Nyarlathotep is a nightmare—an actual phantasm of my own, with the first paragraph written before I fully awaked. I have been feeling execrably of late—whole weeks have passed without relief from headache and dizziness, and for a long time three hours was my utmost limit for continuous work. (I seem better now.) Added to my steady ills was an unaccustomed ocular trouble which prevented me from reading fine print—a curious tugging of nerves and muscles which rather startled me during the weeks it persisted. Amidst this gloom came the nightmare of nightmares—the most realistic and horrible I have experienced since the age of ten—whose stark hideousness and ghastly oppressiveness I could but feebly mirror in my written phantasy. . . . The first phase was a general sense of undefined apprehension—vague terror which appeared universal. I seemed to be seated in my chair clad in my old grey dressing-gown, reading a letter from Samuel Loveman. The letter was unbelievably realistic—thin, 8½ X 13 paper, violet ink signature, and all—and its contents seemed portentous. The dream-Loveman wrote:
“Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.”
I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in publick halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts—first, a horrible—possibly prophetic—cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmare that inspired his story “Nyarlathotep.”
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 14 Dec. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 160-2.
Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth, and to shew in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.
DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Celephaïs” (1920), the narrator describes how Kuranes, by distancing himself from modern civilization, finds beauty and meaning in his dreams.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Celephaïs.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 24-30.
Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
When the sky was a vaporous flame,
I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Nemesis,” Lovecraft describes his dreams as a nightmarish voyage through space and time.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nemesis.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 46-8.
And then it was that my former high spirits received their damper. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things which I called “night-gaunts”—a compound word of my own coinage. I used to draw them after waking (perhaps the idea of these figures came from an edition de luxe of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Doré, which I discovered one day in the east parlor). In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed, the while fretting & impelling me with their detestable tridents. It is fully fifteen years—aye, more—since I have seen a “night-gaunt”, but even now, when half asleep & drifting vaguely along over a sea of childhood thoughts, I feel a thrill of fear … & instinctively struggle to keep awake. That was my own prayer back in ’96—each night—to keep awake & ward off the night-gaunts!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmares he experienced after the death of his maternal grandmother.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 16 Nov. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 29-42.
For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth. It is the glory of Boston’s hillside roofs and western windows aflame with sunset; of the flower-fragrant Common and the great dome on the hill and the tangle of gables and chimneys in the violet valley where the many-bridged Charles flows drowsily […] This loveliness, moulded, crystallised, and polished by years of memory and dreaming, is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets; and to find that marble parapet with curious urns and carven rail, and descend at last those endless balustrade steps to the city of broad squares and prismatic fountains, you need only to turn back to the thoughts and visions of your wistful boyhood.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Randolph Carter learns that the fantastic city he has been searching for in his dreams is, in reality, the Boston of his childhood.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 155-251.
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.
His solid flesh had never been away,
For each dawn found him in his usual place,
But every night his spirit loved to race
Through gulfs and worlds remote from common day.
He had seen Yaddith, yet retained his mind,
And come back safely from the Ghooric zone,
When one still night across curved space was thrown
That beckoning piping from the voids behind.
He waked that morning as an older man,
And nothing since has looked the same to him.
Objects around float nebulous and dim—
False, phantom trifles of some vaster plan.
His folk and friends are now an alien throng
To which he struggles vainly to belong.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Alienation,” Lovecraft contemplates the irresistible appeal of transcendence as well as the devastating sense of unreality that it would engender.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Alienation.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 93.
The house was old, with tangled wings outthrown,
Of which no one could ever half keep track,
And in a small room somewhat near the back
Was an odd window sealed with ancient stone.
There, in a dream-plagued childhood, quite alone
I used to go, where night reigned vague and black;
Parting the cobwebs with a curious lack
Of fear, and with a wonder each time grown.
One later day I brought the masons there
To find what view my dim forbears had shunned,
But as they pierced the stone, a rush of air
Burst from the alien voids that yawned beyond.
They fled—but I peered through and found unrolled
All the wild worlds of which my dreams had told.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Window,” Lovecraft describes a seemingly ordinary window, long ago “sealed with ancient stone,” through which viewers may look upon alien worlds.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Window.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 86-7.
Deep in my dream the great bird whispered queerly
Of the black cone amid the polar waste;
Pushing above the ice-sheet lone and drearly,
By storm-crazed aeons battered and defaced.
Hither no living earth-shapes take their courses,
And only pale auroras and faint suns
Glow on that pitted rock, whose primal sources
Are guessed at dimly by the Elder Ones.
If men should glimpse it, they would merely wonder
What tricky mound of Nature’s build they spied;
But the bird told of vaster parts, that under
The mile-deep ice-shroud crouch and brood and bide.
God help the dreamer whose mad visions shew
Those dead eyes set in crystal gulfs below!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Antarktos,” Lovecraft describes an ancient and gargantuan creature, which lies beneath the Antarctic ice.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Antarktos.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 86.
Somewhere in dream there is an evil place
Where tall, deserted buildings crowd along
A deep, black, narrow channel, reeking strong
Of frightful things whence oily currents race.
Lanes with old walls half meeting overhead
Wind off to streets one may or may not know,
And feeble moonlight sheds a spectral glow
Over long rows of windows, dark and dead.
There are no footfalls, and the one soft sound
Is of the oily water as it glides
Under stone bridges, and along the sides
Of its deep flume, to some vague ocean bound.
None lives to tell when that stream washed away
Its dream-lost region from the world of clay.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Canal,” Lovecraft describes a nightmarish city, through which a foul channel runs.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Canal.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 90.