Poe Sunday: The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)

Poe Sundays are all about honoring the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher is considered by many critics to be Poe’s gothic masterpiece. Despite never learning the name of the story’s narrator, we come to quickly trust his well-observed eye and candor about the events experienced during his journey to visit Roderick Usher, a boyhood friend, of whom he has not seen in quite some time. It begins with an epigraph from French poet Jean Pierre de Beranger, which translates to “His heart is a tightened lute; as soon as one touches it, it echoes.” The narrator wastes no time in suggesting to his audience that Usher and the crumbling mansion share the same doomed fate.

Son cœur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.

De Béranger.

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country—a letter from him—which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a mental disorder which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that went with his request—which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognizable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other—it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher”—an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment—that of looking down within the tarn—had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition—for why should I not so term it?—served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy—a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me—while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebony blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy—while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this—I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher rose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the ennuyé man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the man being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity;—these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

The above is only an excerpt from The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. To find out what happens next to the ill-fated House of Usher, please visit Project Gutenberg’s The Fall of the House of Usher

To learn more about the author Edgar Allan Poe and read his other works, please visit PoeStories.com

All works by Edgar Allan Poe are widely considered to be public domain.

The Samhain Society Presents Halloween 2020

Check out this stunning new digital zine from the creative talents of The Samhain Society, designed by Jackie Cheuvront of Eclipse Afterglow Studios and edited by Miranda Enzor of Spooky Little Halloween, featuring a collection of artworks, DIY projects, recipes, short stories, and more!

I am so honored to be part of such a creative collaboration with the most talented group of artists, writers and creators in the Halloween community. Click on link below or the picture.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1shrqnEmTVTzl4MRXSbnUM0eEfx2w7or0/view?fbclid=IwAR3lJskeZ6uI_OA1EviNOHyK3T3LUE1IGE-9rxZgECCr9TR1Xa1KZ0PDtCU

Happy 2020! Happy Wolf Moon!

Happy New Year, everyone!  

January’s full moon is nicknamed the ‘Wolf Moon.’ It’s believed the howling of wolves could be heard more during the time.  Today’s Wolf Moon marks the first full moon of 2020, which coincides with the lunar eclipse. 

This is a sign.  

Earlier this week, I rebooted the Monthly Haiku Corner. After spreading myself too thin in 2019, and failing to accomplish my goals, I’ve decided not to write weekly haiku. This year, I’m choosing quality over quantity.  Although I’m a sucker for monthly holidays and pop culture, I am dedicated to writing darker, more, haunting haiku than before. 

I’ve found that writing haiku is a learning process. I’m not the most talented or skilled writer but this is all my heart really wants to do. I love horror and over the years, I’ve started several novels and abandoned them. This year, we answer the call. Only courage can navigate the dangerous waves of fear. 

Make no mistake, I am still committed to sharing the love for Halloween, movies, entertainment, and creating cool, spooky original content for this blog. That won’t change. Besides, April marks the second anniversary of Halloween Haiku and I have big plans to celebrate!  Plus, I’m already drawing up a game plan for this year’s Halloween. Halloween 2020 falls on a Saturday this year, under a full moon, a blue moon, no less. 

Yes, this is truly the year for us selenophiles.

Creepy scary kitten by Dugore
Creepy scary kitten by Dugore

 

 

Wicked Art Wednesdays – Gris Grimly

Author, illustrator, storyteller, and filmmaker Steven Soenksen a.k.a. Gris Grimly grew up inspired by classic horror films, comics, art, and all the great horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey, and H.P. Lovecraft. After college, he moved to Los Angeles and fell into illustrating children’s books and built a successful reputation for his dark yet whimsical characters. Grimly was hired to draw illustrations for retellings of classic stories, such as, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Halloween Tree, Wicked Nursery Rhymes, Pinocchio and Frankenstein, a story which holds personal meaning to him.

 

 

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In 2005, Grimly wrote, produced and directed a horror short called Cannibal Flesh Riot! with his good friends, which received good reviews and toured the festival circuit that year. The film’s success led to other opportunities, making other short films and music videos, including a video for Texas psychobilly fiends, Ghoultown, starring the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira.

halloweentree GG
© Gris Grimly

Artist: Gris Grimly
Where to Purchase Goods: horror conventions, specialty stores, special events, and  online store (although temporarily closed as of October 2019, while it’s being revamped, check back later)
Website: http://www.madcreator.com/ or http://grisgrimly.com/
Social Media: Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/grisgrimly/
Twitter- https://twitter.com/GrisGrimly

Why we love them: Handsome, rock-a-billy, tattoed and super talented, what’s not to love? I’ve met Gris Grimly a couple of times at horror conventions and he’s incredibly nice. He recently moved his family back to the home state of Nebraska and looks like, he’s already working on a new book. I can’t wait to read it.

 

procession_print GG
© Gris Grimly

 

 

A Brief History of the Jack-o’-Lantern

People have been carving vegetables into lanterns since the dawn of time. The Maori people used gourds for lights, over 700 years ago. It’s believed the making of jack-o’-lanterns began in Ireland in 1600s, when they used turnips and gourds to hollow out to use for lantern during Halloween in Ireland and Scotland, sometimes carving out grotesque faces to frighten people. 

 

The lanterns represented spirits and were used to ward off evil or lost spirits. Sometimes people put them on the windowsills to keep harmful spirits away from the home. Once Christianity took firm hold in the region and Halloween combined with the Christian observances of All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, jack-o’-lanterns were lit in remembrance of Christian souls in purgatory.

The term Jack-o’-Lantern began showing up in print in the early 1800s, when Irish newspapers began printing stories telling of carved gourd lanterns and information on local gourd carving competitions. But it wasn’t until 1866, that the first recorded association between a carved pumpkin and Halloween would show up in an edition of The Daily News in Kingston, Ontario.

turnip jol

Today’s jack-o’-lanterns have evolved into works of art.  No longer content with simple faces, pumpkin carving has become big business with the sale of tools and artistic guides to help amateurs and home haunters create their own elaborately designed pumpkins, to televised competitions and special appearances by professional carvers, who enjoy D-List celebrity status.

Will-o’-the-Wisp

Jack-o’-Lanterns were once associated with the term ‘will-o’-the-wisp’ or ‘ignis fatuus’, the Medieval Latin for “fool’s fire”. A will-o’-the-wisp was thought to be a ghostly light or orb seen by travelers during the night, particularly near bogs, swamps, or marshes. The phenomenon was said be supernatural, brought on by ghosts, fairies, or other elemental spirits.

330px-Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823
Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823

A tale behind the term refers to a wicked blacksmith who was turned away at the pearly gates by St. Peter. He was given a second chance to redeem himself but the blacksmith failed to change his evil ways and was then cursed to wander the earth for eternity. The Devil was impressed by the blacksmith’s antics and decided to give him a single burning coal to keep him warm, which he used to lure foolish travelers into the marshes instead.

The Story of Stingy Jack

In addition to the will-o’-the-wisp myth, no folklore associated with jack-o’-lanterns are quite as memorable as the story of Stingy Jack, a devilish man, so evil, the real Satan paid him a visit to see what all the hoopla was about. The witty Jack was a shrewd deceiver, a master manipulator and a nasty drunkard, who managed to trick Satan, not once but twice. The first time, he convinced the devil to go drinking with him. Afterward, being too stingy to pay, Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin so he can pay the bill. Once the Devil did so, Jack put the coin in his pocket along with a silver cross, trapping Satan until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.  The Devil agree and off Jack went.

by surrounding the devil with crosses to trap him until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul. Once Jack finally died from drink, he was refused entrance into heaven for his lifetime of sin and denied entrance into hell per his previous agreement with Satan. Satan cast the doomed soul out to wander the world for eternity, with only a single ember, which Jack inserted into a hollowed turnip to light his way. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, and eventually, Jack-o’-Lantern.

stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina
stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina

Poe Sundays

ALONE
by EDGAR ALLAN POE

 

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.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then — in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life — was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Return to Spooky Season – Happy October

oct shadows

October 1st is only a few days away and it’s one big Halloween party all day, every day, around here. This season, I’m encouraging people to do two things, 1) be Green for Halloween, and 2) take the Halloween Pledge, a pledge to practice one old Halloween tradition and introduce a random new tradition into your celebrations this year.

Before I share the schedule of festivities coming in October, I have an exciting new development to report, Halloween Haiku has new message boards! You can access the forum by clicking on the spinning pumpkin on the right sidebar of the home page.

The forum hopefully will be a place where we can have a little fun together.  There’s going to be Halloween trivia, scary movie trivia, along with random chat and silliness, and a special contest on Halloween Day.

pumpdance

Halloween 2019 Schedule 

Monday Macabre

Every Monday, you’ll find spine-tingling haiku so scary, you’ll sleep with the light on

Tuesday Terror

Every Tuesday, we’ll be celebrating the best of horror cinema, dug up from the Hollywood Vaults

Wicked Art Wednesdays

Every Wednesday, I’ll be showcasing art from five of the most brilliant Halloween artists in the industry

Throwback Thursdays

Every Thursday, we’ll share in the memories of vintage Halloween and Halloween traditions

Friday Fright Nightcaps

Every Friday, you’ll find chilling adult cocktail recipes from the other side

Sinister Saturdays

Every Saturday, I’ll be serving up decadent desserts and savory Halloween recipes so sinful, you might need an exorcism on November 1st.

Poe Sundays

Grab a cup of tea, sit back, and read the chilling classics of the Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe

October 31st – Halloween Haiku Challenge

On Halloween day, people will have the opportunity to post their own original, spooky haiku for a chance to win a prize bag, valued over $25 (more details to be announced).

pumpkin line 1


31 Days of Halloween (on Social Media)

Instagram – Halloween Haiku Photo Challenge
Join us in posting cool pics to match the #HalloweenHaikuPhotoChallenge this October.  Don’t worry about missing any days. It’s Halloween, you should be out having fun. You can post anytime, just remember to use: #HalloweenHaikuPhotoChallenge

Halloween Photo Challenge (1)

Twitterween
Halloween Haiku is a proud member of the Samhain Society, and I’ll be happily sharing the Halloween fun and festivities of my fellow community-goers. Everyone has been working so hard and I’m super stoked to join in the celebrations.

Pinterest
Check out our boards for more Halloween fun ideas and inspiration. We’ve got at least 5 new boards!

Wishing you all a fun, safe and memorable, haunting season!

20190928_201329.gif

 

September Seduction

I love a good summer storm. Anyone else? Warm breeze. Dark clouds. Rumbling thunder. Lightning strikes. Can you smell and feel the hot rain?

September is like a good storm brewing. It’s a sexy month. The weather dances the tango with you. The unbearable heat embraces you and swings you around, dizzying your mind, and just when you can’t take it anymore, there’s a cool nip at your nose, keeping you on your toes. You never know what September might be thinking. She’s as tempestuous as the sea, like a wild woman searching for the calm.

September likes to remind us of what we love and who we are. She brings back memories and yearns for new adventures. She makes us lose track of time. We’re constantly dreaming. She sees through the false smiles. She wipes away our summer tears and nudges us to do things that make us feel whole. Do not ignore her.

This is your time. Look out upon the horizon and take in the electrifying light show of last summer storm. Enjoy September. She has so much more to offer than being a pre-month. September doesn’t live in the shadow of October.

September is the lover you wish you could hold onto.

 

The Most Famous Pumpkin Patch Photo in the World

Joel Sternfeld McLean Virginia December 1978
McLean, Virginia, December 1978, ©Joel Sternfeld

blazing orange fire
autumn spoils on the ground
more to the story

I dedicate today’s blog in honor of World Photography Day.

I was immediately spellbound by the imagery of this photo that I stumbled upon over a year ago. A few more clicks led me to a fascinating story about photographer Joel Sternfeld, who one day, came upon this fiery scene in McLean, W. Virginia, and snapped the now-iconic photo.

In the photo, we see a fireman shopping for a pumpkin, while a farmhouse burns in the background, a few hundred yards away. In his arms, the fireman clutches his prize, presumably the best of the bunch. In the foreground, dozens of rotting pumpkins spoil and wither away, in what we could consider, Autumn’s last kiss. Amongst the barren trees, the burning farmhouse roof rages like a fiery inferno, yet, the fireman seems undeterred. On this day, the hero’s quest is not put out a fire, but to pick out a pumpkin.

The photo simply titled “McLean, Virginia; December 1978” was first published for Life Magazine in Fall of 1988. It would later serve as the cover for his 1994 book American Prospects, a visual color chronicle of the life and landscapes of America during in 1980s. For many years, the photo floated around the American consciousness, via magazines and journals, without context. When taken at face value, the photo of an American fireman ignoring his duty to peruse a pumpkin patch is quite flabbergasting, some people thought it so incredulous, they believed the photo was staged.

It was neither.

The truth is, the farmhouse fire was a controlled training exercise and the fireman was on a break. That is the scene that Joel Sternfeld photographed while driving cross-country in his VW campervan, under a Guggenheim Fellowship, looking for America’s truth. He kept mum on the details for decades, until opening up for 2004 interview on photography for the Guardian. In the interview, Sternfeld argues photographers are their own authors, capable of manipulations. They can turn the camera at different angles or leave out parts entirely, and tell whatever story they want to tell. Photography has always been about interpretation. That’s what makes it art. In the article, Sternfeld says,

“No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium. It is the photographer’s job to get this medium to say what you need it to say. Because photography has a certain verisimilitude, it has gained a currency as truthful – but photographs have always been convincing lies.”

For years, the worldwide public has relied on pictures to be evidence and visual aids in understanding. A picture says a thousand words.  But what or whose truth are we seeing?

Darkest Before the Dawn

I’ve been struggling with my writing for several days. Weeks, really. The summer blues have had a strangling hold on me this year. I had several ideas on how I wanted to approach this month’s blog post. At one point, I wrote out a long piece about suffering from summer depression. It read like a book report on Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it had nothing to do with Halloween.  As my deadline came and went, guilt followed, then, the shame of failure set in, and soon, it was hard to write anything at all, not even one of my goofy movie lists.

Group therapy 

I belong to a few Halloween groups around the web, wherever I can find like-minded creatures. Halloweenophiles always seem to find each other. It’s nice not to feel the burden of being the weirdo sometimes. It’s a sure bet, the second Halloween merch hits the stores, people post pictures and store locations. We know how to comfort each other, most importantly, we understand why it’s important to do so, no explanation needed.

it's time
©Sam Heimer

Sensing the buzz, off I went, in search of Halloween, looking for pumpkins, skeletons, black cats, and any sliver of orange and black. My local Michael’s did not disappoint.

Continue reading “Darkest Before the Dawn”