Monday, September 30, 2013

HOLiDAY TiDiNGS, Poetry for Halloween

Cover art by Stephen Gammell for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A sampling of haunted classic rhymes 
for the Halloween season:

When the Night Wind Howls

When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls,
And the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds,
Sail over the midnight skies,
When the footpads quail at the night bird's wail,
And black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday--
Then is the ghosts' high noon!
For then is the ghosts' high noon,
High noon----, then is the ghosts' high noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees
And the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tombstones are gathered the bones
That once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow,
To the revel that ends too soon,
For cock crow limits our holiday,
The dead of the night's high noon!
The dead of the night's high noon!
High noon----, the dead of the night's high noon!

And then each ghost with his lady toast
To their church-yard beds take flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps,
And a grisly grim "goodnight!"
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell
Rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday,
The dead of the night's high noon!
The dead of the night's high noon!
High noon----, the dead of the night's high noon!

                                                 W. S. Gilbert, from Ruddigore


"Who's In the Next Room?"

       "Who's in the next room?---who?
             I seemed to see
Somebody in the dawning passing through,
             Unknown to me."
"Nay: you saw nought. He passed invisibly."

        "Who's in the next room?---who?

              I seem to hear
Somebody uttering firm in a language new
              That chills the ear."
"No: you catch not his tongue who has entered there."

       "Who's in the next room?---who?

              I seem to feel
His breath like a clammy draught, as if it drew
              From the Polar Wheel."
"No: none who breathes at all does the door conceal."

       "Who's in the next room?---who?

             A figure wan
With a message to one in there of something due?
             Shall I know him anon?"
"Yea he; and he brought such; and you'll know him anon."

                                                                   Thomas Hardy


The Phantom Horsewoman


Queer are the ways of a man I know:
             He comes and stands
             In a careworn craze,
             And looks at the sands
             And the seaward haze
             With moveless hands
             And face and gaze,
             Then turns to go...
And what does he see when he gazes so?


They say he sees as an instant thing
             More clear than to-day,
             A sweet soft scene
             That once was in play
             By that briny green;
             Yes, notes alway
             Warm, real, and keen,
             What his back years bring—
A phantom of his own figuring.


Of this vision of his they might say more:
             Not only there
             Does he see this sight,
             But everywhere
             In his brain–day, night,
             As if on the air
             It were drawn rose bright–
             Yea, far from that shore
Does he carry this vision of heretofore:


A ghost-girl-rider. And though, toil-tried,
             He withers daily,
             Time touches her not,
             But she still rides gaily
             In his rapt thought
             On that shagged and shaly
             Atlantic spot,
             And as when first eyed
Draws rein and sings to the swing of the tide.

                                                         Thomas Hardy


Double, Double Toil and Trouble

From: Macbeth, ACT IV

SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches

First Witch

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Second Witch

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch

Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

                                  William Shakespeare


The Hag

    The Hag is astride,
    This night for to ride;
The Devill and shee together:
    Through thick, and through thin,
    Now out, and then in,
Though ne’r so foule be the weather.

    A Thorn or a Burr
    She takes for a Spurre:
With a lash of a Bramble she rides now,
    Through Brakes and through Bryars,
    O’re Ditches, and Mires,
She followes the Spirit that guides now.

    No Beast, for his food,
    Dares now range the wood;
But husht in his laire he lies lurking:
    While mischiefs, by these,
    On Land and on Seas,
At noone of Night are working,

    The storme will arise,
    And trouble the skies;
This night, and more for the wonder,
    The ghost from the Tomb
    Affrighted shall come,
Cal’d out by the clap of the Thunder.

                                      Robert Herrick (1648)


Stephen Gammell

Stephen Gammell is a very popular artist with today's youth because of his wonderfully frightening images for Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  His illustrations for Where the Buffaloes Begin received the 1981 Caldecott Honor Award.  In 1989 he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his pictures in Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman. Mr. Gammell lives with his wife in St. Paul, Minnesota.

If you are interested in more poems for the Halloween season, then here is a marvelous collection of haunting poetry that I recommend: WHY AM I GROWN SO COLD? Poems of the Unknowable, edited by Myra Cohn Livingston, A Margaret K. McElderry Book, Atheneum, New York, 1982.

HOLiDAY TiDiNGS is a continuing series of articles for this blog that will focus on poetry written for or appropriate to a specific holiday.

1 comment:

  1. This might seem strange, but I think my 3 year old and I will be reading some of these tomorrow. Very fun spooks!