"Ulalume" is a poem
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 written by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

 in 1847. Much like a few of Poe's other poems (such as "The Raven
The Raven
"The Raven" is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in January 1845. It is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven's mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man's slow descent into madness...

", "Annabel Lee
Annabel Lee
"Annabel Lee" is the last complete poem composed by American author Edgar Allan Poe. Like many of Poe's poems, it explores the theme of the death of a beautiful woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, has a love for her so strong that even angels are jealous. He...

", and "Lenore
"Lenore" is a poem by the American author Edgar Allan Poe. It began as a different poem, "A Paean", and was not published as "Lenore" until 1843.- Interpretation :...

"), "Ulalume" focuses on the narrator's loss of a beautiful woman due to her death. Poe originally wrote the poem as an elocution
Elocution is the study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone.-History:In Western classical rhetoric, elocution was one of the five core disciplines of pronunciation, which was the art of delivering speeches. Orators were trained not only on proper diction, but on the proper...

 piece and, as such, the poem is known for its focus on sound. Additionally, it makes many allusions, especially to mythology, and the identity of Ulalume herself, if a real person, has been questioned.


The poem takes place on a night in the "lonesome October" with a gray sky as the leaves are withering for the autumn season. In the region of Weir, by the lake of Auber, the narrator roams with a "volcanic" heart. He has a "serious and sober" talk with his soul, though he does not realize it is October or where his roaming is leading him. He remarks on the star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s as night falls, remarking on the brightest one, and wonders if it knows that the tears on his cheeks have not yet dried. His soul, however, mistrusts the star and where it is leading them. Just as the narrator calms his soul, he realizes he unconsciously has walked to the vault
Burial vault (tomb)
A burial vault is a structural underground tomb.It is a stone or brick-lined underground space or 'burial' chamber for the interment of a dead body or bodies. They were originally and are still often vaulted and usually have stone slab entrances...

 of his "lost Ulalume" on the very night he had buried her one year before.


Unlike Poe's poem "Annabel Lee
Annabel Lee
"Annabel Lee" is the last complete poem composed by American author Edgar Allan Poe. Like many of Poe's poems, it explores the theme of the death of a beautiful woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, has a love for her so strong that even angels are jealous. He...

", this poem presents a narrator who is not conscious of his return to the grave of his lost love. This reveals the speaker's dependence on Ulalume and her love; his losing her leaves him not only sad but absolutely devastated and, by visiting her grave, he unconsciously subjects himself to further self-inflicted anguish. The poem has a heavy focus on decay and deterioration: the leaves are "withering" and the narrator's thoughts are "palsied". Like many of Poe's later poems, "Ulalume" has a strong sense of rhythm and musicality. The verses are purposefully sonorous, built around sound to create feelings of sadness and anguish. The poem employs Poe's typical theme of the "death of a beautiful woman", which he considered "the most poetical topic in the world". Biographers and critics have often suggested that Poe's obsession with this theme stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother Eliza Poe
Eliza Poe
Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe was an English-born American actress and the mother of the American author Edgar Allan Poe.-Life and career:...

, his wife, and his foster mother Frances Allan.

The identity of Ulalume in the poem is questionable. Poe scholar and distant relative Harry Lee Poe
Harry Lee Poe
Harry Lee Poe is the Charles Colson Chair of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and author of a number of books.He is an indirect descendant of the family of Edgar Allan Poe, and president of the Poe Foundation...

 says it is autobiographical and shows Poe's grief over the recent death of his wife Virginia
Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe
Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe was the wife of American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The couple were first cousins and married when Virginia Clemm was 13 and Poe was 27...

. Scholar Scott Peeples notes that "Ulalume" serves as a sequel to "The Raven". Poetically, the name Ulalume emphasizes the letter L
Ł or ł, described in English as L with stroke, is a letter of the Polish, Kashubian, Sorbian, Łacinka , Łatynka , Wilamowicean, Navajo, Dene Suline, Inupiaq, Zuni, Hupa, and Dogrib alphabets, several proposed alphabets for the Venetian language, and the ISO 11940 romanization of the Thai alphabet...

, a frequent device in Poe's female characters such as "Annabel Lee
Annabel Lee
"Annabel Lee" is the last complete poem composed by American author Edgar Allan Poe. Like many of Poe's poems, it explores the theme of the death of a beautiful woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, has a love for her so strong that even angels are jealous. He...

", "Eulalie
"Eulalie," or "Eulalie - A Song," is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the July 1845 issue of The American Review and reprinted shortly thereafter in the August 9, 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal.-Summary:...

", and "Lenore
"Lenore" is a poem by the American author Edgar Allan Poe. It began as a different poem, "A Paean", and was not published as "Lenore" until 1843.- Interpretation :...

". If it really stands for a deceased love, Poe's choosing to refer to Ulalume as "the thing" and "the secret" do not seem endearing terms. In one possible view, Ulalume may be representative of death itself.


Much work has been done by scholars to identify all of Poe's allusions, most notably by Thomas Ollive Mabbott
Thomas Ollive Mabbott
Thomas Ollive Mabbott was an American professor and scholar of literature, perhaps best known for his research on writer Edgar Allan Poe. He has also done studies on John Milton, Walt Whitman, Thomas Chatterton, and Edward Coote Pinkney.Mabbott was born and raised in New York City...

, though other scholars suggest that the names throughout the poem should be valued only because of their poetic sounds. The title itself suggests wailing (from the Latin ululare). The name may also allude to the Latin lumen, a light symbolizing sorrow. The narrator personifies his soul as the ancient Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

Psyche (psychology)
The word psyche has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and has been one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older...

, representing the irrational but careful part of his subconsciousness. It is Psyche who first feels concerned about where they are walking and makes the first recognition that they have reached Ulalume's vault.

The bright star they see is Astarte
Astarte is the Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times...

, a goddess associated with Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

 and connected with fertility
Fertility is the natural capability of producing offsprings. As a measure, "fertility rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. Fertility differs from fecundity, which is defined as the potential for reproduction...

 and sexuality
Human sexuality
Human sexuality is the awareness of gender differences, and the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also be described as the way someone is sexually attracted to another person whether it is to opposite sexes , to the same sex , to either sexes , or not being...

. The "sinfully scintillant planet" in the original final verse is another reference to Venus. Astarte may represent a sexual temptress or a vision of the ideal. Mount Yaanek, with its "sulphurous currents" in the "ultimate climes of the pole", has been associated with Mount Erebus
Mount Erebus
Mount Erebus in Antarctica is the southernmost historically active volcano on Earth, the second highest volcano in Antarctica , and the 6th highest ultra mountain on an island. With a summit elevation of , it is located on Ross Island, which is also home to three inactive volcanoes, notably Mount...

, a volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

 in Antarctica first sighted in 1841, although Yaanek's location is specified as being in "the realms of the boreal pole", indicating an Arctic location rather than an Antarctic one for the fictional counterpart. The Auber and Weir references in the poem may be to two contemporaries of Poe: Daniel François Esprit Auber
Daniel Auber
Daniel François Esprit Auber was a French composer.-Biography:The son of a Paris print-seller, Auber was born in Caen in Normandy. Though his father expected him to continue in the print-selling business, he also allowed his son to learn how to play several musical instruments...

, a composer of sad operatic tunes, and Robert Walter Weir
Robert Walter Weir
Robert Walter Weir was an American artist, best known as an educator, and as an historical painter. He was considered an artist of the Hudson River school, was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1829, and an instructor at the United States Military Academy...

, a painter of the Hudson River School
Hudson River school
The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism...

 famous for his landscapes.

Publication history

Poe wrote the poem on the request of Reverend Cotesworth Bronson, who had asked Poe for a poem he could read at one of his lectures on public speaking
Public speaking
Public speaking is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners...

. He asked Poe for something with "vocal variety and expression". Bronson decided not to use the poem Poe sent him, "Ulalume". Poe then submitted the poem to Sartain's
John Sartain
John Sartain was an artist who pioneered mezzotint engraving in the United States.-Biography:John Sartain was born in London, England on October 24, 1808. He learned line engraving, and produced several of the plates in William Young Ottley's Early Florentine School . In 1828, he began to do...

 Union Magazine, which rejected it as too dense. Poe probably saw Bronson's request as a personal challenge as well as an opportunity to enhance his renown, especially after his previous poem "The Raven" had also been demonstrated for its elocution style.

"Ulalume - A Ballad" was finally published, albeit anonymously, in the American Whig Review
American Review: A Whig Journal
The American Review, alternatively known as The American Review: A Whig Journal and The American Whig Review, was a New York City-based monthly periodical. Published by Wiley and Putnam, it was owned and operated by George H. Colton.-History:...

 in December, 1847. Originally, Poe had sold his essay "The Rationale of Verse", then unpublished, to the Reviews editor George Hooker Colton. Colton did not immediately print the manuscript, so Poe exchanged it for "Ulalume".

It was reprinted by Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis , also known as N. P. Willis, was an American author, poet and editor who worked with several notable American writers including Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He became the highest-paid magazine writer of his day. For a time, he was the employer of former...

, still anonymously, in the Home Journal with a note asking who the author was, on Poe's request, to stir up interest. Some, including Evert Augustus Duyckinck
Evert Augustus Duyckinck
Evert Augustus Duyckinck was an American publisher and biographer. He was associated with the literary side of the Young America movement in New York.-Life and work:...

, presumed that the poem's author was Willis. The initial publication had 10 stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s. Poe's literary executor
Literary executor
A literary executor is a person with decision-making power in respect of a literary estate. According to Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide "A will may appoint different executors to deal with different parts of the estate...

 Rufus Wilmot Griswold
Rufus Wilmot Griswold
Rufus Wilmot Griswold was an American anthologist, editor, poet, and critic. Born in Vermont, Griswold left home when he was 15 years old. He worked as a journalist, editor, and critic in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere. He built up a strong literary reputation, in part due to his 1842...

 was the first to print "Ulalume" without its final stanza, now the standard version. Poe himself once recited the poem with the final stanza, but admitted it was not intelligible and that it was scarcely clear to himself.

Critical response

Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

, in his essay "Vulgarity in Literature", calls "Ulalume" "a carapace
A carapace is a dorsal section of the exoskeleton or shell in a number of animal groups, including arthropods such as crustaceans and arachnids, as well as vertebrates such as turtles and tortoises. In turtles and tortoises, the underside is called the plastron.-Crustaceans:In crustaceans, the...

 of jewelled sound", implying it lacks substance. Huxley uses the poem as an example of Poe's poetry being "too poetical", equivalent to wearing a diamond ring on every finger. Poet Daniel Hoffman
Daniel Hoffman
Daniel Gerard Hoffman is an American poet, essayist, and academic. He was appointed the twenty-second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1973.-Biography:Hoffman was born in New York City...

 says the reader must "surrender his own will" to the "hypnotic spell" of the poem and its "meter of mechanical precision". "Reading 'Ulalume' is like making a meal of marzipan
Marzipan is a confection consisting primarily of sugar and almond meal. Persipan is a similar, yet less expensive product, in which the almonds are replaced by apricot or peach kernels...

", he says. "There may be nourishment in it but the senses are deadened by the taste, and the aftertaste gives one a pain in the stomach".

The poem did, however, receive some praise. An early 20th century edition of Encyclopædia Britannica referred to noted how the sound in "Ulalume" was successful. It said the "monotonous reiterations [of] 'Ulalume' properly intoned would produce something like the same effect upon a listener knowing no word of English that it produces on us." George Gilfillan
George Gilfillan
George Gilfillan was a Scottish author and poet. He was one of the spasmodic poets, and an editor and commentator of earlier British poetry. He was born at Comrie, Perthshire, where his father, the Rev. Samuel Gilfillan, the author of some theological works, was for many years minister of a...

 remarked in the London Critic:
After Poe's death
Death of Edgar Allan Poe
The death of Edgar Allan Poe on October 7, 1849, has remained mysterious: the circumstances leading up to it are uncertain and the cause of death is disputed. On October 3, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, "in great distress, and ... in need of immediate assistance",...

, Thomas Holley Chivers
Thomas Holley Chivers
Thomas Holley Chivers was an American doctor-turned-poet from the state of Georgia. He is best known for his friendship with Edgar Allan Poe and his controversial defense of the poet after his death....

 claimed "Ulalume" was plagiarized
Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous...

 from one of his poems. Chivers made several similar unfounded accusations against Poe. Even so, he said the poem was "nector mixed with ambrosia
In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods , often depicted as conferring ageless immortality upon whoever consumes it...

". Another friend of Poe, Henry B. Hirst, suggested in the January 22, 1848, issue of the Saturday Courier that Poe had found the "leading idea" of the poem in a work by Thomas Buchanan Read
Thomas Buchanan Read
Thomas Buchanan Read , was an American poet and portrait painter.-Biography:Read was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania on March 12, 1822....


Bret Harte
Bret Harte
Francis Bret Harte was an American author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering life in California.- Life and career :...

 composed a parody of the poem entitled "The Willows" featuring the narrator, in the company of a woman called Mary, running out of credit at a bar:
And I said 'What is written, sweet sister,
At the opposite side of the room?'
She sobbed, as she answered, 'All liquors
Must be paid for ere leaving the room.

In other media

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    Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost...

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    This Side of Paradise
    This Side of Paradise is the debut novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Published in 1920, and taking its title from a line of the Rupert Brooke poem Tiare Tahiti, the book examines the lives and morality of post-World War I youth. Its protagonist, Amory Blaine, is an attractive Princeton University...

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    A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

     Amory Blaine recites "Ulalume" while wandering through the countryside. Another character, Eleanor Savage, calls Blaine "the auburn-haired boy who likes 'Ulalume.'" When the two are caught in a thunderstorm, Savage volunteers to play the role of Psyche while Blaine recites the poem.
  • In H. P. Lovecraft
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    Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....

    's novella
    A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000...

     At the Mountains of Madness
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    , a character refers to the poem. While looking at a mountain, a character suggests "this mountain, discovered in 1840, had undoubtedly been the source of Poe's image when he wrote seven years later", followed by a few lines of "Ulalume".
  • Roger Zelazny
    Roger Zelazny
    Roger Joseph Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for his The Chronicles of Amber series...

    's 1993 novel, A Night in the Lonesome October
    A Night in the Lonesome October
    A Night in the Lonesome October is a satirical novel by Roger Zelazny published in 1993, near the end of his life. It was his last book.The book is divided in 32 chapters, each representing one "night" in the month of October . The story is told in the first-person, akin to journal entries...

    , gets its title from this poem, though the book seems to draw little else from Poe.
  • In the Tennessee Williams
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    Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III was an American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs...

     play A Streetcar Named Desire
    A Streetcar Named Desire (play)
    A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. The play opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947, and closed on December 17, 1949, in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The Broadway production was...

     the character Blanche DuBois
    Blanche DuBois
    Blanche DuBois is a fictional character in Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire...

     likens the residence of her sister Stella
    Stella Kowalski
    Stella Kowalski is one of the main characters in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire. She is the younger sister of central character Blanche DuBois.-In the play:...

     to the "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir", a reference to "Ulalume".
  • In Stanley Kubrick
    Stanley Kubrick
    Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

    's Lolita
    Lolita (1962 film)
    Lolita is a 1962 comedy-drama film by Stanley Kubrick based on the classic novel of the same title by Vladimir Nabokov. The film stars James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Sue Lyon as Dolores Haze and Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze with Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.Due to the MPAA's restrictions at...

     (1962), Humbert Humbert (James Mason
    James Mason
    James Neville Mason was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry throughout his career and was nominated for three Academy Awards as well as three Golden Globes .- Early life :Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the...

    ) reads a fragment of the poem to Lolita (Sue Lyon
    Sue Lyon
    - Lolita :Sue Lyon was 14 years old when she was cast in the role of Dolores "Lolita" Haze, the sexually charged adolescent and the object of an older man's obsessions in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film, Lolita. She was chosen for the role partly because her curvy figure suggested an older adolescent...

  • In his history of the Union Army, This Hallowed Ground, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Bruce Catton
    Bruce Catton
    Charles Bruce Catton was an American historian and journalist, best known for his books on the American Civil War. Known as a narrative historian, Catton specialized in popular histories that emphasized colorful characters and historical vignettes, in addition to the basic facts, dates, and analyses...

     places the American Civil War Battle of Chickamauga
    Battle of Chickamauga
    The Battle of Chickamauga, fought September 19–20, 1863, marked the end of a Union offensive in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia called the Chickamauga Campaign...

     as occurring in a dark and frightening place evocative of Poe's "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir".
  • The singer Jeff Buckley
    Jeff Buckley
    Jeffrey Scott "Jeff" Buckley , raised as Scotty Moorhead, was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was the son of Tim Buckley, also a musician...

    recorded a reading of this poem.

External links

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