Poetry of the Supernatural

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Poetry of the Supernatural

Compiled by Earle F. Walbridge

drawing of the Christabel of Coleridge by Gerald Metcalfe

The New York
Public Library


form p-099 [vi-23-19 5m]


Lafcadio Hearn, in his Interpretations of Literature (one of the most valuable and delightful books on literature which has been written in our time), says: “Let me tell you that it would be a mistake to suppose that the stories of the supernatural have had their day in fine literature. On the contrary, wherever fine literature is being produced, either in poetry or in prose, you will find the supernatural element very much alive. . . But without citing other living writers, let me observe that there is scarcely any really great author in European literature, old or new, who has not distinguished himself in the treatment of the supernatural. In English literature, I believe, there is no exception,—even from the time of the Anglo-Saxon poets to Shakespeare, and from Shakespeare to our own day. And this introduces us to the consideration of a general and remarkable fact,—a fact that I do not remember to have seen in any books, but which is of very great philosophical importance; there is something ghostly in all great art, whether of literature, music, sculpture, or architecture.”

Feeling this, Mr. Walbridge has compiled the following list. It is not a bibliography, nor even a “contribution toward” a bibliography, nor a “reading list,” in the usual sense, but the intelligent selection of a number of instances in which poets, major and minor, have turned to ghostly themes. If it causes you, reading one of its quotations, to hunt for and read the whole poem, it will have served its purpose. If it tells you of a poem you have never read—and so gives you a new pleasure—or if it reminds you of one you had forgotten, it will have been sufficiently useful. But for those who are fond of poetry, and fond of recollecting poems which they have enjoyed, it is believed that the list is not without interest in itself. Its quotations are taken from the whole great range of English poetry, both before and after the time of him “who made Prospero the magician, and gave him Caliban and Ariel as his servants, who heard the Tritons blowing their horns round the coral reefs of the Enchanted Isle, and the fairies singing to each other in a wood near Athens, who led the phantom kings in dim procession across the misty Scottish heath, and hid Hecate in a cave with the weird sisters.”


[3:1] The picture on the front cover is from an illustration by Mr. Gerald Metcalfe, for Coleridge’s “Christabel,” in The Poems of Coleridge, published by John Lane.


Compiled by Earle F. Walbridge

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner.


Allingham, William. A Dream. (In Charles Welsh’s The Golden Treasury of Irish Songs and Lyrics.)

I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night.
I went to the window to see the sight:
All the dead that ever I knew
Going one by one and two by two.

Arnold, Matthew. The Forsaken Merman.

In its delicate loveliness “The Forsaken Merman” ranks high among Mr. Arnold’s poems. It is the story of a Sea-King, married to a mortal maiden, who forsook him and her children under the impulse of a Christian conviction that she must return and pray for her soul.—H. W. Paul.

She sate by the pillar: we saw her clear;
“Margaret, hist! Come quick, we are here!
Dear heart,” I said, “We are long alone;
The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan.”
But, ah, she gave me never a look,
For her eyes were seal’d to the holy book.

—— St. Brandan.

. . . a picturesque embodiment of a strange mediaeval legend touching Judas Iscariot, who is supposed to be released from Hell for a few hours every Christmas because he had done in his life a single deed of charity.—H. W. Paul.

Barlow, Jane. Three Throws and One. (In Walter Jerrold’s The Book of Living Poets.)

At each throw of my net there’s a life must go down into death on the sea.
At each throw of my net it comes laden, O rare, with my wish back to me.
With my choice of all treasures most peerless that lapt in the oceans be.

Boyd, Thomas. The King’s Son. (In Padric Gregory’s Modern Anglo-Irish Verse.)

Who rideth through the driving rain
At such a headlong speed?
Naked and pale he rides amain,
Upon a naked steed.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. The Lay of the Brown Rosary.

Who meet there, my mother, at dawn and at even?
Who meet by that wall, never looking at heaven?
O sweetest my sister, what doeth with thee
The ghost of a nun with a brown rosary
And a face turned from heaven?

Browning, Robert. Mesmerism.

And the socket floats and flares,
And the house-beams groan
And a foot unknown
Is surmised on the garret stairs
And the locks slip unawares. . .

Buchanan, Robert. The Ballad of Judas Iscariot. (In Stedman’s Victorian Anthology.)

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