On October 7th, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe, the bard of death and mystery, died mysteriously. His distinctive poems and stories, which range from spooky ghost verses to spine-tingling murder thrillers, have made their mark on writers and readers ever since. To honor the spirit of Poe (and prepare for Halloween), we’ve pulled together five of his most frightening poems, all of which deliver major chills in small packages.
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
“Alone” begins in a contemplative, almost confessional tone. The speaker shares his “most stormy life,” including his lifelong feelings of loneliness and separation from the rest of the world. As the poem reaches its conclusion, however, the confession transforms into a hair-raising, otherworldly vision… I won’t spoil the rest for you!
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
“The Bells” is one of the most singular poems ever written. In four sections, it describes the sounds of tolling bells, expressed through dense onomatopoeia and repetition. At first, the bells chime out lightheartedly, telling of “a world of merriment.” Poe, however, cannot stay in such a world, and so by the final sections, the bells ring out with despair and ghoulish terror. You’ll never hear bells the same way again.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
“A Dream Within a Dream” is deeply haunting, but not because dungeons full of ghosts burst open or winged demons wheel through the air with burning swords (that would be awesome, though). The poem is haunting because the speaker expresses a paranoia that his life is an unreal dream from which he cannot escape. If you like your spooks with a philosophical twist, this poem is for you.
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
If you know Poe, you’ve probably read “The Raven,” his most famous poem. On a dark and stormy night, a grieving young man is visited by a cryptic corvid, who answers his desperate questions with an unforgettable, dream-crushing croak. Will the young man ever again see his dead love Lenore? “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’” Gather your friends at midnight and read this riotous fright-fest aloud by candlelight. And good luck trying to sleep afterwards.
The Spirits of the Dead
Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
For those who enjoy wandering through misty graveyards at night, “The Spirits of the Dead” is for you. Poe brings the inky darkness to life and stirs the corpses from their rest into a silent communion. Soak in the dismal scene: the frowning night, the disdainful stars on their high thrones, the mysteries of the dead. Poe truly captures the heart of Halloween in this slow-burning spooktacular.