Photo by Kainet
One of my absolute favourite poems is by the American poet Edgar Allan Poe entitled ‘The Haunted Palace’. I first read it in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, one of Poe’s short stories in which the poem plays a crucial role, namely emphasising the theme of one’s descent into madness.
I’m not usually a poem-person, my first choice of literature will always be one of novel-length, however the genius of this one struck me upon reading it.
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!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its rood 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 ramparts plumed and pallid
A winged odour went away.
The poem goes on to speak of the wondrous valley and later in the fifth verse (out of the seven) speaks of ‘…evil things, in robes of sorrow, / Assailed the monarch’s high estate;…’ . What’s so absolutely brilliant about it all is that on the surface the poem appears to be showing the downfall of a dominion, however there’s an underlying story; the dark descent into madness.
There are many clues of this throughout the poem, the first appearing in the fourth and fifth lines; ‘…Radiant palace—reared its head. / In the monarch Thought’s dominion, …’ wherein Poe outright mentions both a head, in the guise of a palace, and a personified vision of thoughts. After all, the head truly is the thought’s domain, is it not?
There’s more of course, hidden within the poem, and each time I read it it’s as though I’m peeling away another layer of the genius. The meanings clarify and solidify in my mind like cheese and the images, both that of the man to whom the head belongs and the palace that sits in the valley, become crisp, nearing reality.
What do you think of this poem? What imagery stands out to you? What themes can you see? And have you read ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’?