Weekend Poem To Consider: ‘Haunted Houses’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy Saturday Everyone!

The “Weekend Poem To Consider” this weekend is ‘Haunted Houses’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Haunted Houses

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.

This is a captivating poem about the connection between the spirit world of ghosts and the present world of the living. I have read this poem several times now, it draws me in with its imagery, and just when I think I understand the meaning, I re-read it and realize that I don’t. One thing is for certain though, this poem makes me think.

Initially, I thought the narrator was a ghost, but now I’m not so sure. I was also approaching this poem with a logical mind that says ‘ghosts aren’t real’ so there must be a deeper meaning, but what exactly is that deeper meaning? What is Longfellow trying to say? I thought the idea he was trying to convey was that those ‘ghosts’ who linger symbolize the lives of those who lived and their spirits remain with us for some reason, maybe as reminders of the past. However, this is a poem about ghosts or ‘spirits’ and the “bridge of light” that descends in order to connect our worlds.  So, just where does this “bridge of light” descend from and what is the purpose? Could it simply be that we are to be aware of a world beyond this one? Could it be an inducement to remember the past and those who lived before? I’m not sure, but this poem keeps me thinking.

What do you think? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this poem.  What is the meaning of this poem to you?  Tell me in the comments below.


6 thoughts on “Weekend Poem To Consider: ‘Haunted Houses’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  1. I thought this review was thoughtful and expressive. I’d never heard of the poem before The Wife ™ introduced me to it. The narrator, to me, is clairvoyant, among the living but able to see, hear and possibly even converse with those who have passed and still inhabit the home he now lives in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on The Recovering Know It All and commented:
    Nice post insightful and encouraging. Would that we all learned to ‘commune’ with the departed in appreciation and reflection. We would learn much if we could only listen to the past and apply to the present and future what we glean. -KIA

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I learnt ‘The Village Blacksmith at school many years ago.
    Great poets create memorable lines
    ‘ Impalpable impressions on the air’
    As soon as I read ‘ thronged with quiet inoffensive ghosts’ my mind flashed to Walter de La Mare’s The Listeners.
    ‘Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair’
    The dead are all around us but it takes the poet to bring them back to life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had not heard of The Listeners before. But the ‘host of phantom listeners’ does evoke the same sort of imagery. Your right though, “great poets create memorable lines”. Thanks for sharing!


  5. Pingback: Haunted Houses by H.W. Longfellow | The Recovering Know It All

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