The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

The poem ''The Haunted Palace'' by Edgar Allan Poe tells of a palace with a happy king of long ago that falls to ruin. But Poe has a deeper message. This lesson provides a summary of the poem, explores the ongoing metaphor, and analyzes the meaning.

''The Haunted Palace'' Background

Does it sometimes feel as if your best days are behind you, although you can remember the better days? Many people feel this way, so you are not alone. But for the great American horror writer Edgar Allan Poe, these dark days are really a glimpse into insanity in his poem ''The Haunted Palace''. This poem, originally published in 1839, was later incorporated into Poe's short story ''The Fall of the House of Usher.''

This lesson will explore the poem as it stands alone. Let's take a look at what happens in the poem, find out what is really going on, then dig deep by analyzing the poem.

''The Haunted Palace'' Summary

Part 1: Stanzas 1-4

This poem has a big shift after stanza four, so let's look at the poem before this point and after the shift in order to better keep track of things. Everything appears nice and happy in the first four stanzas.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a wonderful place. This place has ''the greenest of our valleys'' and a ''stately,'' ''radiant'' palace that even the highest angels, the seraphs, find the fairest. Banners of ''yellow, glorious, golden'' wave in the ''gentle air.'' The poem becomes mystical when the speaker looks through two windows and sees ''spirits moving musically'' and the glorious ''ruler of the realm'' inside. The palace is so fine, the door is said to have ''pearl and ruby glowing.'' Even the voices of the singers, referred to as a ''troop of Echoes'' are so beautiful they surpass ''the wit and wisdom of their king.''

In addition to the beauty and pleasantness of the beginning, the other important part to notice is that the first four stanzas are told in the past tense. The author gives several clues that it is in the past tense, including using the word ''once,'' using the past tense of verbs, stating ''This - all this - was in the olden / Time long ago,'' and remembering the palace ''in that sweet day.''

Part 2: Stanzas 5-6

There is a tone shift in stanza five. The happiness comes to an end at the end of stanza four. Stanza five brings a sad tone with ''evil things'' that attack the king's palace. Now the windows have a red light coming out of them. Instead of moving harmoniously, the ''vast forms'' move ''to a discordant melody,'' without their former grace. ''A hideous throng'' rushes out of the door, laughing without smiling.

In addition to the tone shift, there is also a shift in time. The poem moves from its long ago past and is now mostly told in present tense. The good times are ''but a dim-remembered story / Of the old time entombed.'' In other words, all the joy left the kingdom.

Below the Surface

Poe wrote this poem all about a palace that started off happy but then had bad things happen and is now falling apart, right? Wrong! This is just what happens on the surface. The author uses the image of a palace to write about insanity. Let's take a closer look.

The author literally describes a palace while metaphorically describing a person's head. The banners of ''yellow, glorious, golden'' are really blonde tufts of hair. The two windows are eyes. The door with pearls and ruby are a mouth full of teeth. The monarch or ruler is called ''Thought,'' so the ''palace'' or person is ruled by their mind. The ''echoes,'' or voices, merely repeat what one can understand about a person from looking at the expression of their eyes or mouth. Body language, such as flashing eyes or a smirking mouth, can convey many thoughts. Instead of the happy spirits - or ideas - inside the head of this person, by the end of the poem there are only horrific spirits.

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