Tag Archives: sanity

“To Horror” by Robert Southey

Southey

Dark HORROR, hear my call!
Stern Genius hear from thy retreat
On some old sepulchre’s moss-cankered seat,
Beneath the Abbey’s ivied wall
That trembles o’er its shade;
Where wrapt in midnight gloom, alone,
Thou lovest to lie and hear
The roar of waters near,
And listen to the deep dull groan
Of some perturbed sprite
Borne fitful on the heavy gales of night.

Or whether o’er some wide waste hill
Thou mark’st the traveller stray,
Bewilder’d on his lonely way,
When, loud and keen and chill,
The evening winds of winter blow
Drifting deep the dismal snow.

Or if thou followest now on Greenland’s shore,
With all thy terrors, on the lonely way
Of some wrecked mariner, when to the roar
Of herded bears the floating ice-hills round
Pour their deep echoing sound,
And by the dim drear Boreal light
Givest half his dangers to the wretches sight.

Or if thy fury form,
When o’er the midnight deep
The dark-wing’d tempests sweep
Watches from some high cliff the encreasing storm,
Listening with strange delight
As the black billows to the thunder rave
When by the lightnings light
Thou seest the tall ship sink beneath the wave.

Dark HORROR! bear me where the field of fight
Scatters contagion on the tainted gale,
When to the Moon’s faint beam,
On many a carcase shine the dews of night
And a dead silence stills the vale
Save when at times is heard the glutted Raven’s scream.

Where some wreck’d army from the Conquerors might
Speed their disastrous flight,
With thee fierce Genius! let me trace their way,
And hear at times the deep heart-groan
Of some poor sufferer left to die alone,
His sore wounds smarting with the winds of night;
And we will pause, where, on the wild,
The Mother to her frozen breast,
On the heap’d snows reclining clasps her child
And with him sleeps, chill’d to eternal rest!

Black HORROR! speed we to the bed of Death,
Where he whose murderous power afar
Blasts with the myriad plagues of war,
Struggles with his last breath,
Then to his wildly-starting eyes
The phantoms of the murder’d rise,
Then on his frenzied ear
Their groans for vengeance and the Demon’s yell
In one heart-maddening chorus swell.

Cold on his brow convulsing stands the dew,
And night eternal darkens on his view.

HORROR! I call thee yet once more!
Bear me to that accursed shore
Where round the stake the impaled Negro writhes.

Assume thy sacred terrors then! Dispense
The blasting gales of Pestilence!
Arouse the race of Afric! holy Power,
Lead them to vengeance! and in that dread hour
When Ruin rages wide
I will behold and smile by MERCY’S side.

Although I love the English Romantic Writers, I confess that I had not read any of Southey’s works before. This poem works well for me though and captures what I find fascinating about the horror genre.

In this poem, HORROR is a dark muse that inspires the writer. HORROR is the source of powerful yet dark emotions and thoughts. Southey describes the various manifestations of HORROR in the physical world. As he meditates on these horrors, he is able to move into the darker nether regions of his psyche and draw poetic inspiration.

What I found the most intriguing about this piece is the way it works as an incantation. Southey is summoning the dark muse, seeking to manifest HORROR before him. He summons HORROR three times, drawing on the mystical power of the number three to bring something into being. For each of these calls, he includes a descriptor: Dark HORROR, Dark HORROR, and Black HORROR. Then Southey does something interesting; he summons HORROR a fourth time.

HORROR! I call thee yet once more!
Bear me to that accursed shore
Where round the stake the impaled Negro writhes.

This kind of puzzled me a bit. Why would he call on the dark muse a fourth time if it has already manifested? My conclusion is that, once HORROR was evoked, the fourth call was to invite HORROR inside his consciousness, to rend his sanity and unlock the hidden realms of his psyche. Once this occurs, he is able to draw artistic inspiration from the darker aspects of his subconscious and express the shadowy beauty that lurks within.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Exposing the Hidden

JekyllHyde

We are all familiar with the story, even if we have not read it. The image of Dr. Jekyll drinking a potion and transforming into the hideous Hyde has become part of our collective psyches. I confess that this was the first time I had actually read Stevenson’s novella, and even though I was familiar with the general story, I found the text itself to be enlightening.

While I noticed quite a lot of interesting symbolism in the text, I figured I would focus on the one that really stood out for me: the hidden part of the human psyche. This is symbolized by Hyde. I do not think it is a coincidence that Hyde is pronounced “Hide.” He represents that part of our consciousness that we want to hide from others, and which we would also like to hide from ourselves. He is the primal part of our being that drives our urges. Try as we may to suppress that part of ourselves, it is always there, just below the surface, waiting for its chance to surge upwards and wrest control.

Early in the story, Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, senses that there is something that Jekyll is hiding something.

And the lawyer set out homeward with a very heavy heart. “Poor Harry Jekyll,” he thought, “my mind misgives me he is in deep waters! He was wild when he was young; a long time ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming, PEDE CLAUDO, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault.”

(p. 19)

In our youth, we have less control over our primal instincts. We are more likely to succumb to our urges and desires, whereas in our later years, most of us have learned how to control that part of our consciousness.

After Hyde commits murder, Utterson confronts Jekyll and asks whether he is concealing Hyde.

“One word,” said the lawyer. “Carew was my client, but so are you, and I want to know what I am doing. You have not been mad enough to hide this fellow?”

(p. 31)

I love this passage because it is essentially a triple entendre. There is the obvious meaning of hide as concealment. Then there is the homonym connection between hide and Hyde. Finally, there is the alternate definition of hide as skin. Jekyll’s skin, or hide, conceals the darker aspects of his consciousness as embodied in Hyde. Considering all the interpretations, it’s a brilliant metaphor.

The transformative potion which Jekyll drinks is referred to as “transcendental medicine.” As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking that this was some form of psychotropic or hallucinogenic drug. Hallucinogens are believed to unlock the hidden parts of our consciousness, or as Blake would have said, open the doors of perception. I suspect that Jekyll’s potion was intended to represent a mind-altering drug that allows the hidden aspects of our consciousness to rise to the forefront.

“It is well,” replied my visitor. “Lanyon, you remember your vows: what follows is under the seal of your profession. And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors—behold!”

(p. 68)

As the dualistic aspects of human consciousness are explored, the assertion seems to be that the primal subconscious is essentially evil and should be subjugated by reason.

…all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

(p. 75)

The following passage incorporates two of my favorite symbols: the crossroads and the doors. Here, the crossroads represent the intersection between the conscious and the subconscious mind, as well as the intersection between good and evil, the two contradictions that are embodied within us. The doors represent the passageway to that hidden part of our psyches, where the darker regions of our consciousness exist.

That night I had come to the fatal cross-roads. Had I approached my discovery in a more noble spirit, had I risked the experiment while under the empire of generous or pious aspirations, all must have been otherwise, and from these agonies of death and birth, I had come forth an angel instead of a fiend. The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition, and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth.

(pp. 75 – 76)

I think the scariest thing about this story is it forces us to recognize that the potential for evil exists within all of us. We like to deny it is there and hide it away, but it is always waiting for the doors to open, to surge up from the depths of our psyches and overthrow our reason. Sanity is fragile, and once it cracks, the hidden crawls forth.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature