Gothic/horror/macabre poetry and speeches for young actors
September 25, 2021 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I teach a Theatre Arts class in high school and am interesting in putting together a short show of recitations for the actors to perform. They will perform near Halloween, so I'd like a theme of supernatural, spectral, gothic — Poe's or "Annabel Lee" or the witches of Macbeth being prime examples. Please help think of more.

Ideally, I'm looking for a 4-5 stanzas, so Christina Rossetti's "The Goblin Market" is out unless I reduce it. Same, perhaps, for "The Raven."

I would like the students to be drunk with word-sounds and expressive speech, so please no monologues of the plainspoken variety.
posted by argybarg to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Little Orphan Annie, by James Whitcomb Riley.

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:14 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Charlotte Turner Smith's Elegiac Sonnets (1784) have a few good options, e.g.
SONNET XLIV. Written in the Church Yard at Middleton in Sussex.
PRESS'D by the Moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its pow'r combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o'er the shrinking land sublimely rides.
The wild blasts, rising from the western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed;
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!
With shells and seaweed mingled, on the shore,
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more:
While I am doom'd—by life's long storm opprest,
To gaze with envy, on their gloomy rest.
See also sonnets IV, XII, XXIII, XXXII, XXXIX, XLIII, XLIX, and especially LIX. For background, there's Sophie Coulombeau's brief radio essay, "Women Writers to Put Back on the Bookshelf: Charlotte Turner Smith."
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:53 PM on September 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

'The Awful Bugaboo' by Eugene Field
posted by InkaLomax at 1:00 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

jabberwocky could be weirdly spooky with the right amount of insanity.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, another possibility: Emily Brontë's "Aspin Castle" (slightly different edit) is a little long, but in word count still only ~60% of "The Raven." It's one of her poems about the fictional country of Gondal, focusing in this case on the ghost of "the first chief of Aspin": "How oft in twilight, lingering lone, / I've stood to watch that phantom rise, / And seen in mist and moonlit stone / Its gleaming hair and solemn eyes." Etc.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:25 PM on September 25, 2021

Shel Silverstein?
Enter This Deserted House
The One Who Stayed
posted by BoscosMom at 1:27 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.

Also, such poems as The Unknown and John M. Church from Spoon River Anthology.

(Sorry, I can't seem to create links right now.)
posted by BibiRose at 2:32 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Number 3 on the Docket
posted by Ideefixe at 3:13 PM on September 25, 2021

The hallucination scene that gets John Proctor executed from The Crucible. I saw this in high school with three young women as the delusional accusers. Just stark black and white, lights on, accusations and visions, lights off.
posted by effluvia at 6:33 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm finding the length requirement really hard to meet (and you're getting suggestions here that don't meet it). If it's to keep students from having to memorize too much, could a poem be split among several?

And if not, maybe The Demiurge's Laugh by Robert Frost.
posted by FencingGal at 6:45 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Old Adam, The Carrion Crow; Dirge; Resurrection Song; The Old Ghost; The Phantom-Wooer; etc.
posted by misteraitch at 2:54 AM on September 26, 2021

The lyrics of Stairway to Heaven or Hotel California or Riders On The Storm or Ghost Riders In The Sky.
The opening paragraph of Tale Of Two Cities.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:33 AM on September 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Googling things like " ghost" turns up a bunch of possibilities, including a special article on Halloween poems. I thought these could work:

Dan Lechay, "Ghost Villanelle"
Annie Finch, "Samhain"
Thomas Hardy, "The Phantom Horsewoman"
Cynthia Huntington, "Ghost"
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:38 AM on September 26, 2021

Keats, This Living Hand

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.
posted by Morpeth at 10:43 AM on September 26, 2021

The Hag, Robert Herrick

Puck's "Now the hungry lion roars", Midsummer Night's Dream, V.ii

A personal fave: Pick your favourite 4-5 stanzas from Mad Maudlin's Answer to Tom of Bedlam. (You will probably want to omit the verse with the G-slur, but I include it for completeness's sake; asterisks mine.) If spoken rather than sung, you can just do the refrain once at the beginning and once at the end.
If you do want to sing it: Sheet music here. I'd transpose down a fifth for ease. I usually sing the refrain every 8 lines instead of every 4.
To find my Tom of Bedlam
Ten Thousand Years I'll Travel,
Mad Maudlin goes with dirty Toes
to save her Shoes from Gravel.

Yet will I sing Bonny Boys, bonny Mad Boys,
Bedlam Boys are Bonny ;
They still go bare and live by the Air,
and want no Drink, nor Money.

I now repent that ever
poor Tom was so disdain'd,
My Wits are lost since him I crost,
which makes me go thus Chain'd :
Yet will I sing, &c.

My Staff hath Murder'd Giants,
my Bag a long Knife carries,
To cut Mince-pies from Children's Thighs,
with which I feast the Faries :
Yet I will sing, &c.

My Horn is made of Thunder,
I stole it out of Heaven,
The Rain-bow there is this I wear,
for which I thence was driven :
Yet will I sing, &c.

I went to Pluto's Kitchen,
to beg some Food one Morning,
And there I got Souls piping hot,
with which the Spits were turning :
Yet will I sing, &c.

Then took I up a Cauldron
where boil'd Ten Thousand Harlots,
'Twas full of Flame, yet I drank the same
to the health of all such Varlets.
Yet will I, &c.

A Spirit as hot as Lightning
did in that Journey guide me,
The Sun did shake, and the pale Moon quake,
as soon as e'er they spied me :
Yet will I, &c.

And now that I have gotten
a Lease, than Doomsday longer,
To live on Earth with some in Mirth,
ten Whales shall feed my Hunger :
Yet will I, &c.

No G**sy, Slut, or Doxy,
shall win my mad Tom from me,
We'll weep all Night, and with Stars fight,
the Fray will well become me :
Yet will I, &c.

And when that I have beaten
the Man i'th' Moon to Powder,
His Dog I'll take, and him I'll make
to howl, no Daemon louder :
Yet will I, &c,

A Health to Tom of Bedlam!
Go fill the Seas in Barrels,
I'll drink it all, well Brew'd with Gall,
and Maudlin Drunk, I'll Quarrel :
Yet will I, &c
Tom O'Bedlam, the ballad to which this is an answer, also has some cracking stanzas-- especially the last-- and is here.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:39 PM on September 26, 2021

Marlowe's Dr Faustus when the chickens come to roost in Act V sc.ii? Text.
O, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease and midnight never come
Drama with the gurning damned.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:47 AM on September 27, 2021

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