemplo: ‘La noche está estrellada, / y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos’” (32) [“Write, for example: ‘The night is shattered / and the blue stars shiver in the distance’” (33)]. Suffering has led the author himself to write “los versos más tristes” to employ poetry as a catalyst for his emotions. The narrator tells the reader that this description of the personified night is an example of the saddest lines he can write tonight. In such, he exemplifies “Verdadismo” in his honest representation of “versos más tristes.” As Louise Detwiler suggests, “As applied to Veinte poemas, then, this common sense view translates into the notion that Pablo Neruda is able to express his individual feelings of love for a woman (women) in a way that captures the essence of an unquestioned, universally true, and real human experience. In a word, the reader is able to recognize, for example, Love, Woman, Man, Nature and the like” (86). In this sense, Neruda’s narrator seeks to reach his reader by relaying universal emotions of love lost and the difficulty of describing them. In doing so, he portrays these “universally true, and real human experience[s]” to an understanding and empathetic audience, for they too have felt confusing and difficult emotions surrounding the loss of love. Then, they too can understand Neruda’s employment of nature as a representation of these sentiments of loss and bewilderment. As such, both Neruda and Poe, utilizing nature as a backdrop for their emotions, also use nature to portray physical and figurative distance. These distances also signal their own feelings of incompetency in processing the loss of their respective loves.

Unlike Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” Neruda’s narrator initially presents himself as the victim of an uncertain lover1. He describes their love as tenuous. Reflecting the earlier stanza’s implication of his lover’s uncertainty, the sixth stanza reads, “Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería. / Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos” (32) [“She loved me, sometimes I loved her too. / How could one not have loved her great still eyes” (33)]. The narrator presents himself as the one who was uncertain of their love, thereby inverting the initial paradigm of victimization of uncertainty. This victimization is also evident in other instances in the poem, as the narrator never points to the woman’s character or personality. Rather, he describes her in fragmented, detached, body parts, presenting her as parts of herself rather than in her entirety. Gilda Pacheco discusses this exact concept in her analysis of Neruda’s Veinte poemas in her article, “A Feminist Perspective on Pablo Neruda’s ‘Veinte Poemas De Amor Y Una Canción Desesperada.’” Though discussing Neruda’s poem “Cuerpo de Mujer” [“Body of a Woman”], her astute concepts are also applicable to this poem. She states, “Addressing not the woman but her ‘body,’ the speaker first points out the woman’s breasts disguised in the image of the ‘white hills.’ Then, he directly refers to her ‘thighs.’ So, by means of a very erotic synecdoche, not even the woman, but the female body is reduced to breasts and thighs” (32). The purpose of this disembodied woman eludes the reader since it is received as a painful representation of nostalgic remorse; the narrator literally grasps for parts of his beloved’s memory through her body. In these instances of memorializing his lost love, the reader is asked to conclude that representations of detached body parts serve to portray the narrator’s own detached emotions. The narrator’s “soledad” enables him to pull at pieces of his lover’s memory as examples of “los versos más tristes.” Since she is gone and their love is over, her body parts are all the narrator has left to reference. As the poem continues, Neruda’s narrator utilizes possessive language to further portray this concept.

Indeed, Neruda’s very next stanza presents this kind of possessive language. After the narrator establishes his oscillation of certainty pertaining to the validity of their love, he moves to use possessive language to further represent his sentiments of temporality and distance: “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. / Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido” (32) [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines. / To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her” (33)]. Although he previously presented their love’s certainty as wavering, the narrator now uses possessive language to represent certainty of blame for their love’s end. This possessive language works in two ways, physically and figuratively, similar to the way distance is employed. Physically, her proximity to him is “perdido” [“lost”], as if the narrator’s own responsibility to keep her (“que no la tengo” [“that I do not have her”]) was unsuccessful. Figuratively, her dedication to him (as well as his to her) is also “lost” because of his incompetency to keep her. Moreover, these verbs of possession follow another representation of the narrator’s own anxieties of writing a love poem (“Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche”), thereby portraying sentiments of losing control of writing and representing another. In this moment the narrator has feelings of incompetency because she is lost, and he, therefore, does not get to keep her. So too does the narrator feel emotionally “lost” in his “soledad” without his love. Similarly, Poe’s narrator also presents sentiments of possession and incompetency in light of losing Annabel Lee.

As Poe’s narrator works through the fourth stanza, he utilizes the celestial jealousy already established to reason with both himself and the reader that, indeed, the seraphs are the cause of his tragic and untimely loss. The stanza reads, “The angels, not half so happy in heaven / Went envying her and me— / Yes!-that was the reason (as all men know, / In this kingdom by the sea) / That the wind came out of the cloud by night, / Chilling and killing my ANNABEL LEE” (738). Like the layered nod of familiarity present in the first stanza (“That a maiden there lived whom you may know”), so too does this stanza directly address the reader. This directness breaks the distant poetic language present before and after these lines to emphasize the narrator’s own internal journey of reasoning and closure, using the reader as a “balm” in his healing process. The narrator repeats the sentiment of celestial jealousy to follow with a jarring search for validity through justification (“Yes!-that was the reason”). Moreover, it is a reiteration of external forces working against the narrator presented through: “(as all men know, / In this kingdom by the sea).” These men who also know that Annabel Lee died from supernatural forces reside in the same “kingdom by the sea.” The same kingdom where she is eternally stored away also houses these men who not only know of, but may have also participated in, her death. The kingdom operates not only as the grave site but as a structure of pain in and of itself. Like Neruda’s use of possessive language in losing his love, Poe also employs a sense of possession in that if not for these supernatural forces, she would still be “kept” by the narrator. These instances of the narrators’ thwarted possessions deconstruct their own feelings of incompetency and search for justifications. Furthermore, these instances of possession also tie to anxieties over temporality, portrayed through the figurative distance the narrators present to their readers.

For Neruda, this figurative distance operates under the umbrella of temporality. His narrator, like Poe’s, expresses anxieties over the past, over the love that has been lost. The narrator does so by contrasting words implying both steadiness and change. The twelfth and thirteenth stanzas read, “La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos arboles. / Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos. / Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise. / Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar so oído” (34) [“The same night whitening the same trees. / We, of that time, are no longer the same. / I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her. / My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing” (35)]. The narrator, as mentioned by Hart, uses simple language not tied down to specific circumstances to allow the reader to insert him/herself into the poem (259). Yet this argument becomes problematic when considering these two stanzas because the word “mismo” [“same”] triggers specificity otherwise not present in the narrator’s memory. Using nature as a backdrop for his emotions, the narrator describes its continuity. The “same” night whitens the “same” trees, just as they do every night. As surely as the moon rises, it will whiten the same trees. However, he and his lover’s solidarity and relationship from before (“los de entonces” [“of that time”]) will no longer be the same (“ya no somos los mismos” [“are no longer the same”]). Although earlier in the poem, the narrator uses nature to reflect his pain, he uses it in these stanzas to perpetuate his “soledad” in showing that the night can no longer echo his pain.

Furthermore, the narrator uses the steadiness of nature to exemplify the pain he feels; showing how his love, unlike nature, is not steady, is not the same as the moon-whitened trees. He emphasizes linking the past and present through nature’s sameness, but in reality, nothing is the same. The thirteenth stanza continues with this instability, beginning with a definitive declaration that he certainly no longer presently loves her, while still reminiscing about the intensity of his love in the past (“Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise”). Just when the reader feels the narrator is leading him/her into another poetic description of his emotional connection with the night, he disrupts it by stating that he surely no longer loves her. The narrator does this to further establish this narrative distance; just as he leads the reader to reach a conclusion with him, he disavows it through distanced interruption. Continuing to use vague language, the narrator then portrays both his and her detached body parts to find his lost love (“Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído” [“My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing”]), even though he is certain he no longer loves her. In this instance, the narrator and his beloved are both detached parts of themselves, broken in the aftermath of their love. The reader discovers why, aside from creating a poem, the narrator laments over a woman he no longer loves. Although weaved through wavering emotions and certainty, the narrator begins to conclude his lament through discussion of Ideals of love.

Poe also employs this poetic play with temporality. His poem, like Neruda’s, invites the reader to travel with the narrator through his grieving process. The reader is situated at a physical and figurative distance, believing this is a tale long since concluded, taking place “many and many a year ago.” Yet the poem’s last stanza brings this certainty crashing down by portraying an eternal tale:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful 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 the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea. (738)

Like Neruda’s narrator, Poe’s narrator utilizes imagery of the night to portray continuity in his infinite connection to his beloved, even though it operated to employ distance in the beginning. He will forever be haunted of his love through nature’s constant, unchanging images. As sure as the moon rises, he is reminded of his love for Annabel Lee. He no longer sees the stars in the sky, but Annabel Lee’s own eyes. Even though physically gone, she is re-imagined to inhabit (super)nature through the night sky. Although he tells the reader that it is only during the night-tide (the reader can infer it happens more often), he physically brings their proximity together as he lies by her side in her grave.

Moreover, the narrator brings the reader closer to Annabel Lee herself. The beginning of the poem situated the reader far away from this “kingdom by the sea.” The stanzas bring the reader closer and closer to the promise of the narrator’s closure, only to learn that it has eluded him. In fact, although positioned far away and long ago, the mourning has not ended and may never end. The reader is left with the haunting image of the narrator forever by his young wife’s side, listening to the waves of the sea crashing against him. Although preliminarily located far away from his pain, the reader realizes that the distance never actually existed to begin with. Poe’s poem, his “versos más tristes” [“saddest lines”], are a steady crescendo towards the narrator’s reality, that even if he and Annabel Lee’s souls will never be “dissevered” (Poe 738), he has still lost a love to outside forces, and he will never retrieve it again. To cope with his loss, he brings his physical self as close to her as humanly possible.

Annabel Lee, although physically gone from the narrator, acts as a poetic device in and of herself to portray the poem’s oscillating waves of temporality. Eve Morisi discusses this very stanza and its collision of the past and present in her discussion of Poe’s poetic women in “The Female Figure in Poe’s Poetry: A Rehabilitation.” Remembering the context of the supernatural as a representation of figurative and physical distance, these poetic devices also operate under the representation of temporality. Morisi states that Annabel Lee transcended space, in that she occupies the presentation of the sea itself, of the supernatural representation of nature, which is further evidenced in her eyes replacing the night’s stars. She continues her analysis by discussing this stanza’s temporality: “In her varied relationship with space, from the terrestrial globe to territorial limitation to the investiture of an ideal world, the metaphorical female proves paradoxically multiform. But the heroine’s structural import is not exclusively spatial. It is also temporal, as femaleness, in the poems, defines both chronology and rhythm” (24, emphasis added). Annabel Lee, then, as a pawn in her own poem, is “multiform” in her poetic ability to occupy (super)natural space (“Kingdom,” “sea,” “stars,” “moon”) and time, through the narrator presenting her as both a distant memory and a present manifestation of grief. Annabel Lee’s “femaleness,” or her effect on the narrator, defines the narrator’s sense of temporality, in that it is timeless; both past and present. Although addressing his loss in the past, her memory will never fade as she still affects the narrator in present time. Just as the narrator blames his loss on other-worldly beings, Annabel Lee too is an other-worldly being in her ability to transcend time and space, to exist both in the past and present. It is through nature and distance that both Poe and Neruda’s lost women can doubly exist and affect the narrators’, and consequently the reader’s, sense of temporality.

The conclusion of Neruda’s poem, unlike Poe’s, reaches for closure. After representation of the continuity of nature contradicting the wavering stability of love, Neruda’s narrator ends his poem with reassurance for his reader. Beginning two stanzas before the final stanza, the narrator reiterates sentiments already experienced by his readers: that he certainly no longer loves her (“Ya no la quiero, es cierto” (34) [“I no longer love her, that’s certain” (35)]), how the night reflects the pain he feels from his loss (“Porque en noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos” (34) [“Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms” (35)]), and his anxieties over losing her (“mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido” (34) [“my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her”(35)]). Much in the same manner that Poe’s narrator positions his readers at a distance to abruptly bring them to the present, so too does Neruda’s narrator reiterate his past sentiments to abruptly bring readers to the present. The last stanza of his poem reads, “Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa, / y éstos sean los últimos versos que yo le escribo” (34) [“Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer / and these the last verses that I write for her”] (35). This closure, like his poetic device of distance operates two-fold, in that he portrays his own closure while providing closure for his readers. He assures both himself and his readers that, although he oscillated between each lover’s certainties of their love, his nameless woman will no longer cause him pain. Indeed, one of his “versos más tristes” [“saddest lines”]) is that his concluding lines are the last he will write for her. Presently, the narrator will move on and no longer allow his ex-lover to cause him any pain. Unlike Poe’s narrator, Neruda’s narrator will not position his proximity next to his lost love. Rather, both his poetic and figurative proximity to her will remain distant.

Just like the confusion some lovers feel after they part ways, both Poe and Neruda’s poems have narrators who act as mediators to their readers to help guide them through their own experiences of loss and heartbreak. Not only have these narrators felt the same pain of losing love, but their authors have as well. Considering Poe’s own experiences with not only public representations of mourning, but also the death of his own young bride, the reader understands the universal truths he employs in describing his grievance of Annabel Lee. Similarly, considering Neruda’s own adolescence in writing Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, and the criticism it received, the reader also understands his universal truths of young sincerity and uncertainty in losing the woman he loved. Just like the mixed emotions one feels after losing love, these poems themselves conflate devices to simultaneously employ distance and universality for their readers. Through nature, readers see Poe’s supernatural elements as necessary means to express his own distance from comprehension of losing Annabel Lee. Through nature, readers also see Neruda’s use of relating his emotions and his lost love to characteristics of the night. Within the context of nature, each poet also utilizes both physical and figurative distance to portray wavering temporality. This distance serves to portray the narrators’, and consequently the reader’s, sense of bewilderment over the poems’ respective circumstances of losing love.

Furthermore, these types of distance embody wavering temporality through the narrators’ play with aspects of the past and present. Although both narrators have felt loss and use their poems as catalysts for closure, their concluding senses of loss differ. The readers find themselves surprised by expectations the narrators positioned in the beginnings of the poems to only have the conclusions drastically differ. Therefore, using (super)nature to employ distance and temporality, Poe’s narrator is forever at Annabel Lee’s side, even in death. Conversely, Neruda’s narrator is no longer at the mercy of heartbreak and “soledad.” He assures himself and his readers that he will no longer write for the woman who caused him pain. Each narrator uses his saddest lines to communicate with his reader, to bear witness and aid in healing their broken hearts.

 

End Note

  1. “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche / Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso” [“Tonight I can write the saddest lines. / I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too”].

 

Works Cited
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