Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Thursday 25 April 2013

Our Little Ghost and The Telegraph Operator

The first of my spooky poems today is Our Little Ghost by Louisa May Alcott. She was better known for her novel Little Women (1865) which was one of the first novels of the Literary Realism movement, and she was an active feminist. Our Little Ghost is a very sad poem, but it reflects the fact that in the mid-nineteenth century around half of the children from poor families died in childhood ... so there were many Little Ghosts.

Our Little Ghost
Louisa May Alcott

Oft in the silence of the night,
When the lonely moon rides high,
When wintry winds are whistling,
And we hear the owl's shrill cry,
In the quiet, dusky chamber,
By the flickering firelight,
Rising up between two sleepers,
Comes a spirit all in white.

A winsome little ghost it is,
Rosy-cheeked, and bright of eye;
With yellow curls all breaking loose
From the small cap pushed awry.
Up it climbs among the pillows,
For the 'big dark' brings no dread,
And a baby's boundless fancy
Makes a kingdom of a bed.

A fearless little ghost it is;
Safe the night seems as the day;
The moon is but a gentle face,
And the sighing winds are gay.
The solitude is full of friends,
And the hour brings no regrets;
For, in this happy little soul,
Shines a sun that never sets.

A merry little ghost it is,
Dancing gayly by itself,
On the flowery counterpane,
Like a tricksy household elf;
Nodding to the fitful shadows,
As they flicker on the wall;
Talking to familiar pictures,
Mimicking the owl's shrill call.

A thoughtful little ghost if is;
And, when lonely gambols tire,
With chubby hands on chubby knees,
It sits winking at the fire.
Fancies innocent and lovely
Shine before those baby-eyes,
Endless fields of dandelions,
Brooks, and birds, and butterflies.

A loving little ghost it is:
When crept into its nest,
Its hand on father's shoulder laid,
Its head on mother's breast,
It watches each familiar face,
With a tranquil, trusting eye;
And, like a sleepy little bird,
Sings its own soft lullaby.

Then those who feigned to sleep before,
Lest baby play till dawn,
Wake and watch their folded flower
Little rose without a thorn.
And, in the silence of the night,
The hearts that love it most
Pray tenderly above its sleep,
'God bless our little ghost!'

Next we have a change of pace, and Robert W. Service's The Telegraph Operator, an atmospheric piece about loneliness with I think something of the taste of The Signalman by Dickens.

The Telegraph Operator
Robert W. Service

I will not wash my face;
      I will not brush my hair;
I "pig" around the place —
      There's nobody to care.
Nothing but rock and tree;
      Nothing but wood and stone;
Oh God, it's hell to be
      Alone, alone, alone.

Snow-peaks and deep-gashed draws
      Corral me in a ring.
I feel as if I was
      The only living thing
On all this blighted earth;
      And so I frowst and shrink,
And crouching by my hearth,
      I hear the thoughts I think.

I think of all I miss —
      The boys I used to know;
The girls I used to kiss;
      The coin I used to blow:
The bars I used to haunt;
      The racket and the row;
The beers I didn't want
      (I wish I had 'em now).

Day after day the same,
      Only a little worse;
No one to grouch or blame —
      Oh, for a loving curse!
Oh, in the night I fear,
      Haunted by nameless things,
Just for a voice to cheer,
      Just for a hand that clings!

Faintly as from a star
      Voices come o'er the line;
Voices of ghosts afar,
      Not in this world of mine.
Lives in whose loom I grope;
      Words in whose weft I hear
Eager the thrill of hope,
      Awful the chill of fear.

I'm thinking out aloud;
      I reckon that is bad;
(The snow is like a shroud) —
      Maybe I'm going mad.
Say! wouldn't that be tough?
      This awful hush that hugs
And chokes one is enough
      To make a man go "bugs".

There's not a thing to do;
      I cannot sleep at night;
No wonder I'm so blue;
      Oh, for a friendly fight!
The din and rush of strife;
      A music-hall aglow;
A crowd, a city, life —
      Dear God, I miss it so!

Here, you have moped enough!
      Brace up and play the game!
But say, it's awful tough —
      Day after day the same
(I've said that twice, I bet).
      Well, there's not much to say.
I wish I had a pet,
      Or something I could play.

Cheer up! don't get so glum
      And sick of everything;
The worst is yet to come;
      God help you till the Spring.
God shield you from the Fear;
      Teach you to laugh, not moan.
Ha! ha! it sounds so queer —
      Alone, alone, alone.

Friday 12 April 2013

Darker Times Vol 3 and a review

My short story Abraham's Bosom is now available in the Darker Times Anthology Vol 3.
E-book now, and paperback soon. Details here:
Or in the US:

Review of Love and Loyalty by Maria Savva

My preferred form of writing is the short story, but usually of the darker kind; so I did not know what to expect of Maria Savva's collection, Love and Loyalty. I was pleased to find myself hooked from the beginning of the first story, The Artist. Jane is trying to talk the artist, Franco, out of suicide; but has she already missed her chance? She begins to doubt herself, and indeed her own sense of reality. This is a good introduction to the book, introducing Savva's careful characterisations and story telling skills. One Thing Leads to Another is a cautionary tale of the damaging domino effects possible by being just a bit too true to yourself. This is followed by I'm Only Doing My Job, which attempts to explain the strange behaviour of some traffic wardens...
Mannequin shapes like it could easily be a supernatural tale, then changes its direction abruptly, which quite caught me out. Friendship is the key! The same could be said of My Darkest Day, which manipulates mood to good effect. I never knew what 'atychiphobia' meant, but after this story of the same name, I'm unlikely to forget. I'm sure Vivienne would either have known, or would at least look it up straight away! She is the kind of character who always gets her comeuppance... but does she? As with most of these stories, you'll be left thinking. The Perfect Life deals with misunderstanding and deception in the workplace, and will surprise you at its conclusion.
Perhaps my favourite is Ordinary Lives, which is another cautionary tale involving the intellectual property of a novel... just when can it be claimed as one's own? Friendships are at stake. This story unfolded gradually, and surely every aspiring writer could relate to it. The collection ends strongly with Speed King, plotting the gradual divergence of an older couple, via fast cars and the internet, and finally Out of the cauldron, Into the Fire, which will discourage you from crying wolf once and for all.
I enjoyed these carefully plotted stories with their contemporary settings, thoughtful endings and realistic characters. I am looking forward to Maria Savva's next collection.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Acquainted With the Night

A few more of my favourite poems for your enjoyment today. I have been busy editing and re-writing stories for my upcoming collection, (probably) called Dying Embers. It's still some way off, and it means I don't have so much time for the blog right now.

Acquainted With The Night is one of Robert Frost's lesser-known poems, but it has an elegance and simplicity that appeals to me; and a certain mystery. What exactly does 'I have been one acquainted with the night' mean?

Acquainted With The Night
by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Resumé is Dorothy Parker's best-known poem, and it is rather brittle, perhaps in a similar style to her short stories. It's light-hearted on the surface, but conceals an undercurrent of darkness.

by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Finally, Ozymandias by Shelley, surely one of the most powerful and influential of sonnets. It's interesting how the words of the poet have long outlasted the monument he wrote about (although Shelley apparently never saw the statue of Rameses II – aka Ozymandias) as it does not survive.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.