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With the holidays past for a little bit, let’s settle down with some wintery compositions.  This is from the talented William Blake, who was quite the illustrator, too.

O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:

The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark

Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs

Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep

Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed

In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;

For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings

To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:

He withers all in silence, and in his hand

Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner

Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st

With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster

Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

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A final poem to round out the new year – a fitting piece by Yukon poet Robert W. Service. Have a happy New Year!

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,

My den is all a cosy glow;

And snug before the fire I sit,

And wait to feel the old year go.

I dedicate to solemn thought

Amid my too-unthinking days,

This sober moment, sadly fraught

With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time

You stand to bow your last adieu;

A moment, and the prompter’s chime

Will ring the curtain down on you.

Your mien is sad, your step is slow;

You falter as a Sage in pain;

Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,

And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,

Let us all read, whate’er the cost:

O Maiden! why that bitter tear?

Is it for dear one you have lost?

Is it for fond illusion gone?

For trusted lover proved untrue?

O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan

What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right

So sleek, so prosperously clad!

What see you in that aged wight

That makes your smile so gay and glad?

What opportunity unmissed?

What golden gain, what pride of place?

What splendid hope? O Optimist!

What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,

What find you in that filmy gaze?

What menace of a tragic doom?

What dark, condemning yesterdays?

What urge to crime, what evil done?

What cold, confronting shape of fear?

O haggard, haunted, hidden One

What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,

The countless eyes that stare and stare;

Some are with approbation lit,

And some are shadowed with despair.

Some show a smile and some a frown;

Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:

Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!

Old weary year! it’s time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;

My fire is almost ashes too;

But once again, before you go,

And I prepare to meet the New:

Old Year! a parting word that’s true,

For we’ve been comrades, you and I —

I thank God for each day of you;

There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

Longfellow has a great poem in store for you this Christmas week – hope you enjoy it!

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Most people think of Thomas Hardy as a prominent author, and with his novels The Return of the Native, Jude the Obscure, Far from the Maddening Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles regarded as masterworks, it’s hard to argue the claim.  However, he was also a poet, and this Christmas-themed piece is a good example of his work.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

“Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen.

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few believe

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve

“Come; see the oxen kneel

“In the lonely barton by yonder comb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

Enjoy the mastery of one of Ireland’s literary treasures, Willam Butler Yates.

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,

In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones

Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky

With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,

And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,

And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,

Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,

The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

Sir Walter Scott is best known for his Waverly novels and Idylls of the King, but the knighted British author was also an competent poet, as evidenced by this fantastic holiday piece.  Enjoy!

Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.

Each age has deemed the new born year

The fittest time for festal cheer.

And well our Christian sires of old.

Loved when the year its course had rolled,

And brought blithe Christmas back again,

With all his hospitable train.

Domestic and religious rite

Gave honour to the holy night:

On Christmas eve the bells were rung;

On Christmas eve the mass was sung;

That only night, in all the year,

Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.

The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;

The hail was dressed with holly green;

Forth to the wood did merry men go,

To gather in the mistletoe,

Then opened wide the baron’s hail

To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;

Power laid his rod of rule aside,

And ceremony doff’d his pride.

The heir, with roses in his shoes,

That night might village partner choose.

The lord, underogating, share

The vulgar game of “post and pair!”

All hailed with uncontroll’d delight

And general voice, the happy night

That to the cottage, as the crown,

Brought tidings of salvation down.

The fire with well dried logs supplied,

Went roaring up the chimney wide;

The huge hail table’s oaken face,

Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,

Bore then upon: its massive board

No mark to part the squire and lord.

Then was brought in the lusty brawn,

By old, blue-coated serving-man;

Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,

Crested with bays and rosemary.

Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,

How, when, and where, the monster fell;

What dogs before his death he tore,

And all the baiting of the boar.

The wassail round in good brown bowls,

Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.

There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by

Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;

Nor failed old Scotland to produce

At such high tide her savoury goose.

Then came the merry masquers in,

And carols roar’d with blithesome din;

If unmelodious was the song,

It was a hearty note, and strong.

Who lists may in their mumming see

Traces of ancient mystery;

White shirts supplied the masquerade,

And smutted cheeks the visor made

But oh! what masquers, richly dight,

Can boast of bosoms half so light!

England was merry England when

Old Christmas brought his sports again.

’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,

’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;

A Christmas gambol oft would cheer

A poor man’s heart through half the year.

With Halloween mere days away, I think it’s a fine time to post up what could be considered the finest poem that relates to the holiday – Poe’s tense “The Raven.”  I did post Poe earlier this month, but I believe this particular case is worth posting so soon after the first one.  It’s a long tale, but well worth reading!  Enjoy!

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
” ‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
                              Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
                              Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
” ‘Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;
                              This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
                              Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
                              Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
                              “Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
                              Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
                              Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
                              With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
                              Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
                              Of “Never—nevermore.”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
                              Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplght gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
                              She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
                              Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
                              Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
                              Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
                              Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                              Shall be lifted—nevermore!

A modern legend, Robert Frost’s poetic voice is one of my favorites.  Enjoy his vivid lines of this Halloween-themed poem.

Ghost House

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
   And left no trace but the cellar walls,
   And a cellar in which the daylight falls,
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
   The orchard tree has grown one copse
   Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
   On that disused and forgotten road
   That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
   I hear him begin far enough away
   Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
   Who share the unlit place with me—
   Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad,
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
   With none among them that ever sings,
   And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

This time, Goethe, writer of Faust, is in our poetry spotlight.  This is a rather fascinating poem that builds up tension quite remarkably as it rolls along.

Totentanz/Dance of Death
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, English by Edgar Alfred Bowring

The warder looks down at the mid hour of night,
On the tombs that lie scatter’d below:
The moon fills the place with her silvery light,
And the churchyard like day seems to glow.
When see! first one grave, then another opes wide,
And women and men stepping forth are descried,
snow-white and trailing.

In haste for the sport soon their ankles they twitch,
And whirl round in dances so gay;
The young and the old, and the poor, and the rich,
But the cerements stand in their way;
And as modesty cannot avail them aught here,
They shake themselves all, and the shrouds soon appear
Scatter’d over the tombs in confusion.

Now waggles the leg, and now wriggles the thigh,
As the troop with strange gestures advance,
And a rattle and clatter anon rises high,
As of one beating time to the dance.
The sight to the warder seems wondrously queer,
When the villainous Tempter speaks thus in his ear:
“Seize one of the shrouds that lie yonder!”

Quick as thought it was done! and for safety he fled
Behind the church-door with all speed;
The moon still continues her clear light to shed
On the dance that they fearfully lead.
But the dancers at length disappear one by one,
And their shrouds, ere they vanish, they carefully don,
And under the turf all is quiet.

But one of them stumbles and shuffles there still,
And gropes at the graves in despair;
Yet ’tis by no comrade he’s treated so ill
The shroud he soon scents in the air.
So he rattles the door—for the warder ’tis well
That ’tis bless’d, and so able the foe to repel,
All cover’d with crosses in metal.

The shroud he must have, and no rest will allow,
There remains for reflection no time;
On the ornaments Gothic the wight seizes now,
And from point on to point hastes to climb.
Alas for the warder! his doom is decreed!
Like a long-legged spider, with ne’er-changing speed,
Advances the dreaded pursuer.

The warder he quakes, and the warder turns pale,
The shroud to restore fain had sought;
When the end,—now can nothing to save him avail—
In a tooth formed of iron is caught.
With vanishing lustre the moon’s race is run,
When the bell thunders loudly a powerful One,
And the skeleton fails, crush’d to atoms.

It’s October, and the thoughts of Halloween are beginning to settle on many minds. So, we’ll be posting up poems revolving around the spooky holiday. And who better to start us off than the master of Gothic poetry himself, Mr. Poe?

To _____ _______. Ulalume: A Ballad

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispéd 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.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
There were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —
Our memories were treacherous and sere —
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year —
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber —
(Though once we had journeyed down here) —
We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn —
As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said — “She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs —
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies —
To the Lethean peace of the skies —
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes —
Come up through the lair of the Lion
With Love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said — “Sadly this star I mistrust —
Her pallor I strangely mistrust: —
Oh, hasten! — oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly! — let us fly! — for we must.”
In terror she spoke; letting sink her
Wings till they trailed in the dust —
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust —
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied — “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybillic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night: —
See! — it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright —
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom —
And conquered her scruples and gloom:
And we passed to the end of the vista,
And were stopped by the door of a tomb;
By the door of a legended tomb: —
And I said — “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied — “Ulalume — Ulalume —
’Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispéd and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we, then — the two, then — “Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds —
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?”