The Haunted House by Thomas Hood

[Note: From the opening number of Hood’s Magazine, January 1844. Written to accompany an engraving from a painting by Thomas Creswick, bearing the same title.]


“A jolly place, said he, in days of old,
But something ails it now: the spot is curst.”


Some dreams we have are nothing else but dreams,
Unnatural, and full of contradictions;
Yet others of our most romantic schemes
Are something more than fictions.

It might be only on enchanted ground;
It might be merely by a thought’s expansion;
But, in the spirit or the flesh, I found
An old deserted Mansion.

A residence for woman, child, and man,
A dwelling place,–and yet no habitation;
A House,–but under some prodigious ban
Of excommunication.

Unhinged the iron gates half open hung,
Jarr’d by the gusty gales of many winters,
That from its crumbled pedestal had flung
One marble globe in splinters.

No dog was at the threshold, great or small;
No pigeon on the roof–no household creature–
No cat demurely dozing on the wall–
Not one domestic feature.

No human figure stirr’d, to go or come,
No face look’d forth from shut or open casement;
No chimney smoked–there was no sign of Home
From parapet to basement.

With shatter’d panes the grassy court was starr’d;
The time-worn coping-stone had tumbled after;
And thro’ the ragged roof the sky shone, barr’d
With naked beam and rafter.

O’er all there hung a shadow and a fear;
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

The flow’r grew wild and rankly as the weed,
Roses with thistles struggled for espial,
And vagrant plants of parasitic breed
Had overgrown the Dial.

But gay or gloomy, steadfast or infirm,
No heart was there to heed the hour’s duration;
All times and tides were lost in one long term
Of stagnant desolation.

The wren had built within the Porch, she found
Its quiet loneliness so sure and thorough;
And on the lawn,–within its turfy mound,–
The rabbit made his burrow.

The rabbit wild and gray, that flitted thro’
The shrubby clumps, and frisk’d, and sat, and vanish’d,
But leisurely and bold, as if he knew
His enemy was banish’d.

The wary crow,–the pheasant from the woods–
Lull’d by the still and everlasting sameness,
Close to the mansion, like domestic broods,
Fed with a “shocking tameness.”

The coot was swimming in the reedy pond,
Beside the water-hen, so soon affrighted;
And in the weedy moat the heron, fond
Of solitude, alighted.

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The moping heron, motionless and stiff,
That on a stone, as silently and stilly,
Stood, an apparent sentinel, as if
To guard the water-lily.

No sound was heard except, from far away,
The ringing of the witwall’s shrilly laughter,
Or, now and then, the chatter of the jay,
That Echo murmur’d after.

But Echo never mock’d the human tongue;
Some weighty crime, that Heaven could not pardon,
A secret curse on that old Building hung,
And its deserted Garden.

The beds were all untouch’d by hand or tool;
No footstep marked the damp and mossy gravel,
Each walk as green as is the mantled pool,
For want of human travel.

The vine unpruned, and the neglected peach,
Droop’d from the wall with which they used to grapple;
And on the canker’d tree, in easy reach,
Rotted the golden apple.

But awfully the truant shunn’d the ground,
The vagrant kept aloof, and daring Poacher;
In spite of gaps that thro’ the fences round
Invited the encroacher.

For over all there hung a cloud of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

The pear and quince lay squander’d on the grass;
The mould was purple with unheeded showers
Of bloomy plums–a Wilderness it was
Of fruits, and weeds, and flowers!

The marigold amidst the nettles blew,
The gourd embraced the rose bush in its ramble,
The thistle and the stock together grew,
The holly-hock and bramble.

The bear-bine with the lilac interlaced,
The sturdy bur-dock choked its slender neighbor,
The spicy pink. All tokens were effaced
Of human care and labor.

The very yew Formality had train’d
To such a rigid pyramidal stature,
For want of trimming had almost regain’d
The raggedness of nature.

The Fountain was a-dry–neglect and time
Had marr’d the work of artisan and mason,
And efts and croaking frogs, begot of slime,
Sprawl’d in the ruin’d bason.

The Statue, fallen from its marble base,
Amidst the refuse leaves, and herbage rotten,
Lay like the Idol of some bygone race,
Its name and rites forgotten.

On ev’ry side the aspect was the same,
All ruin’d, desolate, forlorn, and savage:
No hand or foot within the precinct came
To rectify or ravage.

For over all there hung a cloud of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!


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O, very gloomy is the House of Woe,
Where tears are falling while the bell is knelling,
With all the dark solemnities which show
That Death is in the dwelling!

O very, very dreary is the room
Where Love, domestic Love, no longer nestles,
But, smitten by the common stroke of doom,
The Corpse lies on the trestles!

But House of Woe, and hearse, and sable pall,
The narrow home of the departed mortal,
Ne’er look’d so gloomy as that Ghostly Hall,
With its deserted portal!

The centipede along the threshold crept,
The cobweb hung across in mazy tangle,
And in its winding-sheet the maggot slept,
At every nook and angle.

The keyhole lodged the earwig and her brood,
The emmets of the steps had old possession,
And march’d in search of their diurnal food
In undisturb’d procession.

As undisturb’d as the prehensile cell
Of moth or maggot, or the spider’s tissue,
For never foot upon that threshold fell,
To enter or to issue.

O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

Howbeit, the door I push’d–or so I dream’d–
Which slowly, slowly gaped,–the hinges creaking
With such a rusty eloquence, it seem’d
That Time himself was speaking.

But Time was dumb within that Mansion old,
Or left his tale to the heraldic banners,
That hung from the corroded walls, and told
Of former men and manners:–

Those tatter’d flags, that with the open’d door,
Seem’d the old wave of battle to remember,
While fallen fragments danced upon the floor,
Like dead leaves in December.

The startled bats flew out,–bird after bird,–
The screech-owl overhead began to flutter,
And seem’d to mock the cry that she had heard
Some dying victim utter!

A shriek that echoed from the joisted roof,
And up the stair, and further still and further,
Till in some ringing chamber far aloof
It ceased its tale of murther!

Meanwhile the rusty armor rattled round,
The banner shudder’d, and the ragged streamer;
All things the horrid tenor of the sound
Acknowledged with a tremor.

The antlers, where the helmet hung, and belt,
Stirr’d as the tempest stirs the forest branches,
Or as the stag had trembled when he felt
The blood-hound at his haunches.

The window jingled in its crumbled frame,
And thro’ its many gaps of destitution
Dolorous moans and hollow sighings came,
Like those of dissolution.

The wood-louse dropped, and rolled into a ball,
Touch’d by some impulse occult or mechanic;
And nameless beetles ran along the wall
In universal panic.

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The subtle spider, that from overhead
Hung like a spy on human guilt and error,
Suddenly turn’d, and up its slender thread
Ran with a nimble terror.

The very stains and fractures on the wall,
Assuming features solemn and terrific,
Hinted some Tragedy of that old Hall,
Lock’d up in hieroglyphic.

Some tale that might, perchance, have solved the doubt,
Wherefore amongst those flags so dull and livid,
The banner of the BLOODY HAND shone out
So ominously vivid.

Some key to that inscrutable appeal,
Which made the very frame of Nature quiver;
And ev’ry thrilling nerve and fibre feel
So ague-like a shiver.

For over all there hung a cloud of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

If but a rat had lingered in the house,
To lure the thought into a social channel!
But not a rat remain’d, or tiny mouse,
To squeak behind the panel.

Huge drops roll’d down the walls, as if they wept;
And where the cricket used to chirp so shrilly
The toad was squatting, and the lizard crept
On that damp hearth and chilly.

For years no cheerful blaze had sparkled there,
Or glanced on coat of buff or knightly metal;
The slug was crawling on the vacant chair,–
The snail upon the settle.

The floor was redolent of mould and must,
The fungus in the rotten seams had quicken’d;
While on the oaken table coats of dust
Perennially had thicken’d.

No mark of leathern jack or metal can,
No cup–no horn–no hospitable token,–
All social ties between that board and Man
Had long ago been broken.

There was so foul a rumor in the air,
The shadow of a Presence so atrocious;
No human creature could have feasted there,
Even the most ferocious.

For over all there hung a cloud of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!


‘Tis hard for human actions to account,
Whether from reason or from impulse only–
But some internal prompting bade me mount
The gloomy stairs and lonely.

Those gloomy stairs, so dark, and damp, and cold,
With odors as from bones and relics carnal,
Deprived of rite, and consecrated mould,
The chapel vault, or charnel.

Those dreary stairs, where with the sounding stress
Of ev’ry step so many echoes blended,
The mind, with dark misgivings, fear’d to guess
How many feet ascended.

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The tempest with its spoils had drifted in,
Till each unwholesome stone was darkly spotted,
As thickly as the leopard’s dappled skin,
With leaves that rankly rotted.

The air was thick–and in the upper gloom
The bat–or something in its shape–was winging;
And on the wall, as chilly as a tomb,
The Death’s-Head moth was clinging.

That mystic moth, which, with a sense profound
Of all unholy presence, augurs truly;
And with a grim significance flits round
The taper burning bluely.

Such omens in the place there seem’d to be,
At ev’ry crooked turn, or on the landing,
The straining eyeball was prepared to see
Some Apparition standing.

For over all there hung a cloud of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

Yet no portentous Shape the sight amazed;
Each object plain, and tangible, and valid;
But from their tarnish’d frames dark Figures gazed,
And Faces spectre-pallid.

Not merely with the mimic life that lies
Within the compass of Art’s simulation;
Their souls were looking thro’ their painted eyes
With awful speculation.

On ev’ry lip a speechless horror dwelt;
On ev’ry brow the burthen of affliction;
The old Ancestral Spirits knew and felt
The House’s malediction.

Such earnest woe their features overcast,
They might have stirr’d, or sigh’d, or wept, or spoken;
But, save the hollow moaning of the blast,
The stillness was unbroken.

No other sound or stir of life was there,
Except my steps in solitary clamber,
From flight to flight, from humid stair to stair,
From chamber into chamber.

Deserted rooms of luxury and state,
That old magnificence had richly furnish’d
With pictures, cabinets of ancient date,
And carvings gilt and burnish’d.

Rich hangings, storied by the needle’s art
With scripture history, or classic fable;
But all had faded, save one ragged part,
Where Cain was slaying Abel.

The silent waste of mildew and the moth
Had marr’d the tissue with a partial ravage;
But undecaying frown’d upon the cloth
Each feature stern and savage.

The sky was pale; the cloud a thing of doubt;
Some hues were fresh, and some decay’d and duller;
But still the BLOODY HAND shone strangely out
With vehemence of color!

The BLOODY HAND that with a lurid stain
Shone on the dusty floor, a dismal token,
Projected from the casement’s painted pane,
Where all beside was broken.

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The BLOODY HAND significant of crime,
That glaring on the old heraldic banner,
Had kept its crimson unimpair’d by time,
In such a wondrous manner!

O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

The Death Watch tick’d behind the panel’d oak,
Inexplicable tremors shook the arras,
And echoes strange and mystical awoke,
The fancy to embarrass.

Prophetic hints that filled the soul with dread,
But thro’ one gloomy entrance pointing mostly,
The while some secret inspiration said,
That Chamber is the Ghostly!

Across the door no gossamer festoon
Swung pendulous–no web–no dusty fringes,
No silky chrysalis or white cocoon
About its nooks and hinges.

The spider shunn’d the interdicted room,
The moth, the beetle, and the fly were banish’d,
And where the sunbeam fell athwart the gloom
The very midge had vanish’d.

One lonely ray that glanced upon a Bed,
As if with awful aim direct and certain
To show the BLOODY HAND in burning red
Embroider’d on the curtain.

And yet no gory stain was on the quilt–
The pillow in its place had slowly rotted;
The floor alone retain’d the trace of guilt,
Those boards obscurely spotted.

Obscurely spotted to the door, and thence
With mazy doubles to the grated casement–
Oh what a tale they told of fear intense,
Of horror and amazement!

What human creature in the dead of night
Had coursed like hunted hare that cruel distance?
Had sought the door, the window in his flight,
Striving for dear existence?

What shrieking Spirit in that bloody room
Its mortal frame had violently quitted?–
Across the sunbeam, with a sudden gloom,
A ghostly Shadow flitted.

Across the sunbeam, and along the wall,
But painted on the air so very dimly,
It hardly veil’d the tapestry at all,
Or portrait frowning grimly.

O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!

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