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Halloween Poetry: the best Dark, Eerie, Haunting and Scary poems …

Some of the best poems of all time are dark, eerie, haunting, scary poemsthe perfect poems for Halloween! Here you will find the great medieval ballad about madness, “Tom O’Bedlam,” Alfred Noyes’s bleakly romantic ghost story “The Highwayman,” Ernest Dowson’s haunting “A Last Word,” Walter De La Mare’s enigmatic “The Listeners,” and a terrifying poem about the specter of hell terrorizing Christian children, Robert Frost’s magnificent “Directive.” I chose the first two poems to complement the ghoulish picture above. (In fact, I wrote the first poem specifically to go with the picture.) The poems that follow include some of the very best dark, haunting poems in the English language, by masters of horror and the supernatural like William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats and Edward Arlington Robinson.

Thin Kin
by Michael R. Burch

Skeleton!
Tell us what you lack …
the ability to love,
your flesh so slack?

Will we frighten you,
equally pale & unsound …
when we also haunt
the unhallowed ground?

The Skeleton’s Defense of Carnality
by Jack Foley

Truly I have lost weight, I have lost weight,
grown lean in love’s defense,
in love’s defense grown grave.
It was concupiscence that brought me to the state:
all bone and a bit of skin
to keep the bone within.
Flesh is no heavy burden for one possessed of little
and accustomed to its loss.
I lean to love, which leaves me lean, till lean turn into lack.
A wanton bone, I sing my song
and travel where the bone is blown
and extricate true love from lust
as any man of wisdom must.
Then wherefore should I rage
against this pilgrimage
from gravel unto gravel?
Circuitous I travel
from love to lack / and lack to lack,
from lean to lack
and back.

A Last Word
by Ernest Dowson

Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o’er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where’s rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.

Ulalume [an excerpt]
by Edgar Allan Poe

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir …

Ghost
by Michael R. Burch

White in the shadows
I see your face,
unbidden. Go, tell

Love it is commonplace;
tell Regret it is not so rare.

Our love is not here
though you smile,
full of sedulous grace.

Lost in darkness, I fear
the past is our resting place.

Luke Havergal
by Edward Arlington Robinson

Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
And in the twilight wait for what will come.
The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
But go, and if you listen, she will call.
Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
To rift the fiery night that’s in your eyes;
But there, where western glooms are gathering
The dark will end the dark, if anything:
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
And hell is more than half of paradise.
No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies—
In eastern skies.

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
That flames upon your forehead with a glow
That blinds you to the way that you must go.
Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
Out of a grave I come to tell you this—
To tell you this.

There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
There are the crimson leaves upon the wall,
Go, for the winds are tearing them away,—
Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
But go, and if you trust her she will call.
There is the western gate, Luke Havergal—
Luke Havergal.

Sea Fevers
by Agnes Wathall

No ancient mariner I,
  Hawker of public crosses,
Snaring the passersby
  With my necklace of albatrosses.

I blink no glittering eye
  Between tufts of gray sea mosses
Nor in the high road ply
  My trade of guilts and glosses.

But a dark and inward sky
   Tracks the flotsam of my losses.
No more becalmed to lie,
  The skeleton ship tosses.

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,
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.

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I
by William Shakespeare

Three witches, casting a spell …

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

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

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 howlet’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.

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Biography of Robert Frost – Famous poets

 

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Born on March 26, 1874, Robert Frost spent his first 40 years as an unknown. He exploded on the scene after returning from England at the beginning of WWI. Winner of four Pulitzer Prizes and a special guest at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, Frost became a poetic force and the unofficial “poet laureate” of the United States. He died of complications from prostate surgery on January 29, 1963.

Early Years

Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, California. He spent the first 12 years of his life there, until his father, William Prescott Frost Jr., died of tuberculosis. Following his father’s passing, Frost moved with his mother and sister Jeanie to the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. They moved in with his grandparents, and Frost attended Lawrence High School, where he met his future love and wife, Elinor White, his co-valedictorian.

After his high school graduation in 1892, Frost attended Dartmouth University for several months, returning home to work a slew of unfulfilling jobs. In 1894, he had his first poem, “My Butterfly: an Elegy,” published in The Independent, a weekly literary journal based in New York City. With this success, Frost proposed to Elinor, who was attending St. Lawrence University. She turned him down because she first wanted to finish school. Frost then decided to leave on a trip to Virginia, and when he returned, he proposed again. By then, Elinor had graduated from college, and she accepted. They married on December 19, 1895, and had their first child, Elliot, in 1896.

Beginning in 1897, Frost attended Harvard University, but had to drop out after two years due to health concerns. He returned to Lawrence to join his wife, who was now pregnant with their second child, Lesley, who suffered from mental illness. In 1900, Frost moved with his wife and children to a farm in New Hampshire—property that Frost’s grandfather had purchased for them—and they attempted to make a life on it for the next 12 years. Though it was a fruitful time for Frost’s writing, it was a difficult period in his personal life.

Elinor gave birth to four more children, Carol (1902); Irma (1903), who later developed mental illness; Marjorie (1905); and Elinor (1907), and two of the Frost children died. Elliot died of cholera in 1900, and Elinor died of complications from birth just weeks after she was born. Additionally, during that time, Frost and Elinor tried several endeavors, including poultry farming, all of which were fairly unsuccessful.

Despite such challenges, it was during this time that Frost acclimated himself to rural life. In fact, he grew to depict it quite well, and began setting many poems in the countryside. While two of these, “The Tuft of Flowers” and “The Trial by Existence,” would be published in 1906, he could not find any publishers who were willing to underwrite his other poems.Public Recognition for Poetry

In 1912, Frost and Elinor decided to sell the farm in New Hampshire and move the family to England, where more publishers would be willing to take a chance on new poets, they believed.

5 Famous Poems By Robert Frost

 

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Even nearly a century later, poems by Robert Frost continue to interest us. Robert Frost remains a quintessential American poet because of his depiction of the natural state of America, particularly New England. But while we encounter New England and its beauty, when we read poems by Robert Frost, we are also exposed to an American mind exploring intellectual and philosophical questions on human nature that remain relevant in society today. It is because of this that we seek out poems by Robert Frost, both for the comfort found in his lines, but also for the challenge of his words.

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
Perhaps the most famous Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” is taught widely in schools and its last three lines, the envy of poets everywhere, have been quoted, placed on walls, and written in graduation cards for almost a century.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

“Mending Wall”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: 5 
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.  
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.  
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across 25 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it  
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.  
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  

Summary

A stone wall separates the speaker’s property from his neighbor’s. In spring, the two meet to walk the wall and jointly make repairs. The speaker sees no reason for the wall to be kept—there are no cows to be contained, just apple and pine trees. He does not believe in walls for the sake of walls. The neighbor resorts to an old adage: “Good fences make good neighbors.” The speaker remains unconvinced and mischievously presses the neighbor to look beyond the old-fashioned folly of such reasoning. His neighbor will not be swayed. The speaker envisions his neighbor as a holdover from a justifiably outmoded era, a living example of a dark-age mentality. But the neighbor simply repeats the adage.

Frost’s sharp wit is evident in his poem, “Mending Wall,” which is known most for the line “Good fences make good neighbors.” Many poems by Robert Frost discuss the topic of stranger versus familiars, and more specifically, how people interact with each other. In “Mending Wall,” the narrator and his neighbor have a conversation over an old, New England stonewall, in which the neighbor extols the merits of building walls to keep others out, and through their symbolic extension, all sorts of boundaries. Through his use of irony, Frost challenges his neighbor’s stubborn belief and asks his readers to also consider whether building walls has the effect of “walling in or walling out.” 

“Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer 5 
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake. 10 
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep, 15 
And miles to go before I sleep.

Summary

On the surface, this poem is simplicity itself. The speaker is stopping by some woods on a snowy evening. He or she takes in the lovely scene in near-silence, is tempted to stay longer, but acknowledges the pull of obligations and the considerable distance yet to be traveled before he or she can rest for the night.

ost are wonderful for their simplicity. And this one is no exception: the depiction of solitary travel on a sleepy, winter’s night, a lovely recognition of stealing quiet, personal moments. Frost’s rhyme scheme renders the poem almost like a childhood fairytale, and its beautiful last stanza with its simultaneously regretful and hopeful middle line “But I have promises to keep” proceeding the repeated “And miles to go before I sleep” speak to travelers in every sense.

“Christmas Trees

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

In “Christmas Trees”, Frost relays a conversation between two men, one looking to buy a Christmas tree and narrated by the seller. With the great opening line, “The city had withdrawn into itself And left at last the country to the country;” Frost captures the feeling right before the holidays when cities and life tends to slow into a peaceful contentment. 

“Design” (“In White”)

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

This famous poem by Robert Frost is unique in that as readers, we also have access to a much earlier draft, entitled “In White.” Frost uses a small spider to question and explore the idea of creation and design. By looking at the two versions side-by-side, we can see how Frost tweaked lines to improve upon rhythm, to bring out the brilliant metaphors and similes that he uses, in particular with the color white, and how he changes language to refocus the poem on this greater question of whether there is a greater—higher—power at work, molding and designing not only the creatures of the world, but also the situations that we find ourselves in.

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