Word Cloud: DARKLING

Word Cloud Resized

by NONA BLYTH CLOUD

The long days of summer are a pleasant memory. Now the warm days grow fewer, and the Autumn nights are longer, with winter-chill in the wee hours.

It’s the darkling time of year, when we want to light a fire in the grate, and heat some cider. A time for telling stories by the flame’s flickering light, with the shadows leaning close over our shoulders, as if to listen.
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BEYOND THE RED RIVER

by Thomas McGrath

The birds have flown their summer skies to the south,
And the flower-money is drying in the banks of bent grass
Which the bumble bee has abandoned. We wait for a winter lion,
Body of ice-crystals and sombrero of dead leaves.
 
A month ago, from the salt engines of the sea,
A machinery of early storms rolled toward the holiday houses
Where summer still dozed in the pool-side chairs, sipping
An aging whiskey of distances and departures.
 
Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave.
I am happy enough here, where Dakota drifts wild in the universe,
Where the prairie is starting to shake in the surf of the winter dark.

edge-of-winter

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There’s a deep and wide field of poetry and prose written about what happens in the dark of night. Before the printed word, there was an even longer tradition of thrilling tales told by firelight, whispering the listener away from the life they knew, and sad or fearsome ballads which come from shadowy places lurking deep inside all people.

The Phantom-Wooer

by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

A ghost, that loved a lady fair,
Ever in the starry air
Of midnight at her pillow stood;
And, with a sweetness skies above
The luring words of human love,
Her soul the phantom wooed.
Sweet and sweet is their poisoned note,
The little snakes of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing “die, oh! die.”

Young soul, put off your flesh, and come
With me into the quiet tomb,
Our bed is lovely, dark, and sweet;
The earth will swing us, as she goes,
Beneath our coverlid of snows,
And the warm leaden sheet.
Dear and dear is their poisoned note,
The little snakes’ of silver throat,
In mossy skulls that nest and lie,
Ever singing “die, oh! die.”

little-briar-rose-by-walter-crane

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Bewitched

by Walter de la Mare

I have heard a lady this night,
Lissom and jimp and slim,
Calling me — calling me over the heather,
‘Neath the beech boughs dusk and dim.

I have followed a lady this night,
Followed her far and lone,
Fox and adder and weasel know
The ways that we have gone.

I sit at my supper ‘mid honest faces,
And crumble my crust and say
Naught in the long-drawn drawl of the voices
Talking the hours away.

I’ll go to my chamber under the gable,
And the moon will lift her light
In at my lattice from over the moorland
Hollow and still and bright.

And I know she will shine on a lady of witchcraft,
Gladness and grief to see,
Who has taken my heart with her nimble fingers,
Calls in my dreams to me;

Who has led me a dance by dell and dingle
My human soul to win,
Made me a changeling to my own, own mother,
A stranger to my kin.

the-magic-circle-1886-john-william-waterhouse

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Humans have always seen pictures in the stars, and made stories about them. Oscar Wilde’s poem is about a princess who moonlights as a serial killer.

The Dole of the King’s Daughter

by Oscar Wilde

Seven stars in the still water,
And seven in the sky;
Seven sins on the King’s daughter,
Deep in her soul to lie.

Red roses are at her feet,
(Roses are red in her red-gold hair)
And O where her bosom and girdle meet
Red roses are hidden there.

Fair is the knight who lieth slain
Amid the rush and reed,
See the lean fishes that are fain
Upon dead men to feed.

Sweet is the page that lieth there,
(Cloth of gold is goodly prey,)
See the black ravens in the air,
Black, O black as the night are they.

What do they there so stark and dead?
(There is blood upon her hand)
Why are the lilies flecked with red?
(There is blood on the river sand.)

There are two that ride from the south and east,
And two from the north and west,
For the black raven a goodly feast,
For the King’s daughter rest.

There is one man who loves her true,
(Red, O red, is the stain of gore!)
He hath duggen a grave by the darksome yew,
(One grave will do for four.)

No moon in the still heaven,
In the black water none,
The sins on her soul are seven,
The sin upon his is one.

lady-lilith-dante-gabriel-rossetti

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When we look at the moon, what we see is always changing. It can be beautiful, serene, comical – or transform into something else entirely.

Song for Ishtar

by Denise Levertov

The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat
Her great shining shines through me
so the mud of my hollow gleams
and breaks in silver bubbles

She is a sow
and I a pig and a poet

When she opens her white
lips to devour me I bite back
and laughter rocks the moon

In the black of desire
we rock and grunt, grunt and
shine

lg-moon-over-water

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Robert Frost takes us rambling, out beyond city’s edge into the dark on a rainy night – see if you find your self waiting for something to happen. I did. The dark blinds our eyes, but makes our other senses all the keener.

 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-bye;
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.

lone-streetlight

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This poem does take you on a wild night journey with a child lured away by the fairy-folk, and changed forever.

Changeling

by Leah Bodine Drake

I am out on the wind
In the wild, black night;
On the wings of the owl
I take my flight,
On the ghostly wings of the great white owl;
And whether the night be fair or foul,
Or the moon be up or the thunder growl,
Happy I be,
Happy I be
When the changeling blood runs green in me!

When meek folk sleep
In their dull, soft beds,
I creep over roots
That the weasel treads,
Where the squat green lamps of the toadstools glow —
And only the fox knows the ways I go,
And nobody knows the things I know. . . .
Wise I be,
Wise I be
When the changeling blood runs green in me!

O Mother, slumber
And do not wake! . . .
Thin voices called
From the rain-wet brake,
And the child you cradled against your breast
Is out in the night on the black wind’s crest,
For only the wild can give me rest. . . .
Sad I be,
Sad I be
When the changeling blood runs green in me.

owl-edward-and-george-dalziel-1867

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No ride in poetry was ever wilder than the one in this poem, a favorite of mine since I first heard it read with great verve by my 4th grade teacher – thank you Miss Winn.

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

PART TWO

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

.       .       .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
A highwayman comes riding— 
         Riding—riding— 
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door. 

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard. 
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

the-highwayman-illustration-by-rachael-homer

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At this time of year, when I was about twelve, my best friend would come to my house for a sleepover, and we’d go into the big storage closet in the hall, and close the door with the light off. There was just room on the floor for the two of us to sit with a flashlight. Behind us, and above our heads, were shelves of things that cast unlikely shadows when we turned the flashlight on, and then we’d tell the scariest stories we could think up to each other. There was one time when the door hadn’t quite latched, and the family cat used her claws to get it open so she could see what we were up to. The hall light was off, so all we heard was a scrambling sound, and then something furry rubbed up against us — it was a very l-o-n-g time before we told scary stories in that closet again, and we always made sure the door was shut tight. 

Thanks for joining me in the spooky hall closet.

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The Poems

  • “Beyond the Red River” – from Selected Poems 1938-1988, © 1988 by Thomas McGrath
  • “The Phantom-Wooer” – from Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Selected Poetry, Fyfield Books, 1999
  • “Bewitched” – from Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages, by Walter del al Mare –Knopf (1957)
  • “The Dole of the King’s Daughter” – from Complete Works of Oscar Wilde –
    Harper & Row (1966)
  • “Song for Ishtar” – from Poems 1960-1967, © 1966 by Denise Levertov – New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • “Acquainted with the Night” – from The Poetry of Robert Frost,  © 1956 by Robert Frost – Hentry Holt & Company
  • “Changeling” – from A Hornbook for Witches by Leah Bodine Drake – Arkham House Publishing (1950)
  • “The Highwayman” – from Alfred Noyes: Collected Poems in One Volume, J.B. Lippincott (1947)

The Poets

  • Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) – American poet, born on an isolated farm near Sheldon ND, Rhodes Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, college professor who ran afoul of the House Committee on UN-American Activities and lost his job, published over 25 collections of poetry
  • Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849) – English poet and dramatist, medical doctor who traveled widely in Europe. Obsessed with death, he committed suicide at age 45
  • Walter del la Mare (1873-1956) – prolific English poet, and fiction author, best remembered for his poem “The Listeners,” won the 1947 Carnegie medal for children’s books, published 13 collections of poetry
  • Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) – Irish playwright, fiction/nonfiction author and poet, best known for his plays and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, at the height of his fame and success, he was arrested and imprisoned for “gross indecency” with men, and served two years’ hard labor
  • Denise Levertov (1923-1997) – English-born American poet, author of two dozen poetry collections, also published criticism and translations, a Guggenheim Fellow, and winner of the Robert Frost Medal
  • Robert Frost (1874-1963) – Acclaimed American poet, received  4 Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, and a Congressional Gold Medal (1960), published over 25 collections of poetry
  • Leah Bodine Drake (1914-1964) – American poet, her collection This Tilting Dust was a finalist for the poetry award from the National Book Foundation. She died of cancer, just over a month before her 50th birthday
  • Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) – English poet and fiction writer, best known for his poem, “The Highwayman” published 14 collections of poetry, a biography of William Morris, short stories, plays and criticism

Visuals

  • Edge of winter in the Dakotas
  • Little Briar Rose (sleeping) – painting by Walter Crane
  • Lady Lilith painting by Danter Gabriel Rossetti
  • Full moon over water photo
  • Single streetlamp in fog
  • Owl in flight illustration from children’s book by Edward and George Dalziel (1867)
  • The Highwayman illustration by Rachael Homer

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud
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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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