In “Annabel Lee,” a grief-stricken man tells the tragic story of his beloved’s untimely death. Though the tale he tells takes place “many and many a year ago” (line 1), the poem’s overall structure emphasizes the speaker’s emotional state in the present moment. For one thing, consider the variable length of the poem’s stanzas. The first two stanzas consist of six lines each, but each of the four stanzas that follow has a different length: eight lines, then six, seven, and eight. The shifting length of the poem’s stanzas could be interpreted as echoing the coming and going of ocean waves. As the speaker reiterates eight times in the poem, his story takes place in a “kingdom by the sea,” and even now he remains in that kingdom. Thus, it’s possible that “the sounding sea” (line 41) of his environment is subtly influencing the variable lengths of his stanzas.

The speaker’s ultimate focus on the present also becomes clear in the way his story unfolds across the poem’s six stanzas. The first two stanzas set the scene and establish his long-ago connection with Annabel Lee, which was so intense that it elicited the envy of the angels. The third stanza then recounts how angelic envy led to his beloved’s sudden death. In the fourth and fifth stanzas, the speaker breaks from his linear story and starts to repeat himself. It is here that the reader begins to sense the speaker’s present motive for telling his story. Instead of narrating what happened after his beloved’s death, the speaker makes another claim about their exceptional love. The speaker’s inflated claims about his eternal bond with Annabel Lee may be interpreted as a form of overcompensation. That is, he insists on his eternal connection to her soul precisely because, in the present, he feels so disconnected from her. This interpretation explains why, in the final stanza, the speaker lays down by Annabel Lee’s tomb. His ongoing grief leads him to seek physical proximity and possibly even death—whatever it takes to prove their eternal bond.