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By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
– Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
“Oh how the candles will be lit and
the wood of worm burn in a fiery dust.
For on all Hallow’s Eve will the spirits
come to play …”
– Solange Nicole, author,
musician, and photographer
“Halloween” is a mashed-together spelling of All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day, which in turn was a make-over by Christians of Samhain, the first day of the Celtic New Year.
The ancient traditions of the Celts have come down through the ages to us, but transformed from solemn rites to pretend-scary fun for children: the diminutive ghosts and princesses, witches and super-heroes, pirates, and zombies who appear on our doorsteps with bags outstretched for their share of the candy-loot.
Yet the echoes of the past can still make us shiver, just a little. The ghastly face lit by flickering candle flame of a well-carved Jack O’Lantern still spooks us, even though we adults pretend otherwise.
Using torch and bonfire to ward off the unknown out there in the dark are part of the fall and winter rituals of every culture, all the way back to the first humans who learned to make and keep fire.
by Adelaide Crapsey
Three silent things:
The falling snow… the hour
Before the dawn … the mouth of one
Pumpkin-carving comes to us from an old Irish story of a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil, not once, not twice, but three times. When Jack died, the Lord wouldn’t allow such a devious character to enter heaven, but when Jack fell into Hell, the angry Devil threw him out, with only a live coal to light his way in the darkness. Jack carved the insides out of a large turnip and put the coal in it, doomed to wander the earth as “Jack of the Lantern” – Jack O’Lantern.
When Irish immigrants came to America, they saw that pumpkins would be much easier to carve into lanterns than turnips, so they adopted them instead, adding to our uniquely American version of All Hallows Eve.
So make your pumpkin’s face really scary to ward off any ghosts or evil spirits who might come out to do mischief during the long dark hours of Halloween … just in case.
There were many poets born this week, but these are the ones that I found had written poems related to “Things that Go Bump in the Night.”
October 30 1881 – Elizabeth Madox Roberts was born in Perryville, Kentucky; American poet and author; known for her novels, which were mainly set in rural Kentucky. Most notable are The Time of Man, The Great Meadow, A Buried Treasure, and Black Is My Truelove’s Hair. She was diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin’s disease in 1936, and died at age 59 in 1941.
In the Night
by Elizabeth Madox Roberts
The light was burning very dim,
The little blaze was brown and red,
And I waked just in time to see
A panther going under the bed.
I saw him crowd his body down
To make it fit the little space.
I saw the streaks along his back,
And bloody bubbles on his face.
Long marks of light came out of my eyes
And went into the lamp–and there
Was Something waiting in the room–
I saw it sitting on a chair.
Its only eye was shining red,
Its face was very long and gray,
Its two bent teeth were sticking out,
And all its jaw was torn away.
Its legs were flat against the chair,
Its arms were hanging like a swing.
It made its eye look into me,
But did not move or say a thing.
I tried to call and tried to scream,
But all my throat was shut and dry.
My little heart was jumping fast,
I couldn’t talk or cry.
And when I’d look outside the bed
I’d see the panther going in.
The streaks were moving on his back,
The bubbles on his chin.
I couldn’t help it if they came,
I couldn’t save myself at all,
And so I only waited there
And turned my face against the wall.
“In the Night” from Under the Tree by Elizabeth Madox Roberts, 2016 facsimile edition by Palala Press
October 31 1795 – John Keats born, one of the best-loved English poets of the late Romantic period, though most of his works were not well received when they were first published. His fame and reputation grew rapidly after his death from tuberculosis at the age of 25. Among his best-know poems are “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “To Autumn,” and “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”
La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad
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 cheeks 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 sidelong would she bend, 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 full 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 dreamt
On the cold hill side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath 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.
“La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad” from John Keats: Selected Poems – Penguin Classics: Poetry, 1988 edition
October 31 1876 – Natalie Clifford Barney born, American playwright, novelist and poet; lived openly as a lesbian in Paris for 60 years; formed a “Women’s Academy” (L’Académie des Femmes); she was a feminist, a pacifist, and a free love advocate; her weekly Salon brought together expat writers and artists, with their French counterparts, from modernists to members of the French Academy.
The Phantom Guest
by Natalie Clifford Barney
We lay in shade diaphanous
And spoke the light that burns in us
As in the glooming’s net I caught her,
She shimmered like reflected water!
Romantic and emphatic moods
Are not for her whom life eludes…
Its vulgar tinsel round her fold?
She’d rather shudder with the cold,
Attend just this elusive hour,
A show in a shadow bower,
A moving imagery so fine,
It must have been her soul near mine
And so we blended and possessed
Each in each the phantom guest,
Inseparate, we scarcely met;
Yet other love-nights we forget!
“The Phantom Guest” from Poems and Poèmes: Autres Alliances by Natalie Clifford Barney – Forgotten Books Classic Reprint 2018
October 31 1956 – Annie Finch born, a central figure in contemporary American poetry, she has published over eighteen books, which include her own poetry, literary essays, and criticism, as well as editing several anthologies. Her works include The Poetry Witch Little Book of Spells; Spells: New and Selected Poems; The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self; A Poet’s Craft; Calendars; and Among the Goddesses. Finch edited Choice Words: Writers on Abortion, and co-edited Carolyn Kizer: Perspectives on Her Life and Work. Finch’s mother was the poet Margaret Rockwell Finch.
by Annie Finch
(The Celtic Halloween)
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings
arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.
“Samhain” from Eve, © 1997 by Annie Finch – Carnegie Mellon University Press
And two poets who were not born near Halloween, but whose poems fit too well with the theme not to include.
Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), was an American poet who was born September 9th, and died October 8th at the age of 36. In 1911, she was diagnosed with Tuberculous meningitis, in infection of the membranes which envelop the brain and the spinal cord. Her two sisters had also died young, one at age eleven and the other at age 24, so she didn’t tell her family of her illness until she could no longer hide the symptoms. Most of her poems are about her struggles with depression, and the knowledge of her impeding death.
To The Dead in the Graveyard Underneath
by Adelaide Crapsey
Written in A Moment of Exasperation
How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.
Why are you there in your straight row on row
Where I must ever see you from my bed
That in your mere dumb presence iterate
The text so weary in my ears: “Lie still
And rest; be patient and lie still and rest.”
I’ll not be patient! I will not lie still!
There is a brown road runs between the pines,
And further on the purple woodlands lie,
And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom;
And I would walk the road and I would be
Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach
The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds.
My eyes may follow but my feet are held.
Recumbent as you others must I too
Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness
With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod?
And if the many sayings of the wise
Teach of submission I will not submit
But with a spirit all unreconciled
Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars.
Better it is to walk, to run, to dance,
Better it is to laugh and leap and sing,
To know the open skies of dawn and night,
To move untrammeled down the flaming noon,
And I will clamour it through weary days
Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp,
Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips
Of resignation, sister to defeat.
I’ll not be patient. I will not lie still.
And in ironic quietude who is
The despot of our days and lord of dust
Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop
Grim casual comment on rebellion’s end;
“Yes, yes … Wilful and petulant but now
As dead and quiet as the others are.”
And this each body and ghost of you hath heard
That in your graves do therefore lie so still.
“To The Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window” from Verse by Adelaide Crapsey – Forgotten Books, 2017 reprint
And finally, something not so dark, from Kenn Nesbitt (1962 – ), who was born on February 20, and writes poetry for children, including these collections: When The Teacher Isn’t Looking; My Cat Knows Karate; The Tighty Whitey Spider; Revenge of the Lunch Ladies; and The Aliens Have Landed at Our School.
There’s a Witch Outside My Window
by Kenn Nesbitt
There’s a witch outside my window
and she will not go away.
There’s a gremlin on my doorstep
and I think he’s there to stay.
There’s a troll demanding candy
and a mummy wanting sweets.
There’s a ghost, a ghoul, a goblin
and they’re clamoring for treats.
And as if that weren’t enough
to be considered rather shocking.
A vampire rang my doorbell
and the bogeyman is knocking.
My abode is now surrounded
by the recently deceased,
They’re in search of gum and chocolate
on which they plan to feast.
It’s the strangest situtation
that I think I’ve ever seen.
How I wish they’d go away
and just come back on Halloween.
© 2001 by Kenn Nesbitt
Happy Halloween to all!
Happy Halloween rafflaw!