Poet's Choice

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, October 29, 2006

My favorite poem for Halloween was written in the 16th century: the hundredth poem in "Caelica," a book-length sequence composed over a lifetime by Fulke Greville (1554-1628). He was Lord Brooke, an eminent statesman under Elizabeth I and James I, and a close friend of his fellow poet Philip Sidney. Greville's sonnet analyzes the experience of seeing spooks or devils. The devils, he says, are psychological, the products of "hurt imaginations." They are not less fearsome, or less real, for coming from inside the mind:

In night when colours all to black are cast,

Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;

The eye a watch to inward senses plac'd,

Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,

Where fear stirr'd up with witty tyranny,

Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offence,

Doth forge and raise impossibility:

Such as in thick depriving darknesses,

Proper reflections of the error be,

And images of self-confusednesses,


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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