The first book of poetry I ever owned was an anthology of Christina Rossetti poems, and I’ve always been struck by her very distinctive style. Though her writing is gorgeous, it’s characterised by an intensely Victorian morbidity which makes it perfect for Halloween!
On a related note, try these spooky books for Halloween too!
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
#2. When I am Dead, my Dearest
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
#3. After Death
The curtains were half drawn, the floor was swept
And strewn with rushes, rosemary and may
Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,
Where through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.
He leaned above me, thinking that I slept
And could not hear him; but I heard him say,
‘Poor child, poor child’: and as he turned away
Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept.
He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold
That hid my face, or take my hand in his,
Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:
He did not love me living; but once dead
He pitied me; and very sweet it is
To know he still is warm though I am cold.
#4. A Dirge
Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.
Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
And all winds go sighing
For sweet things dying.
Oh roses for the flush of youth,
And laurel for the perfect prime;
But pluck an ivy branch for me°
Grown old before my time.
Oh violets for the grave of youth,
And bay for those dead in their prime;
Give me the withered leaves I chose
Before in the old time.
#6. A Chilly Night
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.
#7. Life Hidden
Roses and lilies grow above the place
Where she sleeps the long sleep that doth not dream.
If we could look upon her hidden face
Nor shadow would be there nor garish gleam
Of light: her life is lapsing like a stream
That makes no noise but floweth on apace
Seawards; while many a shade and shady beam
Vary the ripples in their gliding chase.
She doth not see, but knows: she doth not feel,
And yet is sensible: she hears no sound, 10
Yet counts the flight of time and doth not err.
Peace far and near; peace to ourselves and her:
Her body is at peace in holy ground,
Her spirit is at peace where Angels kneel.
#8. One Sea-Side Grave
Unmindful of the roses,
Unmindful of the thorn,
A reaper tired reposes
Among his gathered corn:
So might I, till the morn!
Cold as the cold Decembers,
Past as the days that set,
While only one remembers
And all the rest forget,—
But one remembers yet.
#9. The Bourne
Underneath the growing grass,
Underneath the living flowers,
Deeper than the sound of showers:
There we shall not count the hours
By the shadows as they pass.
Youth and health will be but vain,
Beauty reckoned of no worth:
There a very little girth
Can hold round what once the earth
Seemed too narrow to contain.
#10. Sister Maude
Who told my mother of my shame,
Who told my father of my dear?
Oh who but Maude, my sister Maude,
Who lurked to spy and peer.
Cold he lies, as cold as stone,
With his clotted curls about his face:
The comeliest corpse in all the world
And worthy of a queen’s embrace.
You might have spared his soul, sister,
Have spared my soul, your own soul too:
Though I had not been born at all,
He’d never have looked at you.
My father may sleep in Paradise,
My mother at Heaven-gate:
But sister Maude shall get no sleep
Either early or late.
My father may wear a golden gown,
My mother a crown may win;
If my dear and I knocked at Heaven-gate
Perhaps they’d let us in:
But sister Maude, oh sister Maude,
Bide you with death and sin.
#11. ‘SO I grew Half Delirious and Quite Sick’
So I grew half delirious and quite sick,
And thro’ the darkness saw strange faces grin
Of Monsters at me. One put forth a fin,
And touched me clammily: I could not pick
A quarrel with it: it began to lick
My hand, making meanwhile a piteous din
And shedding human tears: it would begin
To near me, then retreat. I heard the quick
Pulsation of my heart, I marked the fight
Of life and death within me; then sleep threw 10
Her veil around me; but this thing is true:
When I awoke the sun was at his height,
And I wept sadly, knowing that one new
Creature had love for me, and others spite.
The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream’s sake.
I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream’s sake.
Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream’s sake.
#13. Amor Mundi
‘Oh, where are you going with your love-locks flowing
On the west wind blowing along this valley track?’
‘The downhill path is easy, come with me an it please ye,
We shall escape the uphill by never turning back.’
So they two went together in glowing August weather,
The honey-breathing heather lay to their left and right;
And dear she was to doat on, her swift feet seemed to float on
The air like soft twin pigeons too sportive to alight.
‘Oh, what is that in heaven where grey cloud-flakes are seven,
Where blackest clouds hang riven just at the rainy skirt?’
‘Oh, that’s a meteor sent us, a message dumb, portentous,
An undeciphered solemn signal of help or hurt.’
‘Oh, what is that glides quickly where velvet flowers grow thickly,
Their scent comes rich and sickly?’ ‘A scaled and hooded worm.’
‘Oh, what’s that in the hollow, so pale I quake to follow?’
‘Oh, that’s a thin dead body which waits the eternal term.’
‘Turn again, O my sweetest,—turn again, false and fleetest:
This beaten way thou beatest, I fear is hell’s own track.’
‘Nay, too steep for hill mounting; nay, too late for cost counting:
This downhill path is easy, but there’s no turning back.’