Analysis of the Poem by Edgar Allan Poe “Bridal Ballad”
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Bridal Ballad is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe that focuses on the themes of marriage, love, loss and a desire for happiness. It also concentrates on the symbolism of a wedding ring as finality as well as the despair and hopelessness that comes with it. The poem demonstrates that no matter how powerful and legally binding a marriage is it cannot change who your heart beats for. Bridal Ballad was first composed and published simply as “Ballad” in the 1837 January edition of the Southern Literary Messenger. It was later re-titled as “Bridal Ballad” when it was printed in the 31st of July edition of the Saturday Evening Post in 1841. The stanzas, as well as rhyming and other techniques, construct a natural flow and rhythm for the poem and emphasise the bride’s emotional distress. The poem is one of the few works by Edgar Allan Poe to be written in the perspective of a woman, specifically a recently married bride who has lost her true love.
Marriage is one of the main themes in the Bridal Ballad. To be fair, the whole poem is about marriage and the emotions a particular bride goes through, throughout her wedding day. She is marrying a wealthy lord who can give her “satin and jewels” and she is content, but not really happy. The marriage feels forced, or arranged, like as if the bride did not have much choice in the matter. She had to accept, for he was wealthy and could give her and her family a luxurious and easy lifestyle, all she had to do was say ‘yes’ and in doing so, forget the one she loved.
Love also makes an appearance in the poem. It becomes known that the bride had a previous lover, who had died in battle. She remembers him on her wedding day and when her groom “breathed his vow” she thought the voice sounded like “his who fell / In…battle”. For one bizarre and gut-wrenching moment, the bride imagines that she is marrying her lover and that he “is happy now”. Unfortunately, reality sets in and she comes to terms with the truth: her loved one is dead and is not coming back.
Loss is another theme that is presented in the Bridal Ballad. The Bride is heartbroken for she cannot be with her beloved and is about to belong to someone else. The Bride loses her dreams and hopes and is forced into reality. She feels as though her “faith [must] be broken” and her “heart [must] be broken” for she feels so dejected and miserable that she cannot be with the one she loves. Thus she can never be truly “happy”.
The quest for happiness is probably one of the more depressing themes throughout the poem. The bride wants more than anything to match God’s powers and bring back her lover from the dead, but she knows it’s a hopeless dream. (Would God I could awaken! / For I dream I know not how!) She wants the groom to be dead and is “thinking [of] him dead” happily on her wedding day as his death means she could continue to be faithful to her beloved and live a moderately happy life without guilt and without a husband. She fears “an evil step be taken” for she has agreed to marry this man and ultimately, breaking her ties with her dead lover. She is forced to act “happy” and content throughout the whole ordeal for this is what everyone wanted: everyone except herself. She now has to wear “a ring, as a token” that she is definitely not “happy now”.
The ring is very symbolic in the poem as it represents much more than just matrimony. A single gold band around ones forth finger is a symbol of possession. The bride belongs to this man, not her lover and she will for the rest of her life. For the bride, it is a painful reminder of turning her back on her true love and the reasons behind it. The ring also reminds her that her dreams of being with her true love are lost and that she has to accept reality and all its misery that it brings.
Each technique used in Bridal Ballad all share two similar purposes: to enhance the reader’s reading experience as well as the bride’s emotional distress but also in making the poem easier to understand and to appreciate. This poem has four main techniques: rhyme, perspective, repetition and stanzas.
The rhyming pattern in the Bridal Ballad is as follows: the second and the last line in each stanza rhyme whilst the remaining lines in each stanza rhyme with one another. The rhyming creates flow and a natural rhythm for the reader to follow with. Rhyming also emphasises the entire line, similar to using caps lock or bold print. It also helps in understanding the bride’s circumstance and what she is feeling at that particular stage.
The poem is in first person and it is in the perspective of the bride-to-be. Having the poem in first person gives an insight into the characters mind and the feelings they must be going through. In this poem it is fairly easily to understand when the bride is content, sarcastic, joyous and depressed mainly because it is entirely in first person. When a poem or story is in first person, it is quite easily to “slip into the characters shoes” and imagine being the character in the poem. This also increases understanding and knowledge of what is happening.
Repetition occurs a lot in this poem, but mainly the words “happy now” in the last line of each stanza. Repetition in this line not only emphasises the line, but the entire stanza as well. The repeating of happy now displays the bride’s tone in the stanza and what she feels about what is happening. It emphasises her ultimate desires: to have the one she loves and complete her quest for happiness.
Having stanzas in a poem is ingenious. It breaks up the plot and storyline into bite-size, brain-understanding chunks and makes it a lot easier to understand the entire poem. The stanzas are broken up into 5, 6 or 7 lines each. Apart, from making the poem easier to understand, the breaking up of a poem creates natural flow and rhythm. There are five stanzas in this poem, each depicting a different emotion the bride is feeling on her wedding day.
The overall tone of this poem is one of great sadness. At times the bride is sarcastically bitter and at others is content. But if there was one word to describe this poem and the emotions this bride is going through it would be depressing. The fact that the bride has to put up with the fact that she can never belong to the man of her dreams is heartbreaking as is the fact that she seemingly cannot get over him. She has had to put everyone else’s happiness in front of her own and as a result is dejected and miserable. Stuck with her unpleasant reality and concrete future, she must learn to force the appearance of happiness and convince everyone including herself that she is indeed “happy now”.
Edgar Allan Poe captures the emotions entangled with marrying for anything but love brilliantly. Bridal Ballad demonstrates that nothing can bind two people together romantically except for love. Although she may be bound legally to her husband, the bride’s heart is with her dead one. One can definitely say that until she is reunited with her loved one, she will be anything but “happy”.