Year after year I heard that faint, far ringing
Of deep-toned bells on the black midnight wind;
Peals from no steeple I could ever find,
But strange, as if across some great void winging.
I searched my dreams and memories for a clue,
And thought of all the chimes my visions carried;
Of quiet Innsmouth, where the white gulls tarried
Around an ancient spire that once I knew.
Always perplexed I heard those far notes falling,
Till one March night the bleak rain splashing cold
Beckoned me back through gateways of recalling
To elder towers where the mad clappers tolled.
They tolled—but from the sunless tides that pour
Through sunken valleys on the sea’s dead floor.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Bells,” Lovecraft describes how a distant ringing, the source of which he cannot find, haunts him.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Bells.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 88.
Farmer Seth Atwood was past eighty when
He tried to sink that deep well by his door,
With only Eb to help him bore and bore.
We laughed, and hoped he’d soon be sane again.
And yet, instead, young Eb went crazy, too,
So that they shipped him to the county farm.
Seth bricked the well-mouth up as tight as glue—
Then hacked an artery in his gnarled left arm.
After the funeral we felt bound to get
Out to that well and rip the bricks away,
But all we saw were iron hand-holds set
Down a black hole deeper than we could say.
And yet we put the bricks back—for we found
The hole too deep for any line to sound.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Well,” Lovecraft describes the fate of two farmers who descend into the impossibly deep well they have dug.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Well.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 84-5.
A great part of religion is merely a childish and diluted pseudo-gratification of this perpetual gnawing toward the ultimate illimitable void. Superadded to this simple curiosity is the galling sense of intolerable restraint which all sensitive people (except self-blinded earth-gazers like little Augie DerlEth) feel as they survey their natural limitations in time and space as scaled against the freedoms and expansions and comprehensions and adventurous expectancies which the mind can formulate as abstract conceptions. Only a perfect clod can fail to discern these irritant feelings in the greater part of mankind—feelings so potent and imperious that, if denied symbolic outlets in aesthetics or religious fakery, they produce actual hallucinations of the supernatural, and drive half-responsible minds to the concoction of the most absurd hoaxes and the perpetuation of the most absurd specific myth-types.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft argues that many people, when contemplating the inflexibility of natural law, feel a sense of “intolerable restraint,” which often finds expression in either religious or artistic symbolism.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” Feb. 1931. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 257-60.
The nighte was darke! O readers, Hark!
And see Ulysses’ fleet!
From trumpets sound back homeward bound
He hopes his spouse to greet.
Long he hath fought, put Troy to naught
And levelled down its walls.
But Neptune’s wrath obstructs his path
And into snares he falls.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Poem of Ulysses, or The Odyssey,” Lovecraft, who was only seven when he wrote it, retells the story of Ulysses in verse.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Poem of Ulysses, or The Odyssey.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 23-5.
Indulgent sir, pray spare an inch or two,
And print the carping critics’ joint adieu.
So long it is since we began the fray
That readers swear we’ve filched your Log away!
Forgive, we beg, the sinners that presume
To fill with venomed verse such precious room.
Inflamed by war, and in a martial rage,
We held a while the centre of the stage
Till, blinded by each other’s furious fire,
We battled on, forgetting to retire.
But fiercest feuds draw sometimes to their ends,
And ancient foemen live to meet as friends:
So do we now, conjoin’d in lasting peace,
Lay down our pens, and mutual slander cease.
What sound is this? ’Tis but a joyous yell
From thankful thousands, as we say farewell.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The End of the Jackson War,” Lovecraft promises to end his feud with admirers of Fred Jackson, a popular romance writer.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The End of the Jackson War.” In The Ancient Track. The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 209.
It is a certain hour of twilight glooms,
Mostly in autumn, when the star-wind pours
Down hilltop streets, deserted out-of-doors,
But shewing early lamplight from snug rooms.
The dead leaves rush in strange, fantastic twists,
And chimney-smoke whirls round with alien grace,
Heeding geometries of outer space,
While Fomalhaut peers in through southward mists.
This is the hour when moonstruck poets know
What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon’s continents,
Such as in no poor earthly garden blow.
Yet for each dream these winds to us convey,
A dozen more of ours they sweep away!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Star-Winds,” Lovecraft describes how a sense of cosmic awe can be aroused by seemingly everyday phenomena.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Star-Winds.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 86.
What vig’rous protests now assail my eyes?
See Jackson’s satellites in anger rise!
His ardent readers, steep’d in tales of love,
Sincere devotion to their leader prove;
In brave defence of sickly gallantry,
They damn the critic, and beleaguer me.
Ingenious Russell, I forgive the slur,
Since in such clever lines your sneers occur.
Your verse, with true Pierian heat inflam’d,
Should be at some more worthy object aim’d.
Think not, good rhymester, that I sought to shew
In my late letter merely what I know,
Nor that I labour’d, with my humble quill,
To bend the universe to suit my will.
My aim, forsooth, was but to do my best
To free these pages from an am’rous pest.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Ad Criticos,” Lovecraft responds to those who objected to his criticism of Fred Jackson, a popular romance writer and a frequent contributor to The Argosy.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Ad Criticos.” In The Ancient Track. The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 203-7.
I seem to have a good deal of Celtic blood from Welsh, Cornish, and Devonian lines. My Musgrave line descends from a companion of William the Conqueror, and contains the only weird legend connected with my ancestry. This is the legend of Eden Hall in Cumberland, seat of the family until quite recent times. It is given erroneously in a German poem by Uhland and thence paraphrased in a verse of Longfellow’s—but the original version of the tale is as follows: A drinking-glass was stolen by a Musgrave from the fairies, who thereafter made futile attempts to recover it. In the end, the fairies pronounced the following prophecy—indicating that disaster would overtake the house of Musgrave unless the glass was kept intact:
“If the glass either break or fall,
Farewell to the luck of Eden Hall.”
In the family there actually existed an old glass, supposed to be the one of the legend, which was guarded with the most extreme care. Upon the breaking up of the estate and sale of Eden Hall after the World War, this glass was placed in the South Kensington Museum, London. I hope no one will smash it, since that would doubtless bring me some sort of evil through my Musgrave side! Henrietta Musgrave in 1774 married Sir John Morris, Bart., of Clasemont—and their granddaughter Rachel Morris married William Allgood of Nunwick (Northumberland) in 1817, and became the mother of Helen (Allgood) Lovecraft, my father’s mother. Thus a great-great-great-grandmother of mine was born with the name of Musgrave of Eden Hall.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Robert H. Barlow, Lovecraft describes the “legend of Eden Hall” and his family’s connection to it.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert H. Barlow.” 19 Mar. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 392-3.
Over old roofs and past decaying spires
The harbour whistles chant all through the night;
Throats from strange ports, and beaches far and white,
And fabulous oceans, ranged in motley choirs.
Each to the other alien and unknown,
Yet all, by some obscurely focussed force
From brooding gulfs beyond the Zodiac’s course,
Fused into one mysterious cosmic drone.
Through shadowy dreams they send a marching line
Of still more shadowy shapes and hints and views;
Echoes from outer voids, and subtle clues
To things which they themselves cannot define.
And always in that chorus, faintly blent,
We catch some notes no earth-ship ever sent.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Harbour Whistles,” Lovecraft describes the eerie sounds of the harbor, which evoke vague images of foreign lands and other worlds.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Harbour Whistles.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 93.