Edgar Allan Poe has always been famous for his dark imagination, and for his crazy gift with words. We see both of those things in a big way in "The Haunted Palace." We also see Poe's fascination with madness, and the terrible things that can happen to a human mind. See, in this poem, Poe spins out an elaborate metaphor, comparing a beautiful palace to a human head. That's right: a human head. At first the palace/head is beautiful and stable, then gradually it becomes demented and disorganized. That's a theme that shows up in a lot of Poe's work, from poems like "The Raven" to stories of terror like "The Black Cat," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Tell-Tale Heart."
In fact, "The Haunted Palace" has so much in common with some of Poe's spooky stories that he ended up including it in one of them. He first published the poem by itself in April 1839 in a magazine called American Museum. Then in September of 1839 he included it in his famous tale "The Fall of the House of Usher." In that story, "The Haunted Palace" is turned into a song that the main character, Roderick Usher, sings to the narrator. "The Fall of the House of Usher" is also all about madness and illness and the collapse of buildings and people, so we'd say the poem and the story fit together like a creepy hand in an old spooky glove.
Sometimes, we Shmoopers just have to geek out a little. We love poets and poems of all kinds, but Edgar Allan Poe… well, let's just say he's got a special place in our nerdy poetry hearts. He's just so spooky and gruesome and haunting and weird. And at the same time, sometimes almost in the same line, he can be uplifting and beautiful. So why is this particular poem worth your time? Well, we think Poe does an especially brilliant job of blending the beautiful and the horrible in "The Haunted Palace." He relaxes us, makes us feel comfortable, and then suddenly pulls the rug out from under us. This poem is like a delicious-looking, hot-out-of-the-oven pie, filled with rats. (Okay, that was disgusting; we apologize.)
Look at it this way. Life is always going to be a blend of the sweet and the sour, the light and the dark. When it's good, it's awesome, but when it's bad, it usually really, really stinks. We want poets and poems who can cover the whole range, who can handle the light and the dark equally well. If that's what you want too, Poe's your guy. Who else could take you all the way from the most gorgeous images—"Banners yellow, glorious, golden" (9)—to the most horrifying depths of despair: "A hideous throng rush out forever" (47). You know that friend of yours who learned the guitar but only knows a few chords? Well, Poe is using his entire instrument, pushing it to its limits, taking us as high and as low as language will go.