There is a fascinating conflict and paradox in this introduction. Poe works for the mysterious: In just a sentence after the quoted section he will write, “What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered.” He creates the effect by means of a prose which avails itself of poetic effects: alliteration, “during, dull, dark, day, dreary”; assonance, “dull, autumn, hung”. The sheer intensity of the description which piles gloom upon gloom.
And yet the brutality of the image lies in its intense realism “a mere house and the simple landscape features”. The bite is that is a real place, “the bitter lapse into everyday life”, rather than an opium fueled revelry. He complains that there is no poetic imagination which could attach to the building; which is ironic, because this house could actually exist nowhere. It reminds me of Stevens’ poem “The Plain Sense of Things”
After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had
itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.
Poe’s oppressively real house exists only in the imagination — indeed, it can only be had and held by means of imagination, which makes it even more intensely real:
“DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into everyday life—the hideous dropping off of the veil.”
Edgar Allan Poe. “The Fall of the House of Usher”