Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….

There will be few of those reading this blog unaware that tonight is Hallowe’en.If it isn’t pouring with rain thousands of children will be knocking on doors demanding sweets with menaces, and tomorrow tons of delicious pumpkin will be lying on the compost heap. It is all very commercialised and not terribly scary anymore, so I thought I would look at what really scares  me; that proper spine-chilling fear that makes even the darkness at the top of the stairs terrifying.

I must admit this post has taken a long time to write, with so many drafts and re-writes I almost gave up. I understood eventually that this isn’t about some in-depth analysis. It is subjective, visceral and unique to every one of us.

There are some universal fears of course. That cold horror that comes over you as a child when you lose sight of a parent, or as a parent when a child wanders off (or hides in the skirts in M&S  – Evie, you know who I am talking about…). The fear of serious illness, the death of someone close. However on Halloween we think about those things that frighten us, but from which we can escape. We put ourselves in the way of the spooky and macabre; we ‘enjoy’ being frightened and appreciate a return to the comfort and warmth of reality.

Anyway, enough of the analysis. What frightens me?

It is the ‘Victorian Gothic’ – the curses, tombs, hauntings and madness feared in reality and expressed in fiction and poetry and to some extent in architecture. Hideous gargoyles, huge iron gates, murky Whitechapel streets, all the trappings of a black and white horror film. Fog thick enough to lose your bearings in, misty marshes hiding treacherous quicksand. I am not one that likes blood and guts in movies. It may make viewers hide behind a cushion but I want to end up scared, not vomiting. Give me The Others or The Haunting (the 1963 version) rather than Saw or Chopping Mall (yes really, that is the title..).

So if I really want to frighten myself on Halloween I would read the brilliant passage in Dickens’ Bleak House where Guppy discovers Krook has spontaneously combusted in his horrid little shop. Or I would get out the book I have had since I was a child – called Haunted Britain it is simply a directory of places that are reputedly haunted, but it is so matter of fact it is totally believable. I might also dip into the rather marvellous new blog idea developed by Luke of Kith and Kin UK. It is called Therein Hangs a Tale, and the first post is about premature burial….

As an example of something that really send shivers up my spine, watch the following video…:

The great Edgar Allan Poe, who probed the darkest regions of the human mind. He has inspired many others in a variety of guises including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Alan Parsons Project (Tales of Mystery & Imagination a concept album) and even The Simpsons. Wonderful, but I wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading for infants….

However, 31st October is not just Halloween, it is also the date on which John Keats was born, so to mark that day whilst keeping in the spirit of the pumpkin and the pall I thought I would end with his most chilling poem, a fragment usually referred to as This Living Hand:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you….


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7 Responses to Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….

  1. Some scary stuff there, to be sure. But I always go for M.R.James myself. Wonderfully evocative – and frightening.

  2. Lisbeth says:

    EW! Creepy hand poem….

  3. sally snaddon says:

    thankfully as we live ‘out in the sticks’ we don’t have trick or treats to our door. M&S Brent Cross definitely when Claire was 2 – me, distracted for a milli-second by someone I hadn’t seen in a long while, and she was gone – 10 mins later – she was just playing hide and seek under the ladies evening gowns – aaaahhhh!

  4. Christopher Walken…. Can you ever find a stranger person. He even read the Three little pigs on tele in a bizarre way :P

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