‘The Haunted Palace’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a six stanza poem that is divided into sets of eight lines. These lines loosely conform to a rhyme scheme of ababcdcd, changing from stanza to stanza. There are instances such as in the first four lines of the first stanza, that Poe writes without a rhyming pattern in mind. Additionally, he makes effective use of enjambment, hyperbole, and alliteration throughout ‘The Haunted Palace’.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a majestic palace that is ruled over by “Thought.” He is the rightful king of this realm and his abode has yellow banners that fly above it, and two luminous windows through which “Wanderers” observe the interior goings-on. At first, the palace was grand and peaceful. Then, something unfortunate befalls it.
It becomes clear that the palace is representative of a human head, and it’s degradation, of an onset of depression due to some unnamed “sorrow.”
Analysis of The Haunted Palace
In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace — reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
‘The Haunted Palace’ begins with the speaker describing a lovely green landscape that is unmatched by any other of it’s kind. It is the “greenest” of all the “valleys” that can be seen. Throughout this piece, the reader will notice that Poe makes use of hyperbole. Many phrases and descriptions are pushed to their limit, nothing is average or mundane.
Not only is this valley beautiful, but it is also inhabited, or “tenanted,” by “good angels.” It is unclear who these angels are or what they are doing there, but their presence adds to the beauty and goodness of the land. In the third line of this first stanza, Poe inserts a word, “Once,” which is very important to the narrative. This tells the reader that everything that is being described existed only in the past. It is the first clue that something has happened to change the valley.
As the poem continues it becomes clear that there is a structure on the land, a palace that is “radiant,” or glowing. It stands in the dominion of it’s the monarch, “Thought.” Poe has crafted a palace that is home to the embodiment of “Thought.” This choice might seem strange at first, but when one considers the control that “Thought” has over one’s mind, giving it a place of true, recognized power, makes sense.
The first stanza concludes with the speaker stating that this palace is the most beautiful that an angel or “seraph” has ever graced.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This — all this — was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
The first half of the second stanza is spent further embellishing the exterior of the building. There are banners that “float and flow” in the breeze. The poem takes a turn when the speaker clearly states that all this was in the “olden / Time long ago.” No longer does the palace glow, and no longer, when a breeze touches it, does it come away smelling sweet.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well-befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
In the third stanza of ‘The Haunted Palace’, Poe expands his narrative out from the valley, to the perspective of “Wanderers” who come upon the glorious palace. Those that pass through the “happy valley” are treated to the sight of “two” brightly lit “windows.” If one looked closely through them, the shadows of “Spirits” might be seen “moving musically” to the tune of a “lute.” These ethereal beings are dancing and swaying to the song.
Additionally, one might observe the rounded “throne” where one of a royal birth is sitting. Poe uses the word, “Porphyrogene” as a descriptor for this monarch. This made up adjective derives from the word “porhyrogentite,” referring to a “son born in line to the throne.” This is just another way of reconfirming that the monarch, “Thought,” is the rightful king of his domain.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker comes to the conclusion of the optimistic portion of his story. These lines will be the last before the tides turn on the palace.
Additionally, this is the point in the poem at which it becomes clear what exactly Poe is describing. In the first lines, he states that the palace door was glowing with “pearl and ruby.” When the whole picture of this building is put together, from the ruling “Thought” to the “yellow banners,” luminous windows, and “pearl and ruby” glowing around the door it becomes clear that Poe is describing a metaphorical human head.
This person’s head is represented by the features of a palace and will only become clearer as the poem continues. Through the door or “mouth” of the palace comes “flowing, flowing, flowing,” a “troop of “echoes.” This refers to the human voice, exiting through the mouth. The only job it had was to sing the wisdom of “thought.” This person is caught up in their own praise.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn! — for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
Now as the poem begins to conclude, darkness sets in. Sorrow comes to the palace and “Assails” the “monarch’s high estate.” The happiness that was once known is marred by loss. No longer does “glory” live about the estate, it is nothing but a story.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh — but smile no more.
In the final stanza of ‘The Haunted Palace’, the speaker pulls back to note the change in passing travelers. Those who see the palace now, observe “red-litten windows,” the once luminous eyes are red with sorrow and tears. There is no longer the harmony of song but a “fantastically” frantic movement to a “discordant melody.” This represents a break in the person’s state of mind, they are descending, perhaps, into some kind of deep depression or even madness.
The echoes that once came from the mouth have been replaced with “hideous throngs” of speech that “laugh” but do not smile. The palace is filled with disdain and sorrow.
Poe chose this particular metaphor in an attempt to emphasize the fact that one’s mind is like their own palace. He wanted to physically depict the changes that occur when one is assailed by depression.
About Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. Both of his parents died before he reached the age of three and he was raised as a foster child in Virginia. As a young man, Poe was sent to some of the best schools in the state and excelled in his studies. Unfortunately, his success was mired by his bad habits. He was forced out of university after his foster father refused to pay Poe’s gambling debts.
In 1827, Poe joins the United States Army and published his first collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems. His second collection was published two years later. Neither of these volumes received praise from the public. Poe would eventually make a home for himself alongside his aunt and cousin, Virginia, in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1835, Poe was to become the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, and the next year he married his thirteen-year-old cousin. Throughout the next years of his life, he edited a number of magazines and made a name for himself as a writer and editor. It was also during this time that he wrote some of his best-known stories such as, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Poe’s wife and cousin would die in 1847 from tuberculosis, causing a deepening of his depression and worsening of his alcoholism. To this day there is a mystery surrounding his death. He was found on October 3, 1849, semi-conscious in Baltimore. He died four days later of what was then called, “acute congestion of the brain.” It is now thought that he had perhaps contracted rabies.