National Poetry Month, day 19, and Tone Poem Tuesday: Mr. Poe and Maestro Schmitt

Edgar Allan Poe is one of my favorite poets and always has been. In fact, his work partially provides inspiration for my John Lazarus novels; the plan is that each book in this series alludes to Poe or makes reference to him in some way or another. Such is the case with that series’s second book, which I hope to have out in 2023.

“The Haunted Palace” is a beautifully lyrical work of the sadness of beautiful things, lost forever but still leaving behind ghostly remnants of the way they once were.

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

It’s interesting to me, here, that Poe can’t just let his beautiful old palace lapse into memory all by itself; he has to have it happen via an act of violence or a doom applied from without. Is it an invasion by an enemy force? All he says is “evil things in robes of sorrow”, so maybe war comes to this palace…or perhaps a pestilence descends upon the land, or a famine, or a plague. Poe doesn’t tell us any details about the means by which the palace met its end and became haunted, so maybe it doesn’t matter…but why, then, tell us of the evil things in red robes at all?

I had already chosen this poem for today, but then the other morning YouTube prompted me with, among other things, a work by a composer with whom I was unfamiliar: Florent Schmitt. Schmitt was a French composer who lived from 1870 to 1958. He is a more obscure composer, to be sure, but I’ve just read some testimonials that hold his music to be worthy of deeper exploration. Schmitt was fairly prolific, producing work in most of the forms of the day. YouTube presented a piece by Schmitt, and I listened to it a bit and found it interesting.

But what interested me even more was another work, suggested in the sidebar: a piece by Schmitt called Le Palais Hante: “The Haunted Palace”. I did a bit of research and learned that this work is, indeed, inspired by Poe’s poem.

What of Schmitt’s music? It is atmospheric and impressionistic, reminding me most of the sophisticated voice of Ravel. Here is Le Palais Hante by Florent Schmitt.


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