ChapterHaunted Houses

‘Haunted Houses’ is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which talks about the spirits and phantoms roaming freely in our homes. As generations of ancestors depart, their traces still remain even though not always visible. This is comforting and satisfying knowing that our beloved ones have not left us.

Meet the Author

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a well-known American poet from the 19th century.
  • Born: 27th February, 1807
  • Place of Birth: Portland, Maine, United States
  • Died: 24th March, 1882
  • Major Works: The Song of Hiawatha, A Psalm of Life, Evangeline
  • Best Known for: Being the first American to completely translate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
An entrance to beautiful house
Entrance to house

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Summary of the Chapter

“Haunted Houses” does not literally mean ‘haunted’ in a scary way. Rather, haunted here is used in a tender and harmless manner. Just as the homes we inhabit are full of lively souls, they are also surrounded by spirits who don’t have their physical bodies. These wandering supernatural beings evoke a sense of belonging as they continue to be present.

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.

In the first stanza of this English poem, Longfellow affirms that indeed all houses have remnants from the past. It is not a new thing. All families have lost someone. These harmless spirits move about noiselessly performing their actions.

We meet them at the doorway,
On the stair,
Along the passages,
They come and go
Impalpable impressions on the air
A sense of something moving to and fro.

Henry Wordworth Longfellow Potrait
Henry Wordworth Longfellow

Poet is trying to convey that these harmless spirits are very much present in the doorways, passages and staircases. You cannot touch them or see them, but as you wander about there is a sensation of their movements. They come and go.

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

There is much more to what you can see and what meets the eye. The guests at the table, invited by hosts, are not the only ones present. In fact, even these quiet inoffensive ghosts are present. They are quiet and silent like the pictures on the wall.

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

Here the speaker is referring to a stranger who despite being present cannot see these forms the poet sees nor hear them. He merely perceives what is evident, however to the speaker much more 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.

In this stanza, the poet clearly mentions that we have no right over our possessions. We cannot even rightfully claim them because the departed souls of ancestors stretch their dusty hands from their graves still holding on to the old estates.

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

Living Room Inside Home
Living Room

Do you know, the spirit world is everywhere? It floats in the atmosphere, over the mists and dense vapours! In our sensory world, these spirits float like ethereal air. The word ‘ethereal’ means something so light and delicate, almost supernatural.

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.

There is always a conflict of emotions in every individual’s life. All want to pursue worldly aims and desires. However, according to the poem, the ultimate aim in life should be the achievement of spiritual goals and noble aims. That will bring more meaning and happiness to your life.

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.

The poem reveals that confusions and conflicts pertaining to our earthly wants and high aspirations stem from unseen forces in undiscovered planets. We have often read about stars and planets guiding human destinies and shaping lives. Possibly, the poet is referring to these heavenly bodies in the sky which influence these aspects of humanity.

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, -

Just as the moonlight falls on the waves of the sea, and a light appears, thus similarly humans forge a connection with the spirit world through a floating bridge. Through our imaginations, we connect to this mysterious night world and reunite with our loved ones who are no more.

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.

Thus the poem ends on a positive note. It talks about the bridge of light connecting the human and spirit world. Spirits descend and pass through this light, thus reaching us so we do not feel sad and miss them. Our thoughts are always together thus preventing us from feeling low and abysmal.

The poem follows the regular rhythm and ‘abab’ rhyme scheme. There are multiple figures of speech used here.

This perpetual jar/ of earthly wants and aspirations high is an example of metaphor where a direct comparison has been made between two things.

The poet also uses a simile while writing in the term floats like an atmosphere.

In the term, Wander our thoughts above the abyss a human quality has been attributed to an abstract idea, hence it is an example of personification.

Lastly, we can also find examples of alliteration mentioned in the below phrases:

Are haunted houses (h sound)
Our little lives ( l sound)

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Above and Beyond the Text

Horror Fiction

What do titles like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ bring to your mind? Writers like Oscar Wilde and Stephen King have authored famous poems in this genre. Horror fiction is meant to thrill, excite and fascinate. It is a genre which emerged in the 18th century pre-Romantic era.

In the realm of speculative fiction, horror is often divided into the sub genres of psychological horror and supernatural horror. Horror intends to create a frightening and spooky atmosphere and will keep you awake at night. It is quite a popular genre loved by many.

Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

According to the New York Times, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow died as one of America’s most loved poets. He wasn’t just famous. He was an international celebrity icon loved by the likes of Queen Victoria. He was able to speak in about eight languages. He was very hospitable and generous.

Some of Longfellow’s sonnets and other literature are still among the finest. His poems still strike a chord with the current generation of Americans. Students should read his works because they are so appealing and beautifully written. He focuses on rhyme and his poems have a musical quality. He describes the beauty of Mother nature vividly and wonderfully.

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Haunted Houses Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

According to the poet, there should be a balance between earthly wants and high aspirations. We need to keep a check on base desires and aspire for higher goals and ideals in life.

The figure of speech used above is a simile.

Harmless phantoms enter through the open doors of houses.