Spooky poems for reading out
October 24, 2011 12:37 AM   Subscribe

What are your favourite spooky poems, that are two to three minutes long when read out, for an audience of adults?

My partner is reading out a selection of poetry tomorrow night, and she's decided on a spooky theme suitable for Hallowe'en. She's reading to an audience of adults. I'm trying to help her find poems, and so far haven't been very successful - please help!

An example of the kind of thing she's looking for is Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess". Less appropriate are extracts from plays, limericks, or poems primarily aimed at children (unless they're particularly good).

Thank you!
posted by siskin to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"
posted by Nixy at 1:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A selection of sonnets from H. P. Lovecraft's Fungi From Yuggoth cycle would make a creepy few minutes' reading. They don't form a connected story, so you could pick and choose based on your own tastes and those of your audience.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:52 AM on October 24, 2011

From Poe, also consider Ulalume and Lenore. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes is creepy too.
posted by jquinby at 5:56 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always found the Irish ballad "She Moved Through the Fair" very creepy - it works well both read and sung simply.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:11 AM on October 24, 2011

This one is more awesome than spooky, but great fun to read aloud.

Sleeping With One Eye Open

Unmoved by what the wind does,
The windows
Are not rattled, nor do the various
Of the house make their usual racket --
Creak at
The joints, trusses and studs.
They are still. And the maples,
At times to raise havoc,
Not a sound from their branches’
It’s my night to be rattled,
With spooks. Even the half-moon
(Half man,
Half dark), on the horizon,
Lies on
Its side casting a fishy light
Which alights
On my floor, lavishly lording
Its morbid
Look over me. Oh, I feel dead,
Away in my blankets for good, and
My room is clammy and cold,
And weird. The shivers
Wash over
Me, shaking my bones, my loose ends
And I lie sleeping with one eye open,
That nothing, nothing will happen.

--Mark Strand
posted by FunGus at 6:26 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Skater of Ghost Lake
By William Rose Benet

Ghost Lake's a dark lake, a deep lake and cold:
Ice black as ebony, frostily scrolled;
Far in its shadows a faint sound whirs;
Steep stand the sentineled deep, dark firs.

A brisk sound, a swift sound, a ring-tinkle-ring;
Flit-flit,--a shadow with a stoop and a swing,
Flies from the shadow through the crackling cold.
Ghost Lake's a deep lake, a dark lake and old!

Leaning and leaning with a stride and a stride,
hands locked behind him, scarf blowing wide,
Jeremy Randall skates, skates late,
Star for a candle, moon for a mate.

Black is the clear glass now that he glides,
Crisp is the whisper of long lean strides,
Swift is his swaying--but pricked ears hark.
None comes to Ghost lake late after dark!

Cecily only--yes it is she!
Stealing to Ghost Lake, tree after tree,
Kneeling in snow by the still lake side,
Rising with feet winged, gleaming, to glide.

Dust of the ice swirls. Here is his hand.
Brilliant his eyes burn. Now, as was planned,
Arm across arm twined, laced to his side,
Out on the dark lake lightly they glide.

Dance of the dim moon, a rhythmical reel,
A swaying, a swift tune--skurr of the steel;
Moon for a candle, maid for a mate,
Jeremy Randall skates, skates late.

Black as if lacquered the wide lake lies;
Breath as a frost-fume, eyes seek eyes;
Souls are a sword edge tasting the cold.
Ghost Lake's a deep lake, a dark lake and old!

Far in the shadows hear faintly begin
Like a string pluck-plucked of a violin,
Muffled in mist on the lake's far bound,
Swifter and swifter, a low singing sound!

Far in the shadows and faint on the verge
Of blue cloudy moonlight, see it emerge,
Flit-flit,--a phantom, with a stoop and a swing . . .
Ah, it's a night bird burdened of wing!

Pressed close to Jeremy, laced to his side,
Cecily Culver, dizzy you glide.
Jeremy Randall sweepingly veers
Out on the dark ice far from the piers.

"Jeremy!" "Sweetheart?" "What do you fear?"
"Nothing my darling,--nothing is here!"
"Jeremy!" "Sweetheart?" "What do you flee?"
"Something--I know not; something I see!"

Swayed to a swift stride, brisker of pace,
Leaning and leaning, they race and they race;
Ever that whirring, that crisp sound thin
Like a string pluck-plucked of a violin;

Ever that swifter and low singing sound
Sweeping behind them, winding them round;
Gasp of their breath now that chill flakes fret;
Ice black as ebony--blacker--like jet!

Ice shooting fangs forth--sudden--like spears;
Crackling of lightning--a roar in their ears!
Shadowy, a phantom swerves off its prey . . .
No, it's a night bird flit-flits away!

Low-winging moth-owl, home to your sleep!
Ghost Lake's a still lake, a cold lake and deep.
Faint in its shadows a far sound whirs.
Black stand the ranks of its sentineled firs.
posted by mermayd at 6:39 AM on October 24, 2011

Poe, City in the Sea.

I once performed this as a lead in to a Poe's Birthday rock show as Poe (I can look exactly like him, dressed right) with a spookyish song following. I'm told it was effective, plus I like the poem.
posted by cmoj at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2011

Here is one I used when called upon to tell a spooky story. It is very fun to read out loud. You can ham it up

Swamp Witch Hattie by Jim Stafford
Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp
Where the strange green reptiles crawl
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees
Like sausage on a smokehouse wall
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes
An' all of them watchin’ you
Stay off the track to Hattie's shack in the back of the Black Bayou

Way up the road from Hattie's shack
Lies a sleepy little Okeechobee town
Talk of swamp witch Hattie
Lock you in when the sun go down
Rumours of what she'd done, rumours of what she'd do
Kept folks off the track to Hattie's shack
In the back of the Black Bayou

One day brought the rain and the rain stayed on
And the swamp water overflowed
Skeeters and the fever grabbed the town like a fist
Doctor Jackson was the first to go
Some said the plague was brought by Hattie
There was talk of a hang'n too
But the talk got shackled by the howls and the cackles
From the bowels of the Black Bayou

Early one morn 'tween dark and dawn when shadows filled the sky
There came an unseen caller on a town where hope run dry
In the square there was found a big black round
Vat full of gurgling brew
Whispering sounds as the folks gathered round
"It came from the Black Bayou"

There ain't much pride when you're trapped inside
A slowly sink'n ship
Scooped up the liquid deep and green
And the whole town took a sip
Fever went away and the very next day the skies again were blue
“Let's thank old Hattie for sav'n our town
We'll fetch her from the Black Bayou”

Party of ten of the town's best men headed for Hattie's shack
Said swamp witch magic
Was useful and good
And they're gonna bring Hattie back
Never found Hattie and they never found the shack
And they never made the trip back in
There was a parchment note they found tacked to a stump
Said “Don't come look'n agin”
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2011

Domination of Black by Wallace Stevens.
posted by Paquda at 8:40 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Walter de la Mare, "The Listeners." Creepy and full of awesome read-aloud sound play!
posted by lysimache at 10:41 AM on October 24, 2011

Oh, drat, forgot the link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177007
posted by lysimache at 10:42 AM on October 24, 2011

nthing Lenore. Poe in general is king of the creeps.
posted by xammerboy at 11:12 AM on October 24, 2011

Annabel Lee by Poe is creepy and makes you cry at the same time.
posted by xammerboy at 11:16 AM on October 24, 2011

I'm a traditional singer, so I prefer to sing my creepy stories rather than say them, but here goes anyway:

The Stolen Child

The Trampwoman's Tragedy

posted by LN at 11:45 AM on October 24, 2011

These are fantastic - and we've had a lot of fun reading them all out. Thank you all.

She's going to read Sleeping With One Eye Open, Recognition (from the Fungi From Yuggoth), and Swamp Witch Hattie.
posted by siskin at 1:11 PM on October 24, 2011

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