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New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Hallowe’en – some thoughts on the season and some dark poetry.

 

 

I find Hallowe’en a disturbing festival. I’ve just come back from America and the houses are blanketed in decorations and the supermarkets are full of everything you could possibly imagine. Disembodied hands play pianos, spectral heads light up and proclaim doom, skeletons jiggle. You can dress up, paint your face and eat every spooky treat imaginable. My daughter in law bought a black cat bowl to fill with candy for the neighbouring children. I asked her if they were ever afraid and she seemed surprised to be asked.

 

In the UK it has always been a much darker festival, and one that was not celebrated much until recently. It was always a Bonfire Night fire festival for us. Now a generation is growing up with the carefree American attitude and our supermarkets also groan with costumes and treats. However, it will always be Samhain for me, one of the pagan sabbaths on the Wheel of the Year. Samhain is the night when the veil between the living and the dead becomes permeable, and fearful peasants hollowed out turnips (yes!) and lit candles in them, to protect themselves from passing spirits.  The Christian Church superimposed their own theology, and this became All Hallows’ Eve, when prayers were said for the dead.

 

So I have collected together a batch of dark poems to get you in the mood… The first one is traditionally lively, but they gradually get darker!

 

Hallowe’en

By John Kendrick Bangs

 

The ghosts of all things past parade,
Emerging from the mist and shade
That hid them from our gaze,
And, full of song and ringing mirth,
In one glad moment of rebirth,
And again they walk the ways of earth
As in the ancient days.

The beacon light shines on the hill,
The will-o’-wisps the forests fill
With flashes filched from noon;
And witches on their broomsticks spry
Speed here and yonder in the sky,
And lift their strident voices high
Unto the Hunter’s Moon.

The air resounds with tuneful notes
From myriads of straining throats,
All hailing Folly Queen;
So join the swelling choral throng,
Forget your sorrow and your wrong,
In one glad hour of joyous song
To honor Hallowe’en!

 

 

 

Athenian Epitaphs (Gravestone Inscriptions of the Ancient Greeks)

 

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
—Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Passerby,
tell the Spartans we lie
here, dead at their word,
obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

 

 

 

Du

by Janet Kenny

 

A wisp of old woman,
curved like a scythe,
tottered to me as she
fussed her shopping,
her walking stick hooked
on her chopstick wrist.

She spoke to me then
in a dried leaf voice.
Inaudible there
in that busy street,
swept by rude gales
from passing trucks.

I leaned closer to hear:
Mein eyes not gut.
time for bus, ven comes it?
“Which bus do you want?”

She smiled, shook her head
then sang to herself
—and somebody else,
in—not German. Yiddish?
“Which bus?”
She leaned towards me,
her tiny claw reached
to stroke my face.
Du she said.

Du

 

 

 

Acquainted With The Night

by Robert Frost

 

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

 

 

 

Depths

by Richard Moore

 

Once more home is a strange place: by the ocean a
big house now, and the small houses are memories,
   once live images, vacant
        thoughts here, sinking and vanishing.

Rough sea now on the shore thundering brokenly
draws back stones with a roar out into quiet and
    far depths, darkly to lie there
         years, yearsthere not a sound from them.

New waves out of the night’s mist and obscurity
lunge up high on the beach, spending their energy,
    each wave angrily dying,
        all shapes endlessly altering,

yet out there in the depths nothing is modified.
Earthquakes won’t even moveno, nor the hurricane
    one stone there, nor a glance of
         sun’s light stir its identity.

 

 

 

Buffalo Bill’s defunct

by e. e. cummings

 

Buffalo Bill’s
        defunct
               who used to
               ride a watersmooth-silver
                                        stallion
        and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                         Jesus
        he was a handsome man
                             and what i want to know is
        how do you like your blueeyed boy
        Mister Death

 

 

 

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare longam

by Ernest Dowson

 

“The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of long duration” —Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

 

 

 

The Bustle In A House

by Emily Dickinson

 

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth.

The sweeping up the heart
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

 

 

 

Her Kind

by Anne Sexton

 

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

 

 

 

 

The Witch’s Life

 

by Anne Sexton

 

When I was a child 
there was an old woman in our neighborhood
whom we called The Witch. 

All day she peered from her second story 
window 
from behind the wrinkled curtains 
and sometimes she would open the window 
and yell: Get out of my life! 
She had hair like kelp 
and a voice like a boulder. 

I think of her sometimes now 
and wonder if I am becoming her. 
My shoes turn up like a jester’s. 
Clumps of my hair, as I write this, 
curl up individually like toes. 
I am shoveling the children out, 
scoop after scoop. 
Only my books anoint me, 
and a few friends, 
those who reach into my veins. 
Maybe I am becoming a hermit, 
opening the door for only 
a few special animals? 
Maybe my skull is too crowded 
and it has no opening through which 
to feed it soup? 
Maybe I have plugged up my sockets 
to keep the gods in? 
Maybe, although my heart 
is a kitten of butter, 
I am blowing it up like a zeppelin. 
Yes. It is the witch’s life, 
climbing the primordial climb, 
a dream within a dream, 
then sitting here 
holding a basket of fire.

 

 

Alone

by Edgar Alan Poe

 

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

 

 

 

 

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