The Source and Focus of Our Civilisation

It is difficult to describe the sensations afforded by a first sight of the Old World’s misty shores. Dreams seem to be taking a tangible form, and legend to be crystallising into fact. The ancient cliffs of England breathe a homecoming, and we feel close to the source and focus of our civilisation. Southampton remains in memory as a scene of bustle and excitement—of customs inspection, and of embarkation on the London-bound train, so tiny to American eyes. From the train-window one might see the delectable English landscape outspread in rich summer greenness—the fields, hills, and hedgerows of that Mother Land which shapes our thoughts and imaginations through centuries of continuous life. Here and there a graceful country seat or village spire was glimpsed amid the hills or caught outlined against the sky, and one could not but note the many vestiges of mediaevalism inherent in the aspect of the cottages and in the fortress-like architecture of the older manor-houses.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “European Glimpses,” which recounts a trip his ex-wife, Sonia H. Greene, took in 1932, Lovecraft describes how an American tourist might feel upon arriving in England, a country the author loved and admired.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “European Glimpses.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 232-52.


Such Things Could Be

Gradually the country around us grew wilder and more deserted. Archaic covered bridges lingered fearsomely out of the past in pockets of the hills, and the half-abandoned railway track paralleling the river seemed to exhale a nebulously visible air of desolation. There were awesome sweeps of vivid valley where great cliffs rose, New England’s virgin granite shewing grey and austere through the verdure that scaled the crests. There were gorges where untamed streams leaped, bearing down towards the river the unimagined secrets of a thousand pathless peaks. Branching away now and then were narrow, half-concealed roads that bored their way through solid, luxuriant masses of forest among whose primal trees whole armies of elemental spirits might well lurk. As I saw these I thought of how Akeley had been molested by unseen agencies on his drives along this very route, and did not wonder that such things could be.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), Albert N. Wilmarth describes his impressions as he journeys deeper and deeper into the state of Vermont.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Whisperer in Darkness.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 200-67.

A Sort of Frozen Hell

When the January tempest sweeps across the barren hill,
And life itself can scarce withstand the marrow-piercing chill,
When the snows drift o’er the pastures and choke the dreary dell,
Then the cold New England country seems a sort of frozen hell.

When the sky’s nocturnal splendour mocks the frigid earth below,
And Orion and the Dog-Star in the sterile silence glow,
When not all the fires in heaven can the winter’s cold dispel,
Then we eye the cruel stars in vain, and call the land a hell.

When the mad, malignant billows rage along the rocky coast,
And the ship with ice-clad rigging in the ocean storm is toss’d;
Then the anxious seaport cottagers look on the treach’rous swell,
And, thinking of the absent, call the savage clime a hell.

But when the North awakes in spring, and white gives way to green,
And crystal brooks begin to flow, and flow’rs bedeck the scene;
When rushes fringe the placid pool and leaflets shade the dell,
Then we revel in the welcome warmth, without a thought of hell.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “New England,” Lovecraft contrasts the region’s hellish winters with its delightful summers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “New England.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 273-4.


The Rolling Meadows All Neglected Lie

The village rings with ribald foreign cries;
Around the wine-shops loaf with bleary eyes
A vicious crew, that mock the name of “man”,
Yet dare to call themselves “American”.
New-England’s ships no longer ride the sea;
Once prosp’rous ports are sunk in poverty.
The rotting wharves as ruins tell the tale
Of days when Yankees mann’d the swelling sail.
The Indies yield no more their cargoes rare;
The sooty mill’s New-England’s present care:
The noisy mill, by foreign peasants run,
Supplants the glorious shipping that hath gone.
In arid fields, the kine no longer low;
The soil knows not the furrow of the plough;
The rolling meadows all neglected lie,
Fleck’d here and there by some foul alien’s sty.
The school no more contains the busy class;
The walls are down, the ruins chok’d with grass.
Within the gate-post swallows build their nests;
Upon the hill, the gentle master rests.
The mossy lane with briers is o’ergrown;
The bound’ry walls are shapeless heaps of stone,
And thro’ the mourning trees the winds in sorrow moan.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “New-England Fallen,” Lovecraft describes, in racist language, the impact of industrialization and immigration on New England.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “New-England Fallen.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 385-8.

As from a Past Not Far Behind

There was no hand to hold me back
That night I found the ancient track
Over the hill, and strained to see
The fields that teased my memory.
This tree, that wall—I knew them well,
And all the roofs and orchards fell
Familiarly upon my mind
As from a past not far behind.
I knew what shadows would be cast
When the late moon came up at last
From back of Zaman’s Hill, and how
The vale would shine three hours from now.
And when the path grew steep and high,
And seemed to end against the sky,
I had no fear of what might rest
Beyond that silhouetted crest.
Straight on I walked, while all the night
Grew pale with phosphorescent light,
And wall and farmhouse gable glowed
Unearthly by the climbing road.
There was the milestone that I knew—
“Two miles to Dunwich”—now the view
Of distant spire and roofs would dawn
With ten more upward paces gone….

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Ancient Track,” Lovecraft describes a journey along a strangely familiar path.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Ancient Track.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 79-80.

At the Back of Some Vague Dream

I do not know if ever it existed—
That lost world floating dimly on Time’s stream—
And yet I see it often, violet-misted,
And shimmering at the back of some vague dream.
There were strange towers and curious lapping rivers,
Labyrinths of wonder, and low vaults of light,
And bough-crossed skies of flame, like that which quivers
Wistfully just before a winter’s night.

Great moors led off to sedgy shores unpeopled,
Where vast birds wheeled, while on a windswept hill
There was a village, ancient and white-steepled,
With evening chimes for which I listen still.
I do not know what land it is—or dare
Ask when or why I was, or will be, there.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Mirage,” Lovecraft describes a strange, unknown land, which he has often glimpsed in his dreams.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Mirage.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 89.