The Haunted Palace
Analysis: Form and Meter
Irregular Trochaic Tetrameter, Regular Rhyme, and A Few Twists
The first thing to notice about the form of this poem is the way it's split up into sections (stanzas). There are six stanzas in this poem, and each one has eight lines. That basic, regular structure gives the poem a kind of anchor, even though all kinds of crazy things happen in "The Haunted Palace." The breaks between the stanzas also help Poe to mark a major shift in the poem. The first four stanzas are about the happy past, while the last two are about the miserable present. That epic shift is neatly marked by the break between the fourth and fifth stanzas.
The meter of this poem is also carefully laid out, but it doesn't follow its own rules as carefully as the stanzas do. (Remember, this poem is partly about how order breaks down, and how madness can creep in and wreck even the most solid-seeming structures.) The basic meter of the poem is called "trochaic tetrameter." That means that each line has four pairs of syllables, with the emphasis on the first syllable of the pair (a trochee is a two-syllable pairing where the first syllable is stressed and the second isn't). For example, the word "golden" (9) is a troche: "golden." You hear it? DAdum. So, a regular line of trochaic tetrameter would have four of these sounds: DAdum, DAdum, DAdum, DAdum. Line 9 is actually a great example of that:
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
See how that works? Well, that's the basic pattern, but Poe strategically breaks it from time to time. The next three lines (10-12) are a good example:
On its roof did float and flow, (trochaic tetrameter)
(This—all this—was in the olden (trochaic tetrameter)
Time long ago,) (????)
The first two lines (10 and 11) are pretty solidly trochaic tetrameter. The last one, line 12, is much less regular. It's a deliberate break in the rhythm, and it helps to set us up for all the craziness and disorder that's going to come in this poem.
Poe pulls off the same effect with the rhyme scheme, too. Again, there's a general pattern here, but Poe isn't afraid to mess with it when he feels like it. Let's take the second stanza as an example. We'll put the rhyming words in bold, and note their end rhyme sounds using capital letters:
Banners yellow, glorious, golden, A
On its roof did float and flow, B
(This—all this—was in the olden A
Time long ago,) B
And every gentle air that dallied, C
In that sweet day, D
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid, C?
A winged odor went away. D
See how that works? Each stanza is made up of pairs of alternating rhymed lines. If we were to write out the pattern it would look like this: ABABCDCD. Sometimes, though, Poe switches it up a little, like on the two lines marked C in the example up above. "Dallied" and "pallid" don't rhyme, but they're pretty close. We call that near rhyme or slant rhyme. It's an effective technique that subtly reminds us that not all is symmetry and beauty in this poem. Things are, in fact, a little askew.
Finally, and speaking of things being askew, did you notice how few lines actually end before they break off into the next line below? That techniques is known as enjambment. While each stanza comes to a full stop, the lines beforehand are frequently enjambed, creating suspense and pulling the reader along with an insistent force that almost makes it seem that we're out of control. Where's this poem heading? As readers, we're not quite sure, but we're forced to keep the pace as the happy story of the palace-head begins to unravel.