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Hello dVerse Poets!

Sanaa here, (aka adashofsunny) to stir your muses this evening. The sky is pink and the weather outside is cold; the sharp prongs of bare trees are ripping a hole into the clouds. Perfect atmosphere to delve into our subject today.

Gothic Literature is a genre that emerged as one of the eeriest forms of Dark Romanticism in the late 1700s, and developed during the Romantic period in Britain.

In fact, the first mention as pertaining to Literature was in the subtitle of Horace Walpole’s 1765 story “The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story.” Set in a labyrinth Medieval Italian castle, the tale is steeped in the supernatural, romance and murder. The novel merged medievalism and terror in a manner that has persisted ever since.

But what does Gothic mean other than a style of writing that describes strange or frightening events which take place in mysterious places?

Picture courtesy: Gothic Art ~ Séance by Stephan Mackey ~

La Belle Dame sans Merci

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song. 

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Written in 1819, Keats ballad is flavored with none other than the theme of Femme Fatale. “I met a lady in the meads, full beautiful – a faery’s child,” her beauty makes up part of the blazon, a device common to ballads which presents a character’s physical description, particularly women. But as the poem progresses we learn that there is more to the woman than what meets the eye.

Influence on Fiction nowadays:

Gothic Literature has been replaced by horror stories, suspense novels and other contemporary forms that emphasize shock and sensation.

The novel, “Northanger Abbey,” by Jane Austen is a satire of Gothic novels. Published posthumously in 1817, it tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometimes self-delusion.

And in “The Sound and the Fury,” by William Faulkner, we come across the tragedy of the Compson family. Notoriously difficult, the novel takes its title from Macbeth’s reflection that life is “a tale/ told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, /signifying nothing.” It features some of the most memorable characters in literature: beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the man-child Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant.

The year 1816 saw the birth of John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” the first vampire story to be written in English. In The same year Mary Shelley released “Frankenstein,” or “the Modern Prometheus,” which, similar to the vampire figure, saw the macabre horror of raising the dead.

Our next Gothic novel appeared in 1871 with Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” Although influenced by Coleridge’s unfinished poem “Christabel,” Carmilla is influential in its own right. The “deviance” of female sexuality is explicit in this novel, especially by Victorian standards, and paves the way for the vampire as a sexual metaphor.

And what makes a Gothic novel unforgettable? Why, its elements of course! The eight elements of Gothic Literature include, setting in a castle, an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, high and even over-wrought emotion. An ancient prophecy which is connected with either the former or present inhabitants of the castle. Omens, portents and visions. Women in distress and last and but not the least, supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events which take place in the duration of the novel.

The Haunted Palace

by Edgar Allan Poe

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

To understand “The Haunted Palace,” one must understand the context in which it appears. The short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” is one of Poe’s most acclaimed, famous works. It speaks of the fall — literal and figurative — of the House of Usher, an old family in a state of decline. It is narrated from the perspective of Victor Reynolds, a friend of the last heir of Usher who visits to comfort him in his twin sister’s final illness.

“The Haunted Palace,” is a terrifying depiction of insanity. The text depicts a structure that slowly degrades, along with its residents. Just as the house falls apart, so does a mind. Poe sought to draw comparison between these two different structures. It is one of Poe’s most popular Gothic poems.


Picture courtesy: The Nightmare, by J. Henry Fuseli, 1781 Oil on Canvas

Significance of Gothic Literature:

Gothic Literature is rooted first and foremost in invoking human emotion, rather than reason and was created as a darker side of the Romanticism movement in which the explorations of feelings were emphasized.

The emotions particularly invoked were that of awe, fear, wariness and terror, which contrasted sharply with the uplifting ones invoked by Neoclassical themes of art and emotions of happiness, longing, nostalgia, love and sorrow which were often found in mainstream Romanticism. The happier emotions in Gothic Literature are extreme such as elation and frenzied joy.

It is a genre which, through the supernatural, the fantastic and the remote, allows a discussion on everything that has been repressed.

Sources: Definition of Gothic Literature and What is Gothic Literature and why are we still obsessed with it?

For today’s Poetics, I would like you to write a Gothic poem and explore the question: “Which according to you are the deepest, darkest and most concealed of human emotions?”

Once you have created your post, please link up with Mr. Linky widget below. Make sure you visit your fellow poets and comment on their work. I look forward to reading you all and hope you enjoy the prompt.