I had never read this poem before, but the title seemed like it would be appropriate for one of my October posts. I found it to be excellent. The poem is not very long, but too long to include in this post, so if needed, click here to read it online before continuing.
I interpret the haunted palace as a metaphor for the mind of a depressed individual slipping into insanity. In the first stanza, Poe makes the connection between the palace and the mind of a person when he refers to the palace as “Thought’s dominion.”
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reader its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!
A series of events occur which cause intense sorrow. One can only assume that they are connected to the death of a loved one. These sorrows take their toll on the individual’s psyche, resulting in overwhelming despair.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
Poe uses the symbol of windows to represent the eyes of the individual. He also ties in the idea of the eyes as windows to the psyche, whereby looking into the eyes of the person, you can see into their being. Poe contrasts the way the eyes appear. The first reference to the “windows” is before the plunge into depression.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
In the next reference, after the person has sunk into despair, the eyes become bloodshot and reflect the painful memories that crowd the brain.
And travellers now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
The last four lines of the poem are what lead me to believe that the person is moving from depression to insanity. It is the laughter, described as hideous and void of mirth, that conjures an image of a madman laughing as the last remnants of sanity are washed away.
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh—but smile no more.
I find the idea of slipping into insanity to be incredibly scary. It can happen to anyone. The mind is fragile and a series of events beyond one’s control can send even the soundest of minds spiraling into the abyss. The fact that this can happen to anyone is what makes it a truly terrifying work of horror.