Poetry Friday: Haunted Houses

October 31st, 2008

The Stenhouse office is right across the street from the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’d never really thought much of his work until I took a tour a few years ago of the home. I had no idea he was responsible for so many common phrases and sayings in our language today. Walt Whitman wrote after his death: “He comes as the poet of melancholy, courtesy, deference — poet of all sympathetic gentleness — and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were ask’d to name the man who has done more and in more valuable directions, for America.” So here’s a Longfellow poem for Halloween. I’m not sure I quite get the last two stanzas — so if you have any insight, let me know!

Haunted Houses

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses.Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

Entry Filed under: Poetry Friday

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jennifer Knoblock  |  October 31st, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Lovely and thought-provoking–thanks! Stanza 7 especially speaks to me today.
    And the last two stanzas–how difficult and yet beautiful to reach that world of imagination and creativity, and how it wavers beneath you when you try to fix your thoughts and dreams with words.

  • 2. Fiddler  |  October 31st, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting poem today! I’m going to have to come back and read it again a few times and ponder in between times. I especially like stanza eight, with “this perpetual jar Of earthly wants and aspirations high”–such music in his poetry!

  • 3. Sylvia Vardell  |  October 31st, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Longfellow was the first poet whose work I memorized.
    Thanks for participating in Poetry Friday at PoetryforChildren this Halloween! Stop by any time…

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