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“The Haunted House”, by George MacDonald

I recently discovered this creepy old George MacDonald poem and the painting that inspired it. It may take reading it a few times aloud to get what he’s saying (it did for me, anyway), which I recommend doing with all poetry. So you don’t think it’s all gloom, here’s a snippet from stanza eleven:

God is in heaven–yes, everywhere; And Love, the all-shining, will kill Despair.”

Enjoy the poem (if you dare).


THE HAUNTED HOUSE by George MacDonald

from The Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends: edited by George MacDonald (1883)

Suggested by a drawing of Thomas Moran, the American painter.

I. THIS must be the very night! The moon knows it!–and the trees– They stand straight upright, Each a sentinel drawn up, As if they dared not know Which way the wind might blow! The very pool, with dead gray eye, Dully expectant, feels it nigh, And begins to curdle and freeze! And the dark night, With its fringe of light, Holds the secret in its cup!

II.

What can it be, to make The poplars cease to shiver and shake, And up in the dismal air Stand straight and stiff as the human hair When the human soul is dizzy with dread– All but those two that strain Aside in a frenzy of speechless pain, Though never a wind sends out a breath To tunnel the foggy rheum of death? What can it be has power to scare The full-grown moon to the idiot stare Of a blasted eye in the midnight air? Something has gone wrong; A scream will come tearing out ere long!

III.

Still as death, Although I listen with bated breath! Yet something is coming, I know–is coming; With an inward soundless humming, Somewhere in me or in the air– I cannot tell–but its foot is there! Marching on to an unheard drumming, Something is coming–coming– Growing and coming; And the moon is aware– Aghast in the air At the thing that is only coming With an inward soundless humming, And an unheard spectral drumming!

IV. Nothing to see and nothing to hear! Only across the inner sky The wing of a shadowy thought flits by, Vague and featureless, faceless, drear– Only a thinness to catch the eye: Is it a dim foreboding unborn, Or a buried memory, wasted and worn As the fading frost of a wintry sigh? Anon I shall have it!–anon!–it draws nigh! A night when–a something it was took place That drove the blood from that scared moon-face! Hark! was that the cry of a goat, Or the gurgle of water in a throat? Hush! there is nothing to see or hear, Only a silent something is near; No knock, no footsteps three or four, Only a presence outside the door! See! the moon is remembering–what? The wail of a mother-left, lie-alone brat? Or a raven sharpening its beak to peck? Or a cold blue knife and a warm white neck? Or only a heart that burst and ceased For a man that went away released? I know not–know not, but something is coming Somehow back with an inward humming.

V. Ha! Look there! Look at that house– Forsaken of all things–beetle and mouse! Mark how it looks! It must have a soul! It looks, it looks, though it cannot stir; See the ribs of it–how they stare! Its blind eyes yet have a seeing air! It knows it has a soul! Haggard it hangs o’er the slimy pool, And gapes wide open as corpses gape: It is the very murderer! The ghost has modelled himself to the shape Of this drear house all sodden with woe, Where the deed was done, long, long ago, And filled with himself his new body full– To haunt for ever his ghastly crime, And see it come and go– Brooding around it like motionless time, With a mouth that gapes, and eyes that yawn Blear and blintering and full of the moon, Like one aghast at a hellish dawn. –It is coming, coming soon!

VI. For, ever and always, when round the tune Grinds on the barrel of organ-Time, The deed is done;–and it comes anon– True to the roll of the clock-faced moon, True to the ring of the spheric chime, True to the cosmic rhythm and rime; Every point, as it first went on, Will come and go till all is gone; And palsied with horror from garret to core, The house cannot shut its gaping door; Its burst eye stares as if trying to see, And it leans as if settling heavily, Settling heavy with sickness dull: It also is hearing the soundless humming Of the wheel that is turning–the thing that is coming. On the naked rafters of its brain, Gaunt and wintred, see the train Of gossiping, scandal-mongering crows, That watch, all silent, with necks a-strain, Wickedly knowing, with heads awry, And the sharpened gleam of a cunning eye– Watch, through the cracks of the ruined skull, How the evil business goes! –Beyond the eyes of the cherubim, Beyond the ears of the seraphim, Outside, forsaken, in the dim Phantom-haunted chaos grim, He stands with the deed going on in him!

VII. O winds, winds! that lurk and peep Under the edge of the moony fringe! O winds, winds! up and sweep; Up, and blow and billow the air, Billow the air with blow and swinge; Rend me this ghastly house of groans; Rend and scatter the skeleton’s bones Over the deserts and mountains bare; Blast and hurl and shiver aside Nailed sticks and mortared stones; Clear the phantom, with torrent and tide, Out of the moon and out of my brain, That the light may fall shadowless in again!

VIII. But alas! then the ghost O’er mountain and coast Would go roaming, roaming; and never was swine, That, grubbing and talking with snork and whine On Gadarene mountains, had taken him in, But would rush to the lake to unhouse the sin For any charnel This ghost is too carnal; There is no volcano, burnt out and cold, Whose very ashes are gray and old, But would cast him forth in reviving flame, To blister the sky with a smudge of shame.

IX. Is there no help–none anywhere, Under the earth, or above the air? –Come, come, sad woman, whose tender throat Has a red-lipped mouth that can sing no note! Child, whose midwife, the third grim Fate, Shears in hand, thy coming did wait! Father, with blood-bedabbled hair! Mother, all withered with love’s despair! Come, broken heart, whatever thou be, Hasten to help this misery! Thou wast only murdered, or left forlorn; He is a horror, a hate, a scorn! Come, if out of the holiest blue That the sapphire throne shines through; For pity come, though thy fair feet stand Next to the elder-band; Fling thy harp on the hyaline, Hurry thee down the spheres divine; Come, and drive those ravens away; Cover his eyes from the pitiless moon; Shadow his brain from her stinging spray; Droop around him, a tent of love, An odour of grace, a fanning dove; Walk through the house with the healing tune Of gentle footsteps; banish the shape Remorse calls up, thyself to ape; Comfort him, dear, with pardon sweet; Cool his heart from its burning heat With the water of life that lakes the feet Of the throne of God, and the holy street.

X. O God, he is but a living blot, Yet he lives by thee–for if thou wast not, They would vanish together, self-forgot, He and his crime:–one breathing blown From thy spirit on his would all atone, Scatter the horror, and bring relief In an amber dawn of holy grief: God, give him sorrow; arise from within: Art thou not in him, silence in din, Stronger than anguish, deeper than sin?

XI. Why do I tremble, a creature at bay! ‘Tis but a dream–I drive it away. Back comes my breath, and my heart again Pumps the red blood to my fainting brain Released from the nightmare’s nine-fold train; God is in heaven–yes, everywhere; And Love, the all-shining, will kill Despair. To the wall’s blank eyeless space I turn the picture’s face.

XII. But why is the moon so bare, up there? And why is she so white? And why does the moon so stare, up there– Strangely stare, out of the night? Why stand up the poplars That still way? And why do those two of them Start astray? And out of the black why hangs the gray? Why does it hang down so, I say, Over that house, like a fringed pall Where the dead goes by in a funeral? –Soul of mine, Thou the reason canst divine:– Into thee the moon doth stare With pallid, terror-smitten air: Thou, and the Horror lonely-stark, Outcast of eternal dark, Are in nature same and one, And thy story is not done! So let the picture face thee from the wall, And let its white moon stare. (End.)

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What do you guys make of the last several stanzas? I know what I think, but I’d love to hear your take on it.

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