Alcohol intoxication and edgar allan poe’s ‘the haunted palace’

Category: Alcohol, Death, Poetry
Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
Pages: 4 Views: 555

It is unfair to immediately conclude something of a poem because as is normal with poetry, such is given to various interpretations. While common interpretations of Poe’s ‘The Haunted Palace’ seem to assert confirmedly that the poem describes somebody dying with tuberculosis, this particular interpretation seems to be very faulty in many aspects because it is an interpretation that concretizes the already concrete images in the poem.

In poetry, emotions and abstractions are concretized using tangible images, in which case, the interpretation of any piece of poetry should be dependent on the emotions that these concrete images convey and not on the additional concrete images that can be gleaned for the existing imagery in the poem, otherwise, this would cause ambiguity in the reading.  This is what happened with the ‘tuberculosis’ interpretation – another concrete image was read into the already concrete imagery in the poem.

It would be wise to offer another reading of the poem, in this case, it has to be argued that instead of the tuberculosis interpretation a more accurate reading of the poem would be to consider alcohol intoxication, after all, other than just the images in the poem, the author, Poe was also given to alcoholism after the various tragedies in his life.

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To start this argument, it would first be best to consider why the previous interpretation of death by tuberculosis is faulty.  The reason for this faultiness is that an initial general reading of the poem was applied, and some of the finer details were disregarded in favor of the general reading.  To illustrate these further, take for instance the passage, “Through which came flowing/…

A troop of echoes,/ whose sweet duty was but to sing” (27-30) – most readers interpret this as blood spit, however, there is nothing in these lines that present an image of one coughing out blood; these lines are more accurately alluding to someone who is talking gibberish, hence, the follow-up lines, “In voices of surpassing beauty,/the wit and wisdom of their king” (31-32)

Most readers interpret this as being someone who is coughing up blood, but if read again carefully, the lines actually speak of someone who is incomprehensible, talking without ‘wit and wisdom’. (32)

Another instance in the poem where a faulty reading is made is with the fifth stanza, this stanza is actually where the ‘haunting’ begins in the poem because this stanza talks about how the ‘monarch’ (34) dies.  There are readings of the poem that interpret this as the plague that killed the ‘monarch’ (34), however, if the lines are perused slowly, no such plague can be read into the poem.

Others would argue that, “But evil things, in robes of sorrow” (33) personify the sickness of the king, but if this line is dissected it has to be noticed that what is being referred to here are ‘things’ (33), perhaps to mock the integrity of those whom this line is intended; and these ‘things’ (33) are in ‘robes of sorrow’ (33); the only ones who wore robes during the era of chivalry were knights and other nobility.

These lines show how faultily the poem was interpreted by those who interpreted it as being the description of a head or someone dying with tuberculosis. Moving on, the next step would be to fortify the argument that, indeed, the poem is about drunkenness.  There are many details in the poem that point this particular subject matter out.

Initially, let us consider the general theme of the poem – reading through it, it may be interpreted to be about someone who was initially a man of the people, and eventually, after succumbing to alcoholism, becomes introvert, depressed, and isolated from society.  The ‘death’ in the poem may be interpreted not as physical death but the death of a particular aspect of a human person, such as his social affiliations, his sanity, or his soul.  This is validated in the end of the poem as will be explained in detail shortly.

To begin the discussion of the poem and alcoholism, let us first consider the narrative of the poem which is shown in the first three stanzas.  In these stanzas, which are mostly descriptions of the palace, various allusions are noticed. For instance, in the second stanza, “Banners yellow, glorious, golden/on its roof did float and flow” (9-10); as opposed to the common interpretation of this being representative of the blond hair of the king in the poem, a more accurate interpretation would come from the Puritan tradition.

Yellow ribbons have their origins in the English Civil War when members of the Puritan Army of English Parliament wore yellow ribbons.  This is also the origin of the ‘yellow-ribbon-tied-around-a-tree’ tradition which represents waiting for someone. Therefore, these passages may just simply allude to the Puritan background of the poem, or perhaps, to the fact that the occupant of the palace is waiting for someone’s return.

The parenthesized lines, “(This-all this-was in the olden/Time long ago,)” (11-12)  So, with these lines, it is easily concluded that the occupant of the palace has been waiting for someone for a very long time, which perhaps could be the reason for the development of melancholy, “Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,/A winged odor went away.” The ‘spirits’ (14) in the third stanza do not refer to the ‘ghost’ that we might suppose them to be, but to actual persons – just as it might be used in the idiomatic expression ‘there was not a single soul in sight”.

It is clear from the three stanzas of the narrative of the poem that there is nothing that talks about ‘tuberculosis’ or ‘death’.  These first three stanzas simply set the tone for a paradox as the poem progresses.  The poem is a mini story and as such, it has all the elements of a piece of prose, only rendered in poetry.  The images are very vivid and it is quite surprising that anyone would interpret it as something else more than just what it is actually saying.

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Alcohol intoxication and edgar allan poe’s ‘the haunted palace’. (2016, Jul 01). Retrieved from

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