poem index

Poetry Haunted House

Year

2010
"Nature is a Haunted House - but Art - a House that tries to be haunted." —Emily Dickinson

This Halloween, take a tour through our haunted house of poetry—from the poems that give you the chills to those that make you "feel physically as if the top of [your] head were taken off." Read your way through Poets.org's literary den of ghosts, goblins, and bards, along with some suggestions for putting together a poetry scare-fest, DIY style.


Welcome: The First Circle of Hell

Virgil greets us at the gates of the underworld, beneath a sign that reads "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," the famous line from Canto III of Dante's Inferno.

In the first room, an imprisoned Ezra Pound warns us of the perils that lie ahead, reading from his own ghastly Canto XIV of "living pus, full of vermin, / dead maggots begetting live maggots..."

(Ezra Pound was incarcerated at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital for more than twelve years. He referred to that place as "the hellhole.")

You Will Need
A tour-guide dressed as Dante's Virgil
Prison bars
Red or orange lighting

Extra Credit
A heater
More poems about the underworld


The Séance Room

Here, we gather around a Ouija board to summon W. B. Yeats. When the board inevitably spells out his name, his voice is suddenly upon us!

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the
   shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the
   pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

You Will Need
A Medium/Fortune-teller
A Ouija board
The Poets.org Audio Archive

Extra Credit
A copy of James Merrill's epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover which was composed with the help of such "visitations"


The Nursery

The guests are found chanting lines from Robert Frost's "Home Burial" around a "cradle, endlessly rocking":

You can't because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little
   grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air...

You Will Need
A cradle and string
A demon baby
A shovel

Extra Credit
D. H. Lawrence's "Baby Tortoise"


The Witches' Lair

In our house's darkest room, Shakespeare's witches from Macbeth—with their one eye—stir the cauldron chanting "Double, double toil and trouble.&quot They pass around different "ingredients" for their brew, invoking corresponding poems for each.

You Will Need
A cauldron full of punch
The witches' eye from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I
Baudelaire's spleen from "Spleen"
Blake's worm from "The Sick Rose"
Piece of a mummy from
   "Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh"
Shed skin from "Shedding Skin"
Millay's lips from "Sonnet XLIII"

Extra Credit
After "adding" all the ingredients, serve the brew as punch.


Goblin Market

In our haunted dining room, we come upon a display of lush food and drink. But beware! These delicacies in reality are "like honey to the throat, / But poison in the blood." Any number of cursed snacks will do. Accompany this haunted feast with a dramatic reading of Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market."

You Will Need
"Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches..."

Extra Credit
Goblins


Exit through the Graveyard

The backyard of our haunted house is, of course, the graveyard. All of the gravestones here are made up of famous epitaphs, from John Keats's name "writ in Water" to Shakespeare's warning: "Curst be he yt moves my bones."

To conclude the tour, Virgil reappears for a reading of Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus."

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

You Will Need
Cut-out cardboard gravestones (stock your cemetery using the roster of souls at Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner, the resting place of Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Robert Browning, among others.)
A black marker
Bones

Extra Credit
Take your haunt on the road; check out our resource for Poets Graves to find out which poets are buried near you.


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