Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Hallowe'en Staple

The Raven

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 visitor," 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 visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor 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 stillness 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 again I heard 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 a minute 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 blest 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 further 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 fancy 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 lamplight 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 Seraphim whose footfalls 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 in 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 lamplight 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!

by Edgar Allen Poe
(courtesy Famous Poets and Poems)
Listen to James Earl Jones read it aloud.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Little Rosetti to Set the Mood

MORNING and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy."

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
"Lie close," Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
"Come buy," call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
"O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
"Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds' weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes."
"No," said Lizzie, "no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us."
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr'd,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried "Pretty Goblin" still for "Pretty Polly";
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered altogether:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
"Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so."
"Nay hush," said Laura.
"Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more," and kissed her.
"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap."

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came--
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: "The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep."
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
"Come buy, come buy,"
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, "O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?"

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
But peering thro' the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent 'til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
"Come buy, come buy,"
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister's cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins' cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy."
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear.

She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death's door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, --
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
"Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs."

"Good folk," said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
"Give me much and many"; --
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
"Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,"
They answered grinning;
"Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us."
"Thank you," said Lizzie; "but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee."
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, --
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, --
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, --
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, --
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried "Laura," up the garden,
"Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men."

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
"Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?"
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months,years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

by Christina Rosetti

(courtesy The Victorian Web)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Texas Cowboy's Troubled Dream

Talk about a sobering dream....

The Hell Bound Train

A Texas cowboy lay down on a barroom floor,
Having drunk so much he could drink no more;
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain
To dream that he rode on a hell-bound train.

The engine with murderous blood was damp
And was brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp;
An imp, for fuel, was shoveling bones,
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lager beer
And the devil himself was the engineer;
The passengers were a most motley crew-
Church member, atheist, Gentile, and Jew,

Rich men in broad cloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies, and withered old hags,
Yellow and black men, red, brown, and white,
All chained together-O God, what a sight!

While the train rushed on at an awful pace-
The sulphurous fumes scorched their hands and face;
Wider and wider the country grew,
As faster and faster the engine flew.
Louder and louder the thunder crashed
And brighter and brighter the lightning flashed;
Hotter and hotter the air became
Till the clothes were burned from each quivering frame.

And out of the distance there arose a yell,
"Ha, ha," said the devil, "we're nearing hell"
Then oh, how the passengers all shrieked with pain
And begged the devil to stop the train.
But he capered about and danced for glee,
And laughed and joked at their misery.
"My faithful friends, you have done the work
And the devil never can a payday shirk.

"You've bullied the weak, you've robbed the poor,
The starving brother you've turned from the door;
You've laid up gold where the canker rust,
And have given free vent to your beastly lust.
"You've justice scorned, and corruption sown,
And trampled the laws of nature down.
You have drunk, rioted, cheated, plundered, and lied,
And mocked at God in your hell-born pride.

"You have paid full fare, so I'll carry you through,
For it's only right you should have your due.
Why, the laborer always expects his hire,
So I'll land you safe in the lake of fire,

"Where your flesh will waste in the flames that roar,
And my imps torment you forevermore."
Then the cowboy awoke with an anguished cry,
His clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high.

Then he prayed as he never had prayed till that hour
To be saved from his sin and the demon's power;
And his prayers and his vows were not in vain,
For he never rode the hell-bound train.


(courtesy Vintage Halloween Poetry)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Which Poet Will You Be for Hallowe'en?

If you're anything like me, right about now you're poking through your closet trying to figure out exactly what or who in the world you can dress up like for that Hallowe'en party or to accompany your family trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en night.

Well, look no further! The Academy of American Poets has costume ideas galore for the poetry lover. A white nightgown, a collection of folded papers and flies will transform you into Emily Dickenson. A lyre will make you Sappho. Gather up butterflies and a beard and violá! Walt Whitman is walking down your staircase.

Okay, maybe a ribbon will help, or perhaps a wheelbarrow or a stethoscope may be needed for a more complete transformation (or if you've changed your mind to become William Carlos Williams).

At any rate, consider your options. I'm sure you'd make a lovely Emily or Edgar, and the opportunity to share poetry will just guild the lily. (Visit the Academy of American Poets Web site for your favorites.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gearing Up for Hallowe'en With A Ghost Poem

How else would you get ready for Hallowe'en but with a ghost poem? (Okay, and some candy, too.) What's your favorite scary poem?

The Poor Ghost

"Oh whence do you come, my dear friend, to me,
With your golden hair all fallen below your knee,
And your face as white as snowdrops on the lea,
And your voice as hollow as the hollow sea?"

"From the other world I come back to you,
My locks are uncurled with dripping drenching dew.
You know the old, whilst I know the new:
But tomorrow you shall know this too."

"Oh not tomorrow into the dark, I pray;
Oh not tomorrow, too soon to go away:
Here I feel warm and well-content and gay:
Give me another year, another day."

"Am I so changed in a day and a night
That mine own only love shrinks from me with fright,
Is fain to turn away to left or right
And cover up his eyes from the sight?"

"Indeed I loved you, my chosen friend,
I loved you for life, but life has an end;
Thro' sickness I was ready to tend:
But death mars all, which we cannot mend.

"Indeed I loved you; I love you yet
If you will stay where your bed is set,
Where I have planted a violet
Which the wind waves, which the dew makes wet."

"Life is gone, then love too is gone,
It was a reed that I leant upon:
Never doubt 1 will leave you alone
And not wake you rattling bone with bone.

"I go home alone to my bed,
Dug deep at the foot and deep at the head,
Roofed in with a load of lead,
Warm enough for the forgotten dead.

"But why did your tears soak thro' the clay,
And why did your sobs wake me where I lay?
I was away, far enough away:
Let me sleep now till the Judgment Day."

by Christina Rosetti

courtesy Classic Literature

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Funeral Poe Never Had — Until Now

Baltimore celebrated its favorite son this year on his bicentennial year by not only celebrating his life, but also giving him the sendoff from this mortal coil he did not get 160 years ago.

Only one man could write the stuff that scares the stuffing out of even the most seasoned horror writer and still spurs men to wear bright purple. Credit for that alone goes to Edgar Allen Poe, with whom a single word — Nevermore! — can create images that capture the essence of Gothic fiction, as well as inspire the name of a profitable football franchise.

The funeral event began at 11:40 a.m. Sunday, October 11, with a processional from the Poe House to Westminster Hall. The Loch Raven Pipes and Drums led a horse-drawn hearse, the curtains on the glass sides pulled up so the casket was visible. The bagpipes were haunting.

The hearse was followed by dozens of mourners in period clothing, including the speakers slated for the funeral service. My embarrassingly limited Poe knowledge prevented me from recognizing some of the bearded faces, and I was glad to see a few women in the processional. A few people were easy to detect with my untrained eye: Walt Whitman in his full gray beard, beige hat and light suit; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his garb perfect for the wild moor; and Sir Alfred Hitchcock with an unmistakable profile and very English hat. Not all in the entourage were in 19th century garb, and I was intrigued. (The Poe bicentennial Web site had warned that the list of speakers might change due to their being dead themselves, so I wasn't sure how death had affected the program.)

As the processional came to a halt in front of Westminster Hall, the crowd pushed closer, cameras clicking. (My camera, regrettably, was in my car, forgotten in the haste to see the processional and remembered blocks from where David and I parked.) I am not sure if I would have been as forward as some of the photographers; to me, it was a funeral more than a performance, and there was something macabre and disrespectful about shoving a camera in Whitman's face.

A handful of the men stepped forward to serve as pallbearers, and the casket was slid from the hearse into their waiting hands. They solemnly walked along the front of the hall, cautiously maneuvering their way past the crowd lining in the street. (They did not walk up the steep stairs in front of which the hearse stopped.)

As the hour of the first service drew near, those attending the first service filed into the hall after them.

Many of my fellow spectators/mourners were in period mourning costume, or a close approximation of such. I am not an expert, and some costumes were elaborate and interesting, like the men in full black topcoats, top hats and capes, or the women in long black crepe dresses and hats with black lace covering their faces. Some people were dressed in contemporary clothing apropos to mourning and funerals. Other spectators used this as an opportunity to air out their Halloween costumes a couple of weeks early, and many had clothing with depictions of skulls, The Nightmare Before Christmas or Poe himself. There was a fair smattering of Raven purple. (I myself was in blue jeans and a black blouse, which served me well in the quarter-mile sprint from the car to the processional).

Before the second service, people milled around Poe's grave, placing pennies and flowers on his monument. A clutch of men in the Baltimore City Men's Chorus warmed up in the narrow walkway amidst the gravestones in the yard beyond the spectators. People took photos of the grave, others took photos of their friends and family at the grave. A tall Asian man performed mournful classical music as he stood next to the monument, and the crowd clapped with appreciation. The crowed ebbed and flowed, Goth teens and 19th century mourners mixing with surprised pedestrians passing through the crowd. A long black hearse with a silver skull as its hood ornament blasted what sounded like Vincent Price giving a dramatic reading (presumably of Poe's works), though the distortion prevented me from understanding a word from where I stood. I took photos of tombstones, some of which were under the hall, behind locked gates.

Inside the hall was a replica of Poe's original tombstone, which was destroyed in a freak train derailment accident before it was even placed on his grave. The stone was surrounded by beautiful flowers (presumably from the event's official florist, who accepted phone orders with free delivery for the service). At the front of the hall were the organ's tall pipes that reached to the arched ceiling. Hundreds of chairs filled slowly as the mourners took their seats.

The speakers were unknown to me by sight, for the most part. The Reverend Rufus Griswold was soundly hissed as he took the stage. Both Poe's former fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman and his close friend George Lippard countered the reverend's previously published slights. Both were animated and engaging. In fact, Lippard was so overwrought he needed a glass of water to continue his eulogy — then, as he left the lectern, threw the rest in Griswold's face. Poe's nurse, editor, attending physician at his death all were present to pretty much set the record straight to the author's life and final days.

The second half of the service was more entertaining to the casual Poe aficionado. That was when those who were most influenced by him, authors and movie directors, illustrators and actors alike, took the stage. Whitman had little to say, but spoke with affection for the man who welcomed him to the office building in New York they both occupied. Charles Baudelaire was effusive and dignified. H.P. Lovecraft was brilliant with his nervous gestures and reading aloud what sounded like gibberish from a large book (I'm sure his fans will explain that to me). Hitchcock offered his profile and some of his familiar catchphrases.

When we came to the living, their tributes were touching and spoke deeply to my own sensibilities. Ellen Datlow, in her black dress and wild hair, was humble and appreciative. Gris Grimly was funny, self-deprecating and irreverent (and dressed in a t-shirt with a bare rib cage on the front and a dress jacket); only a geek can articulate what it's like to be a geek and have a roomful of fellow geeks get it. Mark Renfield brought Baltimore and D.C. of today into the mix with references to pop culture of the time and place. John Astin spoke briefly but with heartfelt appreciation, and Poe House curator Jeff Jerome's words spoke to this bureaucrat's heart.

In the end, the casket passed through the hall and we paid our final respects. More than 700 people attended the services, and many more stood in the cool autumn sunshine, blocking traffic and wandering about the cemetery. The event allowed all to celebrate the life and works of a man who might have been impoverished at his death but left a legacy beyond all measure. It was a great event, and I am glad David and I could be a part of it.

If a person's wealth can be measured by influence, Poe died a rich man who, I hope, will continue to be remembered and continue to influence generations of readers, writers and movie directors (and whatever media follows). May the events of 2009 in Baltimore encourage more people to read and learn more about him, his time, his work and his homes — including the Poe Museum in Richmond, another great Poe resource and enjoyable destination (and the town he felt was his true home).

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Marital Exchange on a Cold Morning

Me: I'm getting out of bed.
David: I'll miss you.
Me: I'm taking the covers with me.
David: I'll really miss you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Cost of Payment

There's been a lot of discussion lately about whether to pay for purchases with credit cards, debit cards or layaway. It's a great conversation to have, and one that is truly long overdue.

Back in the day, credit was given sparingly. One went into debt for a house, and maybe for a car. Of course, back in the day, most everything was purchased with cash. If you didn't have the entire purchase price, many stores would allow you to buy with cash over time. That quaint practice, central to my family's back-to-school clothing purchases, was called "layaway."

Nowadays, I have heard many people remark that they rarely carry or use cash.

I rarely keep cash in my wallet, instead use my bank card attached to my checking account. I keep cash for those embarrassingly small transactions, when purchasing a snack shouldn't be a challenge. Frankly, this can go both ways: either I don't process a $2.65 purchase, saving some hard-earned money, or I find another $10 to tack on to make the purchase "worthwhile." (By the way, merchants may not require a minimum purchase for use of credit cards, as a rule; if they do, report them to your credit card company.)

Debit cards are a blessing — usually. My card is tied to my checking account and I make purchases on it all the livelong day. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not a spendthrift. I can't be: every penny in my checking account is banking on my wise purchases. If I don't have the money, I don't use the card. Period. Purchases on my debit card keep me honest. I'm not the only one, according to The Washington Post ("For Gun-Shy Consumers, Debit is Replacing Credit," October 7, 2009).

I also have to understand the system. My bank, for some unknown reason, charges a transaction fee for every debit purchase — but "credit" purchases are different. I could change my service, and one of these days I might. However, in the meantime, I know how to process a transaction that doesn't cost me and still pays for the purchase directly from available funds.

My husband David learned the hard way about how debit and credit card purchases differ. During a recent trip, he paid for a hotel room with his debit card — only to discover two charges on his card: a temporary charge to hold the room and the final, permanent charge to pay for the room. While it may be standard practice for credit/debit companies to reserve those funds for those kinds of "reservation" purchases, it's not always common knowledge to customers. Most people don't have an extra few hundred dollars in their checking accounts for this kind of temporary charge, so be sure to inquire when using a debit card.

This brings up a different angle to debit cards: the purchase and use of debit cards as a sort of "gift" card. Many traditional credit card companies offer gift cards, which are a lovely idea — but my attempt at using them last summer soured me to them. I was given hundreds of dollars on multiple Visa gift cards, but half the time the vendor could not process them, so the money was unavailable. Then there was the time the MTA told me the train ticket wasn't processed on the card, only the MTA received payment. Or did they? Visa wasn't sure. (My advice: just give cash. It spends easier.)

Some companies, however, are providing "debit" cards that can be purchased by the public. These will provide cash at ATMs as well as process as a traditional debit card at stores. While a convenience, the card is not without its costs. Apparently not only is there a cost to activate the card, but some merchants and banks charge per use of the card ("Prepaid — but Not Prepared for Debit Card Fees," New York Times, October 5, 2009).

Every convenience has its price and consumers are warned with a hearty caveat emptor. Always know the rules of the card: additional costs, transaction costs, expiration dates and the like. I have lost value on gift cards that have hidden expiration dates or whose merchants withdraw a fee per month when the card carries a balance after a certain period of time. Usually when I call the merchant, I receive credit (on the card) for these fees, or the expiration date is extended. As time continues, merchants are changing their policies. If not, we can shop with our feet and use only those vendors with reasonable policies.

There are times when credit cards are a necessary evil, so to speak. I use mine when purchasing items online, or when I travel (see hotel and car rental reference, above). If I have a particularly large expense (car repairs come to mind) that might stretch my checking account, I will put the transaction on the credit card until I can transfer sufficient funds into my checking account. I do not carry a balance on my credit card. I think we can agree: few purchases are worth paying (sometimes usurious) interest — and even then, lending institutions offer better repayment programs than "plastic."

In the end, the question remains: why not use cash? There's little advantage to the cards, and certainly the cost can outweigh the convenience. Anyway, the recipient can always spend them to purchase a card if they prefer. Sometimes cash seems, well, gauche — I've purchased gift cards rather than put cash in the last two baby shower cards I have given only because cash seemed artless, lazy. I am going to help change that attitude, starting — well, tomorrow, when I next plan to purchase gifts.

In the meantime, wish me luck with Visa. Maybe corporate America isn't completely soul-less yet.