“The Haunted Palace” Everyone has seen a once beautiful estate fallen into disrepair: expensive satin curtains, ripped and stained; high support columns, broken and crumbling; moss covering the once brightly painted exterior. People look at it, sigh with disappointment at what was and no longer is, and then move on. The cause of ruin is rarely known, but the effects are clear. This is the scene portrayed in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Haunted Palace. ” Poe paints a picture of an elegant manor with spectacular features that comes under the influence of evil and thus falls to pieces.
Upon closer inspection, though, the reader begins to see that the meaning of the poem delves much deeper than the destruction of a house: it is the destruction of the human mind that truly concerns Poe. The double meaning is central to the poem and once the pattern of symbolism is established, the other details fall nicely into place. Poe uses diction to establish the brilliance that pervades the house and symbolism within the poem equating the house to a human mind to demonstrate its susceptibility to corruption.
Poe’s diction emphasizes the initial majesty of the house. At first, the house is “radiant” (4), “glorious” (9), “happy” (17), “fair” (26), “sparkling” (28), and “beaut[iful]” (31). Poe goes as far as saying that “good angels tenanted” the house (2) and the home is softer and kinder than angels’ clothing (7). Then, in the fifth stanza, the scene changes drastically: the palace is no longer majestic and stately, it is inhabited by evil and is in disarray. It is now permeated by “sorrow” (33) and is “desolate” (35).
The sudden shift from uplifting words to mournful ones alerts the reader to the dire change that has taken place in the house. After a second reading, the audience begins to notice a pattern of symbolism. Poe equates the “Thought’s dominion” (5), “banners,” (9), “windows” (18), “door” (26), and “Echoes” (29) to a human’s head, hair, eyes, mouth, and voice. The hair is flowing and beautiful, the eyes are understanding and see everything transparently, the mouth has ruby gums and pearly teeth, and the voice carries in it the wit and wisdom of the mind it speaks for.
It is clear that this mind has brilliant ideas (“spirits”) (19) constantly formulating and expanding within it. The reader is, presumably, familiar with the sight of a mansion that is clearly luxurious. The reader may not, however, be able to picture a clearly brilliant mind. Poe’s use of symbolism enables the reader to visualize the brilliance and wealth of the “monarch’s” mind prior to its destruction. Symbolism is still essential to the poem in the final stanzas, even though the scene has changed.
The once magnificent mansion has been invaded by evil. The windows are now “red-litten” (42), meaning the eyes are red and evil. The spirits still move through the house (the ideas still move in the mind), but now in a distorted way. Instead of Echoes (a voice) full of wisdom, a “hideous throng” (47) rushes out of the door (the mouth), that will “laugh – but smile no more” (48). The eerie mad laughter escaping the mouth of the “king” is the most horrifying aspect of change.
Where the “king’s” mind was once strong and productive, constantly growing, it is now perverted and ruined. The reader can see the house: paint chipped, windows broken, a manifestation of evil. This comparison allows the reader to picture the broken mind of the once great “king. ” The mansion looked impenetrable, invulnerable. But it was nevertheless the victim of evil. The mind was corrupted in the same manner and Poe’s symbolism allows for a more tangible representation of the process.
Poe’s use of symbolism and diction provide a concrete description of the mind’s destruction when compared to the destruction of a great estate. The drastic change in diction from words of elegance and reverence to words of sorrow and despair demonstrate the magnitude of the change occurring in the house and mind. The symbolism allows the reader to more accurately envision the process and effects of the mind’s devastation as it can envision a house falling to pieces. Poe’s techniques allow the reader to solidify an abstraction in order to comprehend it.