Saturday, October 3, 2015

Octoberfest Five: 5 Favorite Dark Poems

~by Marie Robinson

“Love isn’t soft, like those poets say. Love has teeth that bite and wounds that never close.”

-Stephen King

While all of us love a good flick or short story, poetry is more of an acquired taste. A movie can lay it all out for you, visually and orally, but poetry is more complex. A good poem will make you think think and feel, and a good horror poem will make you afraid to turn out the lights. Here are a few of my favorites.

Der Erlkönig

“Der Erlkönig”, or, “The Erl-King” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was written in 1782. Goethe (pronounced “gir-tah”) was a German poet most famous for his tragic play Faust, which has become the archetype for countless horror stories since its production.

“The Erl-King” is about a father riding through the forest at night with his young son in his arms when they are unexpectedly attacked by the Erl-King, a supernatural being from German folklore. The Erl-King is a forest spirit; a literal translation of his name means “Elf King”, and he is believed to be the king of the fairies. The Erl-King is an evil creature who preys on children, and has a famously evil daughter, as well.

Pay close attention to who is speaking in the poem, for it switches from dialogue between father and son and the son and the Erl-King, who is invisible to the father.

Here is the adapted English translation:

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear? 
The father it is, with his infant so dear; 
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp'd in his arm, 
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm. 

"My son, wherefore seek'st thou thy face thus to hide?" 
"Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side! 
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?" 
"My son, 'tis the mist rising over the plain." 

"Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me! 
For many a game I will play there with thee; 
On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold, 
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold." 

"My father, my father, and dost thou not hear 
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?" 
"Be calm, dearest child, 'tis thy fancy deceives; 
'Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves." 

"Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there? 
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care; 
My daughters by night their glad festival keep, 
They'll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep." 

"My father, my father, and dost thou not see, 
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?" 
"My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
 'Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight." 

"I love thee, I'm charm'd by thy beauty, dear boy! 
And if thou'rt unwilling, then force I'll employ." 
"My father, my father, he seizes me fast, 
For sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last."

 The father now gallops, with terror half wild, 
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child; 
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread, – 
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead. 

Annabel Lee

Written by Gothic master, Edgar Allan Poe, if you haven’t heard this one, you’ve been living under a rock. Written in 1849, it was Poe’s last completed poem and was not published until shortly after he had died. “Annabel Lee” creeps me the hell out, and I chose it for several reasons.

This poem explores Poe’s favorite topic, which is the death of a beautiful woman. While “Annabel Lee” made read as a powerful love-poem, but assured it is not. Look behind our “passionate” narrator’s words and you will find a disturbed, delusional, and immature man.

The narrator marries a young woman—with whom he claims he fell in love with while they were children, suggesting they were related, perhaps?—who quickly becomes ill and dies. He believes the disease to be caused by the angels, themselves, who were so jealous of the couples love that they took to “chilling and killing” Annabel Lee. But he’s not just in love with his departed bride, he’s obsessed with her; so much so that he takes to spending the night in her tomb and cuddling up with her corpse. Not so romantic anymore, is it?

It is thought that the inspiration behind “Annabel Lee” could be Poe’s wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. The two were cousins and married when Virginia was 13 and Poe was 26. She contracted tuberculosis and died at 24, drawing a few similarities to the poem.
Creepy fun fact about Virginia: the only portrait of her was painted several hours after her death.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love— 

I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre 

In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.


This isn’t to be confused with Poe’s Lenore, which came 70 years later. This “Lenore”, published in 1774, was written by Gottfried August Bürger, and is considered more of a Gothic ballad than a poem.
It concerns a young bride named Lenore, who has been patiently waiting for her fiancé, William, to return from the Seven Years’ War. She is convinced that he has died, since all the other soldiers have returned, and her mother thinks that he has found himself a new bride.

However, a knock comes on Lenore’s door at midnight, and it appears to be William, asking Lenore to accompany him on horseback to ride a hundred miles to their marriage bed. Although she thinks it strange, she goes with him, where they ride off at a breakneck pace through strange and spooky lands; and what Lenore finds at the end of the journey is not her marriage bed at all, but her final resting place.

There is a refrain in the German version that reads, “die Todten reiten schnell” which as been popularly translated as, “the dead travel fast”. This phrase was familiarized by Bram Stoker, who used in Dracula; you may recall the scene where Jonathan Harker is awaiting a carriage through the Carpathian Mountains to Castle Dracula. When it finally arrives, driven by an ominous cloaked coachmen and travels at a remarkable speed, one of Harker’s foreign fellow travelers fearfully whispers, “die Todten reiten schnell”, for they know who truly drives the carriage.

There have been many English translations of “Lenore”, but the most beautiful was done by that of an 11-year-old Dante Gabriel Rossetti. However, in this version, the refrain does not appear as it’s popularized, “the dead travel fast”, but rather, “bravely the dead men ride through the night”.
The ballad is rather long, so I’ve included a link for you to read it, here (

All Souls

Edith Wharton, a Pulitzer-Prize winning American writer, is famous to some for her humor, and others for her horror. While she isn’t remembered strictly as a horror writer, she did produce quite a few ghost stories, and one deliciously spooky poem that captures the spirit of Halloween. This poem was written in 1903.

A thin moon faints in the sky o’erhead, 
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead. 
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways, 
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays, 
But forth of the gate and down the road, 
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode. 
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night, 
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight. 

Fear not that sound like wind in the trees: 
It is only their call that comes on the breeze; 
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass: 
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass; 
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop: 
It is only the touch of their hands that grope — 
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night, 
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite. 

And where should a man bring his sweet to woo 
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too? 
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss, 
The empty hands that their fellows miss, 
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green, 
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between? 
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night, 
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight. 

And now that they rise and walk in the cold, 
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old. 
Let them see us and hear us, and say: 
“Ah, thus In the prime of the year it went with us!” 
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist, 
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist! 
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night, 
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite. 

Till they say, as they hear us — poor dead, poor dead! — 
“Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed — 
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains 
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins, J
ust a touch, and a sight, and a floating apart, 
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart — 
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night, 
When the dead can hear, and the dead have sight.” 

And where should the living feel alive 
But here in this wan white humming hive, 
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold, 
And one by one they creep back to the fold? 
And where should a man hold his mate and say: 
“One more, one more, ere we go their way”? 
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night, 
When the living can learn by the churchyard light. 

And how should we break faith who have seen 
Those dead lips plight with the mist between, 
And how forget, who have seen how soon 
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon? 
How scorn, how hate, how strive, we too, 
Who must do so soon as those others do? 
For it’s All Souls’ night, and break of the day, 
And behold, with the light the dead are away. 

The House

Howard Phillips Lovecraft is a man who needs no introduction (though, if you aren’t familiar it is seriously time to get wise!). His poem “The House” was published in 1919, which depicts the same house that is the subject of his novellete “The Shunned House”. It is inspired by a real place, the address now famously known by Lovecraft fans as 135 Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

'Tis a grove-circled dwelling 
Set close to a hill,
Where the branches are telling 
Strange legends of ill; 
Over timbers so old 
That they breathe of the dead, 
Crawl the vines, green and cold, 
By strange nourishment fed; 
And no man knows the juices they suck 
from the depths of their dank slimy bed. 

In the gardens are growing 
Tall blossoms and fair, 
Each pallid bloom throwing 
Perfume on the air; 
But the afternoon sun 
with its shining red rays 
Makes the picture loom dun 
On the curious gaze, 
And above the sweet scent of the the blossoms 
rise odors of numberless days. 

The rank grasses are waving 
On terrace and lawn,
 Dim memories savoring 
Of things that have gone; 
The stones of the walks 
Are encrusted and wet, 
And a strange spirit stalks 
When the red sun has set. 
And the soul of the watcher is fill'd 
with faint pictures he fain would forget.

 It was in the hot Junetime 
I stood by that scene, 
When the gold rays of noontime 
Beat bright on the green. 
But I shiver'd with cold, 
Groping feebly for light, 
As a picture unroll'd— 
And my age-spanning sight 
Saw the time I had been there before 
flash like fulgury out of the night.


James Gracey said...

Dark poetry is the best kind of poetry, no? Loved reading through these. To thank you guys for sharing, I thought I'd leave you with this Belfast-based, and rather bloody, poem. Enjoy.

The Ballad of William Bloat - by Raymond Calvert (1926)

In a mean abode on the Shankill Road
Lived a man named William Bloat;
He had a wife, the curse of his life,
Who continually got his goat.
So one day at dawn, with her nightdress on
He slit her bloody throat.

With a razor gash he settled her hash
Never was crime so slick
But the drip drip drip on the pillowslip
Of her lifeblood made him sick.
And the knee-deep gore on the bedroom floor
Grew clotted and cold and thick.

And yet he was glad he had done what he had
When she lay there stiff and still
But a sudden awe of the angry law
Struck his heart with an icy chill.
So to finish the fun so well begun
He resolved himself to kill.

He took the sheet from the wife's coul' feet
And twisted it into a rope
And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf,
'Twas an easy end, let's hope.
In the face of death with his latest breath
He solemnly cursed the Pope.

But the strangest turn to the whole concern
Is only just beginning.
He went to Hell but his wife got well
And she's still alive and sinnin',
For the razor blade was German made
But the sheet was Belfast linen.

Christine Hadden said...

Oh my lord, that was bloody awesome! Love that! Thanks for sharing! xoxo