Word Cloud: PHANTASM (revisited)


Autumn days slide into long nights of winter-dark –shadows shifting on the bedroom wall, soft footfalls pacing the hallway, or dried leaves scratching on a windowpane  all subtly take on an ominous quality.

October is a month abounding with myths and legends: witches, ghosts, werewolves, faery-folk, and most terrifying of all  the unknown.

Imaginary – what realms of rapture and terror wait for each of us, “all in our heads.”

Witch stories cover a broad spectrum, from the white witch whose magic heals to the black witch whose magic destroys, and somewhere in between there are women feared for the revenge they take on men who wrong them. The tales of October are the dark ones.


. . …Witchcraft has not a pedigree

by Emily Dickinson

Witchcraft has not a pedigree,
‘Tis early as our breath,
And mourners meet it going out
The moment of our death.


The Three Witches

by Ernest Dowson

All the moon-shed nights are over,
And the days of gray and dun;
There is neither may nor clover,
And the day and night are one.

Not an hamlet, not a city
Meets our strained and tearless eyes;
In the plain without a pity,
Where the wan grass droops and dies.

We shall wander through the meaning
Of a day and see no light,
For our lichened arms are leaning
On the ends of endless night.

We, the children of Astarte,
Dear abortions of the moon,
In a gay and silent party,
We are riding to you soon.

Burning ramparts, ever burning!
To the flame which never dies
We are yearning, yearning, yearning,
With our gay and tearless eyes.

In the plain without a pity,
(Not an hamlet, not a city)
Where the wan grass droops and dies.




After He Called Her a Witch

by Susan Ludvigson

Special powers were attributed to the orange in
Renaissance England, Italy and Sicily. It was
believed witches could bring death to an enemy
by pinning the victim’s name to an orange and
leaving the orange in the chimney.

When he comes in, late again,
the whole house smells wonderful,
but he can’t quite recognize the scent.
The fire is almost out, a few ashes
flicker in the absent light,
and suddenly he recalls
his mother holding orange peels
over a flame, the singed skin
curling back like petals,
releasing the fragrance.
She did it daily, all one winter,
just for the pleasure.

He doesn’t see on the hearth
the remains of paper, traces
of his name printed in clear
black ink. He wonders how his wife
knew about sweetening their rooms
with oranges, wonders whether it means
the air is cleared,
she wants to make up.
He breathes the evening in,
Imagining her in bed, waiting for him,
forgiveness on her lips
like the taste of oranges.


In some stories the faery folk are kind, and in some they are cruel – but in all of the stories they are not like us.


The Shadow People

by Francis Ledwidge

Old lame Bridget doesn’t hear
Fairy music in the grass
When the gloaming’s on the mere
And the shadow people pass:
Never hears their slow grey feet
Coming from the village street
Just beyond the parson’s wall,
Where the clover globes are sweet
And the mushroom’s parasol
Opens in the moonlit rain.
Every night I hear them call
From their long and merry train.
Old lame Bridget says to me,
“It is just your fancy, child.”
She cannot believe I see
Laughing faces in the wild,
Hands that twinkle in the sedge
Bowing at the water’s edge
Where the finny minnows quiver,
Shaping on a blue wave’s ledge
Bubble foam to sail the river.
And the sunny hands to me
Beckon ever, beckon ever.
Oh! I would be wild and free
And with the shadow people be.

Mora – variant name of Goddess of Magick, Winter and
Death in Slavic myths and legends – bringer of nightmares


The Curse of Mora

by Ethna Carbery

The fretted fires of Mora
Blew o’er him in the night,
He thrills no more at loving,
Nor weeps for lost delight,
For when those flames have bitten
Both joy and grief take flight.

Around his path the shadows
Stalk ever grim and high:
Spears flash in hands long withered,
And dented shields give cry;
Or misty woman-faces
Laugh out, and pass him by.

He hath the curse of Mora —
Yet blessed of all is he
Whose dew-wet eyes uplifted
See what we fain would see —
One crowned with scarlet berries
Of the sacred quicken tree.

He hears the wild Green Harper
Chant sweet a fairy rune,
And through the sleeping-silence
His feet must track the tune
When the world is barred and speckled
With silver of the moon.

Thus is he doomed till Judgment —
Although the cairn should hold
His fevered heart in quiet,
And hide his hair of gold,
His soul shall wander seeking,
And its quest be never told.


La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful — a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
“I love thee true.”

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sighed fill sore;
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed — Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill’s side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried — “La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide —
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.


Almost everyone I know has a story of a personal ghostly encounter, although often it was just that ‘feeling’ they’re weren’t alone in a room that had no other living thing in it.

The only ghost I ever saw

by Emily Dickinson

The only ghost I ever sawsleepy-child-in-nightshirt
Was dressed in mechlin, — so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird,
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

His conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient, —
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind
Since that appalling day!


A Story Can Change Your Life

by Peter Everwine

On the morning she became a young widow,
my grandmother, startled by a sudden shadow,
looked up from her work to see a hawk turn
her prized rooster into a cloud of feathers.
That same moment, halfway around the world
in a Minnesota mine, her husband died,
buried under a ton of rockfall.
She told me this story sixty years ago.
I don’t know if it’s true but it ought to be.
She was a hard old woman, and though she knelt
on Sundays when the acolyte’s silver bell
announced the moment of Christ’s miracle,
it was the darker mysteries she lived by:
shiver-cry of an owl, black dog by the roadside,
a tapping at the door and nobody there.
The moral of the story was plain enough:
miracles become a burden and require a priest
to explain them. With signs, you only need
to keep your wits about you and place your trust
in a shadow world that lets you know hard luck
and grief are coming your way. And for that
— so the story goes — any day will do.

The Listeners

by Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,the-listeners-woodcut-nydam-prints
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.


This poem reminds us that when the neighborhood dogs howl at the moon in October, some of the howlers may not be dogs.

They Run Again

by Leah Bodine Drake

Beyond the black and naked wood
In frosty gold has set the sun,
And dusk glides forth in cobweb hood. . . .
Sister, tonight the werewolves run!

With white teeth gleaming and eyes aflame
The werewolves gather upon the howe!
Country churl and village dame,
They have forgotten the wheel and plow.

They have forgotten the speech of men;
Their throats are dry with a dreadful thirst;
And woe to the traveler in the glen
Who meets tonight with that band accurst!

Now from the hollows creeps the dark;
The moon like a yellow owl takes flight;
Good people on their house-doors mark
A cross, and hug their hearths in fright.

Sister, listen! . . . The King-Wolf howls!
The pack is running! . . . Drink down the brew,
Don the unearthly, shaggy cowls, —
We must be running too!



Blessed be on Samhain – wishing you delicious shivers but safe from harm.



The Poems

  • “Witchcraft has not a pedigree” – from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, CreateSpace Publishing, 2013
  • “The Three Witches” – from Ernest Dowson: Collected Poems, Bloomsbury Academic, 2003
  • “After He Called Her a Witch”– from Poetry magazine, November 1982, © 1982 by Susan Ludvigson
  • “The Shadow People” – from The Complete Poems of Francis Ledwidge, Fredonia Books, 2002
  • “The Curse of Mora” – from The Four Winds of Eirlinn: The Poems of Ethna Carbery, M. H. Gill and Son, 1905
  • “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” – from The Complete Poems of John Keats, Modern Library, 1994
  • “The only ghost I ever saw” – from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, CreateSpace Publishing, 2013
  • “A Story Can Change Your Life” – from Ploughshares magazine, Winter 2012-13, Vol. 38, No. 4, © 2012 by Peter Everwine
  • “The Listeners” – from Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages, by Walter del al Mare –Knopf (1957)
  • “They Run Again” – from A Hornbook for Witches by Leah Bodine Drake – Arkham House Publishing (1950)

The Poets

  • Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) – one of America’s greatest and most original poets. Her works was almost completely unpublished during her life as a recluse in Amherst, Massachusetts, but many volumes of her poems have been in print in the decades since.
  • Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) – a member of the Rhymers’ Club with W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons, he rarely had a fixed home, and died at the age of 32. Best remembered for Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam (“They are not long, the days of wine and roses…”)
  • Susan Ludvigson (1942 – ) – professor emeritus of English at Winthrop University SC, author of ten collections of poetry, including: The Beautiful Noon of No Shadow (1986), Everything Winged Must Be Dreaming (1993),  Trinity (1996),  Sweet Confluence: New and Selected Poems (2000), and Escaping the House of Certainty (2006)
  • Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917) – Irish poet, killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I.
  • Ethna Carbery (Anna MacManus – 1866-1902) –Irish journalist, writer and poet, best known for Song of Ciabhán, which was set to music by Ivor Gurney
  • John Keats (1795-1821) – a much-loved poet who was born in London, England, and managed to publish 3 books of poetry before he died at age 25 of tuberculosis.
  • Peter Everwine – born in Detroit, he has published seven collections of poetry, including Listening Long and Late (2013), Figures Made Visible in the Sadness of Time (2003)and Collecting the Animals (1973)which won the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1972.
  • Walter de 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
  • 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


  • Witch silhouette
  • Three witches with fire
  • Photo of an orange
  • Fairy Parade, by Liza Lambertini
  • Warrior with sword at sundown, artist uncredited
  • La Belle Dame sans Merci – Sir Francis Dicksee
  • Tired child yawning, with candle – artist uncredited
  • Young Woman Knitting, by Henry Edward Spernon Tozer (1870 – 1940)
  • The Listeners, woodcut illustration, artist not known
  • Wolf silhouette howling at full moon
  • Row of Jack-o-Lanterns

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 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.
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2 Responses to Word Cloud: PHANTASM (revisited)

  1. thurayya says:

    Mechlin (in the Dickinson poem). Not a word I’ve ever seen before.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      I find one of the delights of reading poetry from earlier times is the discovery of unfamiliar words, which often have a wonderful ‘feel’ in the mouth.

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