The thing, he said, would come that night at three
From the old churchyard on the hill below;
But crouching by an oak fire’s wholesome glow,
I tried to tell myself it could not be.
Surely, I mused, it was a pleasantry
Devised by one who did not truly know
The Elder Sign, bequeathed from long ago,
That sets the fumbling form of darkness free.
He had not meant it—no—but still I lit
Another lamp as starry Leo climbed
Out of the Seekonk, and a steeple chimed
Three—and the firelight faded, bit by bit.
Then at the door that cautious rattling came—
And the mad truth devoured me like a flame!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Messenger,” Lovecraft responds to Bertrand K. Hart’s playful suggestion that Lovecraft, who had used Hart’s residence in one of his stories, deserved to be haunted.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Messenger.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 80.
So if at last a callous age must tear
These jewels from the old town’s quiet dress,
I think the harbour streets will always wear
A puzzled look of wistful emptiness.
And strangers, staring spaciously along
An ordered green that ponderous pylons frame,
Will always stop to wonder what is wrong,
And miss some vital thing they cannot name.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The East India Brick Row,” Lovecraft laments the city of Providence’s decision to demolish a row of ancient warehouses along the waterfront.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The East India Brick Row.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 308-9.
Well—the train sped on, & I experienced silent convulsions of joy in returning step by step to a waking & tri-dimensional life. New Haven—New London—& then quaint Mystic, with its colonial hillside & landlocked cove. Then at last a still subtler magick fill’d the air—nobler roofs & steeples, with the train rushing airily above them on its lofty viaduct—Westerly—in His Majesty’s Province of RHODE-ISLAND & PROVIDENCE-PLANTATIONS! GOD SAVE THE KING!! Intoxication follow’d—Kingston—East Greenwich with its steep Georgian alleys climbing up from the railway—Apponaug & its ancient roofs—Auburn—just outside the city limits—I fumble with bags & wraps in a desperate effort to appear calm—THEN—a delirious marble dome outside the window—a hissing of air brakes—a slackening of speed—surges of ecstasy & dropping of clouds from my eyes & mind—HOME—UNION STATION—PROVIDENCE!!!!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft describes the exhilaration he felt when, having spent two years in New York City, he returned home to Providence, Rhode Island.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 1 May 1926. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 2, Arkham House, 1968, pp. 44-9.
In a colourless or monotonous environment I should be hopelessly soul-starved—New York almost finished me, as it was! I find that I draw my prime contentment from beauty & mellowness as expressed in quaint town vistas & in the scenery of ancient farming & woodland regions. Continuous growth from the past is a sine qua non—in fact, I have long acknowledged archaism as the chief motivating force of my being.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes how important tradition is to his psychological wellbeing.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 27 Mar. 1927. Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2002, pp. 60-8.
I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfront to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threaten to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “He” (1925), Lovecraft describes his dissatisfaction with New York City and his realization that moving there had been a mistake.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “He.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, 119-29.
To all intents & purposes I am more naturally isolated from mankind than Nathaniel Hawthorne himself, who dwelt alone in the midst of crowds, & whom Salem knew only after he died. Therefore, it may be taken as axiomatic that the people of a place matter absolutely nothing to me except as components of the general landscape & scenery…. My life lies not among people but among scenes—my local affections are not personal, but topographical & architectural…. I am always an outsider—to all scenes & all people—but outsiders have their sentimental preferences in visual environment. I will be dogmatic only to the extent of saying that it is New England I must have—in some form or other. Providence is part of me—I am Providence … Providence is my home, & there I shall end my days if I can do so with any semblance of peace, dignity, or appropriateness…. Providence would always be at the back of my head as a goal to be worked toward—an ultimate Paradise to be regain’d at last.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt, Lillian Delora Clark, Lovecraft explains his attachment to New England and his desire to return home to Providence, Rhode Island.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 29 Mar. 1926. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 287-90.
I cannot tell why some things hold for me
A sense of unplumbed marvels to befall,
Or of a rift in the horizon’s wall
Opening to worlds where only gods can be.
There is a breathless, vague expectancy,
As of vast ancient pomps I half recall,
Or wild adventures, uncorporeal,
Ecstasy-fraught, and as a day-dream free.
It is in sunsets and strange city spires,
Old villages and woods and misty downs,
South winds, the sea, low hills, and lighted towns,
Old gardens, half-heard songs, and the moon’s fires.
But though its lure alone makes life worth living,
None gains or guesses what it hints at giving.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Expectancy,” Lovecraft describes the sense of mystery he feels when he encounters certain scenes, such as sunsets and city spires.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Expectancy.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 91.
Now, of course, I do not have frequent chances for the special literary conversation I then had—but after all, that formed but a small part of life. It is more important to live—to dream and to write—than to talk, and in New York I could not live. Everything I saw became unreal and two-dimensional, and everything I thought and did became trivial and devoid of meaning through lack of any points of reference belonging to any fabric of which I could conceivably form a part. I was stifled—poisoned—imprisoned in a nightmare—and now not even the threat of damnation could induce me to dwell in the accursed place again.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes the sense of cultural isolation he experienced while living in New York City.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.
Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Picture in the House” (1920), Lovecraft claims that rural New England can be far more frightening than the castles and catacombs of Gothic literature.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Picture in the House.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 34-42.
To the southern New-Englander entering Vermont for the first time there is a sense of mystic revivification. On the towns of the lower coast the blight of mutation and modernity has descended. Weird metamorphoses and excrescences, architectural and topographical, mark a menacing tyranny of mechanism and viceroyalty of engineering which are fast hurrying the present scene out of all linkage with its historic antecedents and setting it adrift anchorless and all but traditionless in alien oceans. Swart foreign forms, heirs to moods and impulses antipodal to those which moulded our heritage, surge in endless streams along smoke-clouded and lamp-dazzled streets; moving to strange measures and inculcating strange customs. All through the nearer countryside the stigmata of change are spreading. Reservoirs, billboards, and concrete roads, power lines, garages, and flamboyant inns, squalid immigrant nests and grimy mill villages; these things and things like them have brought ugliness, tawdriness, and commonplaceness to the urban penumbra. Only in the remoter backwoods can one find the pristine and ancestral beauty which was southern New-England’s, or the unmixed signs of that continuous native life whose deep roots make it the one authentic outgrowth of the landscape. There are traces enough to allure and tantalise, but not enough to satisfy. With our keenest pleasure and satisfaction is mixed a certain melancholy; for it is upon the ghost of something beloved and departed, rather than upon the thing itself, that we gaze. Our own country and history seem subtly dissolving away from us, and we clutch frantically at the straws and symbols through which our imaginations may momentarily recall and recapture a past which is really our own.
DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” Lovecraft describes the ways in which industrialization and immigration have reshaped the state of Vermont.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Vermont—A First Impression.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 13-5.