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The Beauty of Poe’s Words in The Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar_Allen_Poe_1898A discussion post I had to do for my master’s:

 

 

My initial reaction to Fall of the House of Usher was delight only because it is an old favorite of mine. Once I got past that initial thrill, I soaked in the words and stopped here at this passage.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn. (Poe)

Poe’s diction is poetry to me. He doesn’t just show the reader the scene; he brings them into the story and makes them experience it firsthand. The house isn’t just an old house. It possesses “excessive antiquity” (Poe).  This whole section could be summed up in a couple of sentences but would lack the visual image drawn for me in such detail.

Normally, such descriptions are not needed for a scene, but in this case it is important due to the heart of decay and death that is found within the family. The “wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual tones” is a foreshadowing Poe expertly weaves into the beginning of the story (Poe).   He uses expertly crafted phrases and vivid words to draw the reader in and prepare them for what they will find within the family. I love how he has the house as the outward reflection of the family’s soul. It ties them together perfectly.

His syntax is mesmerizing. I have to admit that at first I would have taken “Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves” and moved the clause to the beginning of the sentence. That is because too often, I follow the same boring structure of subject/verb. But to do this with his sentence actually lowers the power the sentence contains. His sentence gives the power to the “minute fungi” and paints the image of it everywhere. Moving the clause to the front would have the picture in my head with the fungi just on the eaves. It’s power has been regulated to adornment instead of near possession.

The fact that Poe’s story is from a period that is long forgotten in terms of language and style adds to the mystery of the text. This isn’t just a horror story. This is one shrouded in mystery. His use of words takes us back to that time and sets us down into the story. Most stories today use slang and get right to the dialogue and action. Poe keeps the reader slowed down enough to notice everything that poetically is connected to the dialogue and action.

Reference:

Poe, Edgar Allan. “Fall of the House of Usher.” American Studies. University of Virginia. Web. 19 December 2015. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/fall.html>

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