Halloween has always been my favorite time of year. I’ve long believed that Halloween is the only day that most people can be “themselves”. The reason for this is that on Halloween we are allowed to dress up, act silly, have fun, eat candy and simply celebrate in the most peculiar (or lovely) ways. It’s the one time of year when adults and children alike can be who they’ve always wanted to be. Whether you are a pirate fairy (my favorite), a gargoyle, or simply a cheeseburger- you can get away with being that character and nobody will question it. I often wish that every day was Halloween.
As a lady who studies the English language, poetry, literature, and of course all things shockingly terrifying I could not help but create this blog with some of my favorite Halloween poems. Some of them you might recognize, and some of them will be new. But finally – the spooky season is upon us, so here we go!
Samhain is an ancient Celtic holiday that was observed on the first of November according to current calendars. Samhain is where the tradition of Halloween originated. On that day, people would dress up in costumes and light bonfires in an effort to ward off the ghosts that they believed would visit their homes. It was believed that on Samhain, the souls of the dead would return to the land of the living.
In my small little personal bubble, Halloween and poetry are both very important. I will tell you why.
One of the foundational elements of the humanities is poetry, just like any other kind of artistic expression. We can better comprehend and appreciate the world around us thanks to poetry. Poetry conveys information and human values by taking the routes of feeling, sensitivity, and imagination. Even better, it molds the entire human being—body and soul. Body and soul are key elements not just in poetry, but of course in Samhain as well. Halloween and poetry are both magic and have the capability to merge worlds in a number of ways. To better put it, the celebration of Halloween and the magic of poems can help you see the world in a new way. Let’s begin. Note: Some poems below are not full versions. If you want the full version click the links provided for each poem.
1. “One need not be a Chamber to be Haunted” – by Emily Dickinson
One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted — One need not be a House — The Brain has Corridors — surpassing Material Place — Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting External Ghost Than its interior Confronting — That Cooler Host — Far safer, through an Abbey gallop, The Stones a’chase — Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter — In lonesome Place — Ourself behind ourself, concealed — Should startle most — Assassin hid in our Apartment Be Horror’s least — The Body — borrows a Revolver — He bolts the Door — O’erlooking a superior spectre — Or More —
The poem “One need not be a Chamber to be Haunted” by Emily Dickinson is about battling one’s inner demons. The speaker of the poem claims that no “External Ghost” is quite as frightening as people’s own darkest, most inside thoughts and feelings and that the “brain” can be just as “haunted” (that is, full of secrets and dangers) as any old house. The poem discusses the agony and terror that come from feeling in conflict with one’s own thinking.
Moral of the poem: Humans never really know themselves. People can be real monsters.
2. “The Spider and the Fly” – by Mary Howitt
Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do, To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you? I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice; I’m sure you’re very welcome–will you please to take a slice?” “Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind sir, that cannot be, I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”
Mary Howitt released this poem in 1829. In the poem’s opening line, the Spider asks the Fly, “Will you go inside my parlour?” The tale describes a crafty spider that seduces and tricks a fly into getting caught in its web. When it comes to tricks and treats one must be careful.
Moral of the poem: Don’t be tricked by statements that seem nice and flattering. You might find yourself caught in a web that you can’t escape. Now that’s a horrifying thought, isn’t it?
3. Song of the Witches: “Double, double toil and trouble” – by William Shakespeare
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron 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 caldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon's blood, Then the charm is firm and good.
This post wouldn’t be complete without this poem by my guy, Billy. Shakespeare is one of my favorites. When you read these phrases out loud, they are certainly meant to sound as cryptic and chant-like as they do! Chanting as part of spell work is quite an ancient practice. (It’s part of the whole “words are magic” thing that you hear me say all the time). According to the witches, Macbeth would now face twice as much trouble (double the amount of problems). He should therefore be cautious. He’s in serious jeopardy because he killed everyone on his path to the throne.
Moral of the poem: What goes around comes around and for the love of the gods don’t piss off the witches.
4. “A Chilly Night” – by Christina Rossetti
I rose at the dead of night, And went to the lattice alone To look for my Mother’s ghost Where the ghostly moonlight shone. My friends had failed one by one, Middle-aged, young, and old, Till the ghosts were warmer to me Than my friends that had grown cold. I looked and I saw the ghosts Dotting plain and mound: They stood in the blank moonlight, But no shadow lay on the ground: They spoke without a voice And they leaped without a sound. I called: ‘O my Mother dear,’— I sobbed: ‘O my Mother kind, Make a lonely bed for me And shelter it from the wind. ‘Tell the others not to come To see me night or day: But I need not tell my friends To be sure to keep away.’ My Mother raised her eyes, They were blank and could not see: Yet they held me with their stare While they seemed to look at me. She opened her mouth and spoke; I could not hear a word, While my flesh crept on my bones And every hair was stirred. She knew that I could not hear The message that she told Whether I had long to wait Or soon should sleep in the mould: I saw her toss her shadowless hair And wring her hands in the cold. I strained to catch her words, And she strained to make me hear; But never a sound of words Fell on my straining ear. From midnight to the cockcrow I kept my watch in pain While the subtle ghosts grew subtler In the sad night on the wane. From midnight to the cockcrow I watched till all were gone, Some to sleep in the shifting sea And some under turf and stone: Living had failed and dead had failed, And I was indeed alone.
Okay, so this one is pretty deep. It was quite necessary to post the entire poem and not just an excerpt. Rosetti was a true master of horror and her poems clearly show it. Originally published in 1904, the poem explores elements of death, ghosts, and loneliness. The poem is about a young girl who is alone and wakes up at night to look for her dead mother’s ghost. In the moonlight, she sees the apparition of her mother and other ghosts. Her mother is trying to talk to her, but she can’t hear her. When her mother and the other ghosts leave for the night, she is left alone. It is a poem about feeling very alone, angry, and sad. The girl’s mother can’t talk to her, and the girl is scared and confused about what she wanted to say to her.
Moral of the poem: There is no bridge found between the living and the dead. Use your words wisely while you are alive.
5. “The Witch” – by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
I have walked a great while over the snow, And I am not tall nor strong. My clothes are wet, and my teeth are set, And the way was hard and long. I have wandered over the fruitful earth, But I never came here before. Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door! The cutting wind is a cruel foe. I dare not stand in the blast. My hands are stone, and my voice a groan, And the worst of death is past. I am but a little maiden still, My little white feet are sore. Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door! Her voice was the voice that women have, Who plead for their heart's desire. She came—she came—and the quivering flame Sunk and died in the fire. It never was lit again on my hearth Since I hurried across the floor, To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door.
The Witch is a short poem that tells a story. The witch, who is the first person to speak in the poem, talks about the trials she has been through and the hard times she has had as she has traveled around the world. In the third stanza, the change of voice is present as the narrator describes “her”. In the third stanza it is evident that by letting the witch into the home and over the threshold, the narrator suffers (it (fire) was never lit again).
Moral of the poem: Be cautious of who you help as it may cost you your own “light”.
6. “The Night Wind” – by Eugene Field
Have you ever heard the wind go "Yooooo"? 'T is a pitiful sound to hear! It seems to chill you through and through With a strange and speechless fear. 'T is the voice of the night that broods outside When folk should be asleep, And many and many's the time I've cried To the darkness brooding far and wide Over the land and the deep: Whom do you want, O lonely night, That you wail the long hours through?" And the night would say in its ghostly way: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!" My mother told me long ago (When I was a little tad) That when the night went wailing so, Somebody had been bad; And then, when I was snug in bed, Whither I had been sent, With the blankets pulled up round my head, I'd think of what my mother'd said, And wonder what boy she meant! And "Who's been bad to-day?" I'd ask Of the wind that hoarsely blew, And the voice would say in its meaningful way: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!" That this was true I must allow - You'll not believe it, though! Yes, though I'm quite a model now, I was not always so. And if you doubt what things I say, Suppose you make the test; Suppose, when you've been bad some day And up to bed are sent away From mother and the rest - Suppose you ask, "Who has been bad?" And then you'll hear what's true; For the wind will moan in its ruefulest tone: "Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo! Yoooooooo!"
In this poem, a mother tells her son an old wives tale about the wind revealing who has been up to no good. As the poem goes on and the wind yells “yoooooo” repeatedly, it’s quite obvious who the wind is talking about. Could it be that this poem was meant to teach a lesson? Possibly. The poem also leaves a soft spot on my heart because through the poem Field is teaching children to actually listen to what nature says. The ways to interpret this poem are abundant.
Moral of the poem: Don’t gossip about who has done what. Recognize your own actions and judge yourself first before others.
7. “Spirits of the Dead” – by Edgar Allan Poe
The breeze—the breath of God—is still— And the mist upon the hill, Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken, Is a symbol and a token— How it hangs upon the trees, A mystery of mysteries!
Poe wrote this lovely poem that explores life and death. He focuses in particular on what it means to transition from one world to another. The loss of individuals he loved throughout his life, such as his mother, stepmother, and wife is what led to his preoccupation with death. Through his narrators in his short stories and poems, Poe expresses his obsession with death, murder, fear, hatred, and worry.
Moral of the poem: Death is one of life’s greatest mysteries and should be admired for how lovely it is in its own right. Death is cyclical and a necessary part of the human experience.
8. “Halloween Party” – by Kevin Nesbitt
We’re having a Halloween party at school. I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool! I dyed my hair black, and I cut off my bangs. I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs. I put on some makeup to paint my face white, like creatures that only come out in the night. My fingernails, too, are all pointed and red. I look like I’m recently back from the dead. My mom drops me off, and I run into school and suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool. The other kids stare like I’m some kind of freak— the Halloween party is not till next week.
This one is clearly not so terrifying – unless you have anxiety about being late, fear of missing out, and not keeping a strict record of your to-do lists.
Moral of the poem: You better check your calendars! LOL
9. “The Shadow on the Stone” – by Thomas Hardy
I went by the Druid stone That broods in the garden white and lone, And I stopped and looked at the shifting shadows That at some moments fall thereon From the tree hard by with a rhythmic swing, And they shaped in my imagining To the shade that a well-known head and shoulders Threw there when she was gardening. I thought her behind my back, Yea, her I long had learned to lack, And I said: ‘I am sure you are standing behind me, Though how do you get into this old track?’ And there was no sound but the fall of a leaf As a sad response; and to keep down grief I would not turn my head to discover That there was nothing in my belief. Yet I wanted to look and see That nobody stood at the back of me; But I thought once more: ‘Nay, I’ll not unvision A shape which, somehow, there may be.’ So I went on softly from the glade, And left her behind me throwing her shade, As she were indeed an apparition— My head unturned lest my dream should fade.
Thomas Hardy wrote “The Shadow on the Stone,” which alludes to his wife’s spirit after his wife passed away.
In the poem, Hardy wants to be sure nobody is following him. He struggles with whether or not to look.
He worries that if he looks back, he will be alone. Hardy saw himself as a poet first and foremost.
His poetry displays a depressing outlook on life and draws inspiration from Romantic authors like William Wordsworth. He had a somewhat pessimistic view of his own time, and many of his poems express contempt for the ideals and issues of the Victorian era.
Moral of the poem: Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of a loved one. If you don’t, it may start to drive you mad.
10. “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340) – by Emily Dickinson
And then I heard them lift a Box And creak across my Soul With those same Boots of Lead, again, Then Space - began to toll,
But then, according to one reading or analysis of the poem, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” is about becoming crazy, losing one’s sense of reality, and having one’s sanity ebb away. Dickinson explores the notion of what it could be like to remain conscious after death in this disturbing poetry. She feels like a part of her is dying, or that her reason is being overtaken by the absurdity of the unconscious, and Dickinson employs the metaphor of a funeral to depict this. A funeral is a fitting metaphor for this experience. This is a poem that expresses the fear and helplessness that come with losing one’s sense of reality.
Moral of the poem: Don’t lose your grip on what is real vs. what isn’t.
If you have made it to the end, thank you for reading. These are just a few poems that I think are always worth reading. If you have any poems you think I should have included, feel free to comment below. Which one of the ten listed here was your favorite? I’d love to know! Stay safe ‘n stay spooky. ❤ K.A.