It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea.

These two lines, which open the poem, set the scene of the speaker’s tragic tale. The speaker’s opening sentence doesn’t exactly replicate the traditional first line of many fairy tales: “Once upon a time in a faraway land.” However, it does strongly recall that language. By emphasizing that the events recounted in the poem took place “many and many a year ago,” the speaker situates his story in a past so distant it would seem to belong to the time of myth or legend. This strategy for opening the poem has an ambiguous effect, since we as readers don’t actually know how old the speaker is. For instance, it’s possible that he’s an old man and that the story he tells happened during his youth, which from his present perspective seems a lifetime ago. In this case, his evocation of fairy tale time could signal an innocent exaggeration based on his perception of time’s passage. On the other hand, the speaker could be a younger man who lost his beloved only recently. In this case, he may be projecting a relatively fresh trauma back into the mythic past in an attempt to gain perspective on it or distance himself from pain.

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 wingèd seraphs of heaven
    Coveted her and me.

These six lines (7–12) make up the entirety of the poem’s second stanza, which serves two key purposes in the speaker’s narrative. First, they establish the exceptional nature of the love he shared with Annabel Lee. As he makes clear in the middle two lines, their bond was so powerful and significant that it transcended the conventional understanding of love. That is, they shared something that was “more than love.” Furthermore, the speaker insists on the innocence and purity of this transcendent love. As he states in the first line of the passage quoted, both he and his beloved were children at the time. Their youthfulness ensured that their bond remained unblemished by the sexual or emotional complications of adult life. The speaker’s insistence on the innocent purity of their love nicely sets up the final two lines of the passage, where he claims that their bond earned them the envy of the highest angels in heaven: the seraphim. Only the most exceptionally pure love could elicit angelic jealousy, and such, apparently, was the love he shared with Annabel Lee.

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
    My beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
    And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
    In this kingdom by the sea.

These lines close the third stanza (lines 15–20), where the speaker recounts his beloved’s death and burial. Significantly, however, the speaker never explicitly says that Annabel Lee died. Instead, he uses a rhetorical strategy known as ellipsis (ee-LIP-siss), which involves the omission of words or details that can otherwise be inferred from contextual clues. The ellipsis occurs between the second and third lines of the passage quoted here. In one line, the speaker says that a wind chilled Annabel Lee. In the next line, though, we are to understand that time has passed, and Annabel Lee had already died. The speaker refuses to make his beloved’s death explicit, indicating the possibility that he doesn’t fully accept her death. This possibility is suggested by the events narrated in the passage’s final four lines. There, the speaker describes how his beloved’s family came from afar to administer her burial rites. Although the family has every right to bury their kin, the speaker feels a traumatic loss of agency. Annabel Lee’s kinsmen specifically take her away from him, and they cruelly “shut her up,” forever separating the two of them. Unable to mourn her properly, the speaker persists in his denial.

And so, all the night tide, I lie down by the side 
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
    In her sepulchre there by the sea—
    In her tomb by the sounding sea.

The speaker closes the poem with these four lines (lines 38–41), which appear after the speaker has shifted his focus from the past to the present. He has just confessed that he can’t stop thinking about Annabel Lee, especially at night. The glow of the moon makes him dream of her, and the stars remind him of her “bright eyes” (line 36). It is precisely because he can’t escape her memory that he says, in the passage quoted here, that he enters his beloved’s tomb near the sea and lays there with her. Although the poem’s final lines don’t make the image explicit, they do quietly conjure a highly disturbing visual of the speaker curling up with Annabel Lee’s physical remains. Despite the grotesqueness of the act itself, the speaker describes it very placidly. His sense of calm during such an act demonstrates just how significantly his grief has warped his mind. By entering her memorial tomb, the speaker reunites with his beloved both physically and metaphysically. Not only does he finally see her again in this world, he also implies that he’s chosen death so that they may be together in the next one.