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.
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.
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.
“Mortal, ephemeral and bold,
In mercy keep what I have told,
Yet think sometimes of what hath been,
And sights these crumbling rocks have seen;
Of sentience old ere thy weak brood
Appear’d in lesser magnitude,
And living things that yet survive,
Tho’ not to human ken alive.
I AM THE VOICE OF MOTHER EARTH,
FROM WHENCE ALL HORRORS HAVE THEIR BIRTH.”
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Mother Earth,” Lovecraft envisions Mother Earth as a frightening entity, one capable of exposing humanity’s insignificance and impermanence.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Mother Earth.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 60-1.
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.
O’er the midnight moorlands crying,
Thro’ the cypress forests sighing,
In the night-wind madly flying,
Hellish forms with streaming hair;
In the barren branches creaking,
By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking,
Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking;
Damn’d daemons of despair.
Once, I think I half remember,
Ere the grey skies of November
Quench’d my youth’s aspiring ember,
Liv’d there such a thing as bliss;
Skies that now are dark were beaming,
Gold and azure, splendid seeming
Till I learn’d it all was dreaming—
Deadly drowsiness of Dis.
But the stream of Time, swift flowing,
Brings the torment of half-knowing—
Dimly rushing, blindly going
Past the never-trodden lea;
And the voyager, repining,
Sees the grisly death-fires shining,
Hears the wicked petrel’s whining
As he helpless drifts to sea.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Despair,” which was written shortly after his mother’s nervous breakdown, Lovecraft uses weird imagery to symbolize his feelings of hopelessness.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Despair.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 61-2.
They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with a viscous stored-up evil,
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick,
Wink messages to alien god and devil.
A million fires were blazing in the streets,
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.
I knew those fires were brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space had been Outside—
I guessed to what dark planet’s crypts they plied,
And what they brought from Thog beneath their wings.
The others laughed—till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird’s evil beak.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Pigeon-Flyers,” Lovecraft describes an urban slum, whose evil residents practice occult rituals.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Pigeon-Flyers.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 84.
He is very kindly and likeable, and incredibly brave in his lifelong struggle against illness, poverty, and misunderstanding. He has at times helped out his revenues by fruit-picking, but is always forced to struggle hard. His home is a very small one, with no running water—just a primitive well outside. He writes in the open a great deal—at a table in his front yard—and takes many walking trips in the picturesque mountains of his region. The responsibility of his aged parents (who are inclined to domineer a bit) has kept him chained rather closely at home—if it were not for them, he would probably manage to see more of the world. Perhaps, though, his localism has been a blessing in disguise—his limited acquaintance with this world (San Francisco being the only metropolis he knows) giving his imagination all the keener force in depicting other worlds and other universes!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend F. Lee Baldwin, Lovecraft describes his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To F. Lee Baldwin.” 27 Mar. 1934. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 254-6.
The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.
All this he promised, and through sunset’s gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate.
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night:
“Here was your home,” he mocked, “when you had sight!”
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Homecoming,” Lovecraft describes how his speaker was tricked by a demon, who promised to restore him to his childhood home.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Homecoming.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 82.
The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.
Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,
Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof—congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.
I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Book,” Lovecraft describes a curious bookstore and its ghostly owner.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Book.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 80-1.