Too Deep to Sound

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.


In Undreamable Abysses

Leaping, floating, flying down those endless stairs through the dark house; racing mindlessly out into the narrow, steep, and ancient street of steps and tottering houses; clattering down steps and over cobbles to the lower streets and the putrid canyon-walled river; panting across the great dark bridge to the broader, healthier streets and boulevards we know; all these are terrible impressions that linger with me. And I recall that there was no wind, and that the moon was out, and that all the lights of the city twinkled.

Despite my most careful searches and investigations, I have never since been able to find the Rue d’Auseil. But I am not wholly sorry; either for this or for the loss in undreamable abysses of the closely written sheets which alone could have explained the music of Erich Zann.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Music of Erich Zann” (1921), the narrator describes his flight from the Rue d’Auseil, a street that, since then, he has never been able to find.  

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Music of Erich Zann.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 45-52.


A Daemoniac Ecstasy of Bloodthirstiness

As Slater grew older, it appeared, his matutinal aberrations had gradually increased in frequency and violence; till about a month before his arrival at the institution had occurred the shocking tragedy which caused his arrest by the authorities. One day near noon, after a profound sleep begun in a whiskey debauch at about five of the previous afternoon, the man had roused himself most suddenly; with ululations so horrible and unearthly that they brought several neighbours to his cabin—a filthy sty where he dwelt with a family as indescribable as himself. Rushing out into the snow, he had flung his arms aloft and commenced a series of leaps directly upward in the air; the while shouting his determination to reach some ‘big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor, and the loud queer music far away’. As two men of moderate size sought to restrain him, he had struggled with maniacal force and fury, screaming of his desire and need to find and kill a certain ‘thing that shines and shakes and laughs’. At length, after temporarily felling one of his detainers with a sudden blow, he had flung himself upon the other in a daemoniac ecstasy of bloodthirstiness, shrieking fiendishly that he would ‘jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stopped him’. Family and neighbours had now fled in a panic, and when the more courageous of them returned, Slater was gone, leaving behind an unrecognisable pulp-like thing that had been a living man but an hour before. None of the mountaineers had dared to pursue him, and it is likely that they would have welcomed his death from the cold; but when several mornings later they heard his screams from a distant ravine, they realised that he had somehow managed to survive, and that his removal in one way or another would be necessary. Then had followed an armed searching party, whose purpose (whatever it may have been originally) became that of a sheriff’s posse after one of the seldom popular state troopers had by accident observed, then questioned, and finally joined the seekers.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes Joe Slater’s mental breakdown and the manhunt that followed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

This Refuge for the Demented

In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Tomb” (1917), Jervas Dudley claims that his story, which is so incredible that many believe him to be insane, involved supernatural phenomenon. 

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Tomb.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 1-10.


His Father’s Illness

In April, 1893, my father was stricken with a complete paralysis resulting from a brain overtaxed with study & business cares. He lived for five years at a hospital, but was never again able to move hand or foot, or to utter a sound. This tragedy dissolved all plans for permanent settlement in Auburndale, & caused the sale of the property recently acquired there. Permanently stricken with grief, my mother took me to the Phillips household, thereby causing me to grow up as a complete Rhode-Islander.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft claims, incorrectly, that, as a result of “study and business cares,” his father suffered a breakdown in 1893, which rendered him paralyzed.

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.

This Barred Room at Hanwell

That is what they say I said when they found me in the blackness after three hours; found me crouching in the blackness over the plump, half-eaten body of Capt. Norrys, with my own cat leaping and tearing at my throat. Now they have blown up Exham Priory, taken my Nigger-Man away from me, and shut me into this barred room at Hanwell with fearful whispers about my heredity and experiences. Thornton is in the next room, but they prevent me from talking to him. They are trying, too, to suppress most of the facts concerning the priory. When I speak of poor Norrys they accuse me of a hideous thing, but they must know that I did not do it. They must know it was the rats; the slithering, scurrying rats whose scampering will never let me sleep; the daemon rats that race behind the padding in this room and beckon me down to greater horrors than I have ever known; the rats they can never hear; the rats, the rats in the walls.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Rats in the Walls” (1923), Delapore claims that, despite appearances, rats killed Captain Edward Norrys.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Rats in the Walls.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 89-108.

The Three-Lobed Burning Eye

“I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye….”

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935), Robert Blake describes his own death as he sits at his desk by the window.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Haunter of the Dark.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 336-60.

The Unnamed and Unnamable

Madness rides the star-wind … claws and teeth sharpened on centuries of corpses … dripping death astride a Bacchanale of bats from night-black ruins of buried temples of Belial. … Now, as the baying of that dead, fleshless monstrosity grows louder and louder, and the stealthy whirring and flapping of those accursed web-wings circles closer and closer, I shall seek with my revolver the oblivion which is my only refuge from the unnamed and unnamable.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Hound” (1922), the narrator describes the horrors that compel him to commit suicide.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Hound.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 81-8.

Life in an Asylum

I have said that I am a constant speculator concerning dream life, and from this you may judge of the eagerness with which I applied myself to the study of the new patient as soon as I had fully ascertained the facts of his case. He seemed to sense a certain friendliness in me; born no doubt of the interest I could not conceal, and the gentle manner in which I questioned him. Not that he ever recognised me during his attacks, when I hung breathlessly upon his chaotic but cosmic word-pictures; but he knew me in his quiet hours, when he would sit by his barred window weaving baskets of straw and willow, and perhaps pining for the mountain freedom he could never enjoy again. His family never called to see him; probably it had found another temporary head, after the manner of decadent mountain folk.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes his relationship with Joe Slater, a sporadically violent mental patient.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

The Simple Speller’s Tale

(Translated into English)

When first among the amateurs I fell,
I blush’d in shame because I could not spell.
Tho’ skill’d in numbers, and at ease in prose,
My letters I could never well dispose.
Thoughts came abundant, language was the same;
Yet none the less I scarce could spell my name!
The kindly printer (with an eye for trade)
A clumsy care for all my work display’d:
Indiff’rent as I was, I us’d his art
Till critics cry’d, “My printer should be shot!”
Thus boldly censur’d, I began to seek
A means to thwart the rude reviewers’ clique:
My fever’d eye in rage I cast around,
When all at once the wish’d-for plan I found.
It happen’d on a summer’s holiday,
That past a madhouse gate I took my way.
Within that bedlam was a sage confin’d,
Who had from too much study lost his mind.
Now strolling out, in watchful keeper’s care,
With childish sounds the madman fill’d the air.
Still dreaming of his letter’s days of yore,
His ravings on remember’d subjects bore:
Dim came the thoughts of what he us’d to teach,
And he began to curse our English speech.
“Aha!” quoth he, “the men that made our tongue
Were arrant rogues, and I shall have them hung.
For long-establish’d customs what care we?
Come, let us tear down etymology.
Let spelling fly, and naught but sound remain;
The world is mad, and I alone am sane!”
Thus rav’d the sage; inventing, as he walk’d,
A hundred ways to spell our words as talk’d.
He simplify’d until his fancy bred
A system quite as simple as his head.
In scholarship disastrous change he wrought,
And alter’d, as he went, for want of thought.
But I, attentive, heard with joyful ear
The wild distortions, and perversions queer.
Why could not I defend my ill-spell’d page
In progress’ name, and with reformer’s rage?
With hope renew’d, I hasten’d home to write,
And passing wondrous was my work that night;
For classic purity I sought no more,
But strove to make worse blunders than before.
O fickle fortune! In a week my name
From scholars’ praise attain’d immortal fame,
Whilst other scribes with vague orthography
Siez’d on the clever ruse, and copy’d me.
Today in ev’ry Skateville Amateur
Amorphous letters pass as language pure,
And when some pompous pedant dares to raise
A voice remonstrant ‘gainst our foolish ways,
We never fail the apt retort to give,
But damn him as a blind CONSERVATIVE.

Yet why on us your angry hand or wrath use?
We do but ape Professor B———— M————!

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Simple Speller’s Tale,” which mentions literary critic Brander Matthews by name, Lovecraft uses eighteenth-century forms to mock advocates of simplified spelling.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Simple Speller’s Tale.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 214-5.