If I may have it when it’s dead


If I may have it, when it’s dead,
I’ll be contented—so—
If just as soon as Breath is out
It shall belong to me—

Until they lock it in the Grave,
‘Tis Bliss I cannot weigh—
For tho’ they lock Thee in the Grave,
Myself—can own the key—

Think of it Lover! I and Thee
Permitted—face to face to be—
After a Life—a Death—We’ll say—
For Death was That—
And this—is Thee—

I’ll tell Thee All—how Bald it grew—
How Midnight felt, at first—to me—
How all the Clocks stopped in the World—
And Sunshine pinched me—’Twas so cold—

Then how the Grief got sleepy—some—
As if my Soul were deaf and dumb—
Just making signs—across—to Thee—
That this way—thou could’st notice me—

I’ll tell you how I tried to keep
A smile, to show you, when this Deep
All Waded—We look back for Play,
At those Old Times—in Calvary,

Forgive me, if the Grave come slow—
For Coveting to look at Thee—
Forgive me, if to stroke thy frost
Outvisions Paradise!

~Emily Dickinson

One last creepy poem for your Halloween reading–enjoy!

The pantomime

I breathed enough to learn the trick,
And now, removed from air,
I simulate the breath so well,
That one, to be quite sure

The lungs are stirless, must descend Among the cunning cells,
And touch the pantomime himself.
How cool the bellows feels!

~Emily Dickinson

In this poem, the speaker describes herself as lifeless, though of course she is alive. Dickinson seems to be describing a deep depression, the kind that makes one feel dead while still technically living.

This, I think, is the official take on this poem. What’s interesting to me, though, obsessed as I am at the moment with all things spooky and eerie, is all the details that suggest that she really is not alive–that we’re listening to a ghost.

She tells us that she did breathe, once, but is now “removed from air.” In the second stanza she insists that she looks so alive that one “must descend” into the cells of her lungs to realize that she is not, in fact, actually breathing. She is a pantomime of human life, her “bellows” “cool” to the touch.

Sounds like a ghost to me.

not Death

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down –
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos – crawl –
Nor Fire – for just my marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool –

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial
Reminded me, of mine –

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ’twas like Midnight, some –

When everything that ticked – has stopped –
And space stares – all around –
Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground –

But most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –
Without a Chance, or spar –
Or even a Report of Land –
To justify – Despair.

~Emily Dickinson

This is the Poe poem of Dickinson poems. So many fantastic details: hot breezes that “crawl” across the flesh, cold feet, bodies laid out for burial, a claustrophobic framing of a life, “grisly frosts,” the silence of a midnight when “everything that ticked – has stopped,” and space staring back at us.

The speaker insists that she’s not dead, but details all the parallels between her own state and death, while also outlining the differences. She is in a moment of existential crisis–a moment of perfect silence when she is left utterly alone with herself in the universe. What is the crisis, precisely? It’s not until the final stanza that she breaks from describing the symptoms to identify the disease, the dis – ease. She is “Without a Chance, or spar – Or even a Report of Land.” In the final line, the final word, of the poem, she names the answer to the riddle.

Necromancer, landlord

What inn is this
Where for the night
Peculiar traveller comes?
Who is the landlord?
Where the maids?
Behold, what curious rooms!
No ruddy fires on the hearth,
No brimming tankards flow.
Necromancer, landlord,
Who are these below?

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

When this project began, I knew Emily Dickinson was into death, but I had no idea just how good she was at being creepy. This poem is no exception. I assume this poem is about death/the grave, but my imagination keeps snagging on the phrase “Necromancer, landlord.” A necromancer is someone who communicates with the dead as a magical practice, presumably a living someone. Is the necromancer the keeper of the graveyard? Or someone/something more nebulous? Who knows? What I do know is that the image of the necromantic keeper of this macabre hotel “below” makes for a wonderfully creepy poem.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted

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 an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror’s least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O’erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

I have very little to say about this one. It’s perfect, really, and completely true. We are the most terrifying spectres we will ever meet. Humans can be haunted by the past, by the undone, by the unrealized. Our minds are more expansive than any construction, and so are vastly more capable of housing ghosts. The lines about encountering oneself in a lonesome place on a moonless night are especially vivid. We hide our true selves behind our external selves, and what we carry inside us should concern us more than any outer threat.

Though I doubt Dickinson was thinking specifically about writing and scary stories with this one, it also works on that kind of meta-level–we carry within us all the scary stories we are capable of creating.

Ghost

THE ONLY ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in mechlin,—so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird, 5
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

His conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze 10
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient,—
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind 15
Since that appalling day!

~Emily Dickinson

This is a fascinatingly spooky little poem. The first line is fantastic–“The only ghost I ever saw,” the speaker says, as if she might be expected to have seen many more–or as if she is recounting a shared experience. You’ve seen ghosts; I’ve seen one, too. This ghost, she tells us, “was dressed in mechlin,” a kind of lace. This seems to be the ghost of one long-dead–she identifies it as “he” but tells us additionally that not only is he quiet and fast, he is “quaint.”

In the second stanza, we get more information about the ghost’s behavior. He speaks seldom, but interestingly, he also laughs. The speaker tells us that the encounter was “transient,” as one might expect from a ghost.

There’s nothing about this particular ghost that seems disturbing, other than, of course, the obvious fact that he is a ghost. He converses, laughs a little, apparently goes on his way after a brief encounter. The speaker even tells us that the ghost was shy of her.

So the final two lines come as a bit of a twist: “God forbid I look behind/Since that appalling day!” Other than the fact of the ghost’s existence, there’s nothing about him that seems creepy or particularly threatening. The ghost himself appears afraid of the living. So why does the speaker suddenly do an about-face at the end, describing the meeting as “appalling,” and painting a picture of herself as terrified from that day forward to look behind her?

Perhaps it is precisely the ghost’s ordinariness that is distressing. This ghost is not anything more than the spirit of an ordinary human being–a person not unlike the speaker. He is a reminder of the speaker’s own mortality–an insistence that she, too, is never far from her own death, that death is something that waits for us all.

An awful tempest

AN AWFUL tempest mashed the air,
The clouds were gaunt and few;
A black, as of a spectre’s cloak,
Hid heaven and earth from view.

The creatures chuckled on the roofs 5
And whistled in the air,
And shook their fists and gnashed their teeth,
And swung their frenzied hair.

The morning lit, the birds arose;
The monster’s faded eyes 10
Turned slowly to his native coast,
And peace was Paradise!

~Emily Dickinson

Your prompt: taking a cue from the Myth, describe a natural phenomenon in monstrous terms. Happy writing!