Speak to the Spirit World with 'Haunted Houses' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Speak to the Spirit World with 'Haunted Houses' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

Neither mischeiveous poltergeists nor angry spirits who intend harm, the phantoms of Longfellow’s poem are the souls who linger in our memories and, therefore, in our homes.

They share our safe spaces and observe — or maybe even join us — in our daily activities. At the table. By the fireside. They float, they waft, they glide, and they’re connected to us for all time.

The poem’s regular rhythm and ABAB rhyming structure — along with its gentle content — work in concert to evoke a feeling of peacefulness not usually associated with the notion of haunting. Longfellow’s assertion that all houses are haunted houses is comforting, rather than menacing, a recognition that those we’ve loved can still walk among us, so long as they live in our memories.

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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.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, on February 27, 1807, and came to be known as one of the ‘Fireside Poets,’ a group of 19th-century American poets associated with New England. He wrote lyrical poems inspired by mythology, history, and legend. His works were quite popular and widely translated, making him the best-known poet in the English-speaking world at the time. He was the first American poet to be honored with a bust in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Top image courtesy of Lizelle De Wit/Unsplash.

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