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.