Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reason lives in a haunted house. That knowledge underlies the scary imagery of Halloween: stormy nights, with the chimney shuddering in the wind; unexplained footsteps in a dark hallway or on the stairs; a forbidden locked door burst open; corpses come to life; ghostly shrieks; baleful phantoms. Deploying those images, Robert Bridges (1844-1930), England's poet laureate during World War I, compares inner and outer weather: As reduced air pressure releases the tremendous, sometimes destructive energy of a storm, so, too, can the reduced pressures of custom or inhibition release tremendous, sometimes destructive human terrors, guilts and impulses:


The south-wind strengthens to a gale,

Across the moon the clouds fly fast,

The house is smitten as with a flail,

The chimney shudders to the blast.

On such a night, when Air has loosed

Its guardian grasp on blood and brain,

Old terrors then of god or ghost

Creep from their caves to life again;

And Reason kens he herits in

A haunted house. Tenants unknown

Assert their squalid lease of sin

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