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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Twice in the poem the speaker mentions Annabel Lee’s “sepulchre,” a word that refers to a small monument constructed as a tomb for the dead. The speaker references his beloved’s tomb in stanzas 3 and 6. The third stanza recounts the events that led to Annabel Lee’s untimely death, after which “her highborn kinsmen came / And bore her away from me, / To shut her up in a sepulchre” (lines 17–19). The sixth and final stanza finds the speaker laying down by his deceased beloved, “In her sepulchre there by the sea” (line 40). Whereas the speaker’s first reference to Annabel Lee’s tomb emphasizes the disconnection he felt after her kinsmen “shut her up” in the tomb, the second reference underscores the speaker’s yearning for reconnection. No longer content simply to visit his beloved’s tomb by the sea, he joins her inside it, laying down beside her physical remains. In this way, Annabel Lee’s tomb is a symbol with a twofold meaning. On the one hand, it symbolizes her tragic death, which brought an abrupt and untimely end to their young love. On the other hand, the tomb symbolizes the speaker’s desire for their love to live on eternally.
As the speaker tells us no fewer than eight times in six stanzas, the events recounted in “Annabel Lee” took place in “a kingdom by the sea.” The seaside setting plays both a formal and symbolic role in the poem. On a formal level, the speaker subtly evokes the sounds and rhythms of the sea throughout, both through the use of a variable meter and through repetition of key end-rhyme words. However, the sea takes on a clear symbolic function in the poem’s final stanza, when the speaker retreats to the seaside and joins Annabel Lee in her tomb there:
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.
In these lines (38–41), which close the poem, the speaker expresses his desire to be reconnected with his long-lost beloved. His desire is so profound that he seems ready to die by her side, perhaps to be swallowed by the waves of “the sounding sea.” If we accept this interpretation, then the sea becomes a powerful symbol of mortality, and “the night tide” mentioned in line 38 comes to be understood as an agent of death.