Poetry Sunday: Haunted Houses

Haunted houses are always a popular attraction around this time of year. Tomorrow we'll be celebrating Halloween and then All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, the Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos - when we remember the dead and are visited by their spirits.

Houses reflect the spirits of those who have lived there and died there. As Longfellow says, "All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses." But they are harmless phantoms, inoffensive ghosts, this world of spirits around us.

Spare a thought for that vital breath of the spirit-world as we enter this time of celebration and remembrance.

Haunted Houses

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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. 

Marigolds, a traditional offering for the dead on Dia de los Muertos.


  1. I don't know if anyone died in the house we've been living in for almost 30 years now. But in my childhood apartment, someone had died. Was I growing up with ghosts? If I was, I was never bothered by one.

    1. I don't think anyone ever died in the house where we live, but I do sometimes feel the spirit of the people who lived here before, even though we've been here now for almost 30 years. I think we cannot help leaving impressions of ourselves in the places where we live.

  2. This made me think of my parents' last home, now of course owned by someone else. And just this week I saw pictures of my ex-husband, now deceased, in my sister-in-laws posts on Facebook for her 44th anniversary. The man who I once loved but then divorced, visited me in my dreams.

    1. The spirits of the dead are all around us and they visit us both in dreams and waking. I often feel the presence of those I have known and loved. I believe, as Longfellow said, that they are inoffensive and harmless - that they are friendly ghosts.


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