Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Barchester's Ghosts (Poem)

Barchester's Ghosts
or
The Supernatural Demise of Archdeacon Haynes



Whistle
and I'll come

you
to merry make

a midnight story
tell

before roaring fire
warm

hearts cold kept
spectral

voices louder grow
scream

this evening Christmas
past.

~

You who listen
hear:

In Barchester Cathedral
wood

carvings to life
arose

one black cat
sinister

crouched in spirited
haunts

menacing hooded figure
concealed

ambitious cleric's plan:
Murder!

It be schemed
against

one aged predecessor
cursed

archdeacon Pulteney hanger-on
fate

his demise arranged
his

successor John Haynes
compelled.

~

Plain this story
began

with obituary notice
taken.

From academic honors
orders

holy quick received
precentorship

to cleric Haynes
accorded.

He to archdeaconry
aspired

own Barchester renown
published

sermons elegant penned
defenses

of episcopacy urbane
remembered

too a bachelor
lone

57, young he
died

his odd end
augured

such tragedy appalling
undenied.

~

Abide this introduction
please

flashback this story
quickly

needed facts be
ascertained:

Dr. Black cataloguer
historian

our story's link
espied

what little matter
seemed:

tin box sealed
tight

of diaries details
hid

50 years gone
unknown.

Home Black box
took

its tale within
awaiting

chance for plotting
pieces

Haynes' death to
resolve.

~

Before too far
we

get we pray
thee

notice what's past
surmised:

Archdeacon's diaries historian
discovered

story within story
framed

cleric to career
advance

fashioned single stair-rod
missing.

Aged archdeacon's fall
ensured

his long reign
ended

Haynes himself successor
named.

Church's messy business
discharged

Haynes upon mercy
seat

attention turned thoughts
medieval

clued in misericord
ornate.

~

Haynes' fate fixed
three

grotesques a part
acted

this mystery playing
out

with black cat
vigilant

enrobed monarch ears
pricked

horns curving hands
taloned

muffled mantled figure
flesh

rent its name
proclaimed

King of Terrors
chiseled

from Hanging Oak
roots

sore fed bones
boughs

filled with poppets
rustic

on unleaved branches
hanged

Haynes' Barchester ghosts
collected.

~

Return to tale
digress

no more shadows
descend.

In journals Haynes'
troubles

dark and black
committed

poor cleric's fears
redoubled.

~

In evensong service
Haynes'

hand on carving
rested.

Soft wood it
seemed

till sudden move
unpleasant

felt startled feral
creature

arisen alive head
twisting

in bid to
bite.

Haynes left much
disturbed.

~

Night thickened mystery's
edge.

Alone, his candle
lit

Haynes up stairs
crept.

May I come
in?

lowed voiced greetings
clear

on New Year
heard.

Haynes to room
quickly

repaired locked door
yet

words he heard
urging

sharply Take care!
Cat

black between feet
slipped

but no cat
Haynes

had yet saw
he.

~

Goings and comings
more

such mystery did
deepen.

Taps on doors
voices

no one there.
Suffering

anew with depression
deep

Haynes own undoing
leading

to Barchester Cathedral
stalls.

~

Fall came spirits
rose

spirits felled Haynes'
mind

at evensong experience
reeled.

Hand alight on
figure

carved wood chilly
seemed

but soft turned.
Whisperings

persisted black cat
appeared

on stairs. Dreams
fevered.

Feared taloned hand
felt

Haynes on shoulder
bared.

Prayers prayed for
Christmas

respite from beating
down.

~

Whispers whispered whispering
woke

but unremarked visitors
unprovoked.

Haynes tried firm
set

himself bold to
be.


~

Draw nearer now
Haynes'

story to end
proposed

on 26 February
foretold

came brutal on
stairs

face such fright
ravaged

as by animal
strange

attackers murderous ever
unknown

secrets cloistered dark
preserved.

~

What questions have
you

knowing he, Haynes,
bumped

archdeacon off? Black
swift

to Barchester Cathedral
went

evil to identify
proclaiming

twas death's figures
carved

in Barchester stalls
did

dasterdly deed do.
Haynes

touched alive wood's
spirits

Black knew wood's
source

this mystery's solution
proved.

~

By chance Black
story

made of fragments
pieced.

Wood's owner found
and

Black was paper
given

recounting arms split
from

Death figure revealing
writing:

charm it be
or

spell to remember.
Haynes

his bad dreams
conceived.

~

Paper aloud Black
read

the writing legible
inscribing

words several feared
surprising:

Grew I in
wood

watered with blood
I

in church stand
touch

me a hand
bloodied

you will return
beware

lest fetched away
you

by night shall
be

by every day
especially

when wind blows
high

this February night
dreamed

I this date
death

knocked mark it
26

of second month
of

new year same
year

as Haynes himself
did

die 1699 AD
signed

John Austin carver
he

of Barchester stalls
culled

from Hanging Oak
carved

three figures gripping
strange.
_______________________

M.R. James' atmospheric short story "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" is among a number of ghost stories told round the fire in England. It has been adapted for television numerous times, both in England and in the United States. In the 1970s, it was broadcast as part of the BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas series. It is available in book form and as an audiobook. For those so inclined, an in-depth narrative of the story is here.

My "Barchester's Ghosts" is a humble adaptation of the story in verse, which I've arbitrarily conformed to couplets totaling three words and one, respectively (or vice versa). I offer it in response to poet David Wheeler's challenge to craft for this week's Random Acts of Poetry at The High Calling a poem about Noel Ghosts. The deadline for contributions is December 2, 6:00 p.m. PST.

I also offer this for One Stop Poetry's weekly One Shot Wednesday event. Be sure to visit the site late Tuesday afternoon and evening and every Wednesday for links to the many contributors' "one shot" poems.

16 comments:

signed...bkm said...

Maureen what a tale, I have never heard of it before...it sounds eery and intriguing with lots of twists and turns...thanks for the great introduction to the tale...I will have to watch for it...Nice OSW and more

carlo said...

Whole large world is opened to me here among all these poems. Story here held interest all to the end. Thanks you much.
c

Joyceann Wycoff said...

Maureen ... you are too amazing! What fun this was and it feels like it must have been fun for you.

hedgewitch said...

Turning in his
own

small grave Yoda
is.

(Sorry, too tempting. forgive the joke.) This was seriously fun to read, and very neatly written, atmospheric, using verse with both an historic and modern flavor. I enjoyed it very much.

nance marie said...

i am feeling a bit of a chill.

jen revved said...

This is fascinating- you ever look below the surface of things-- brava! xj

Arts web show said...

This is so cool.
Nice one

senderupwords said...

Maureen, lovely. Just loverly. Great One Shot! Love and Light, Sender

Claudia said...

what a tale - and what an intruiging form - very special (and in case you ever want to print it out, you should take toilet paper - cause you need a whole roll regarding the length...LOL)

sorry - getting serious again - i really, really enjoyed it

betweenhearts75 said...

Never heard of this before either, absolutely fantastic Maureen, had me drawn in with each short line, like a standard book wondering what could happen next! Amazing! ~April

Maureen said...

Claudia, visions of Kerouac, no?

I arbitrarily decided to set the number of lines and words per line, just to see if I could tell the tale in minimalist mode. It required quite a bit of thinking about what words to use. The reaction so far seems to be that I met the dare.

David K Wheeler said...

Epic. Nice.

Steve said...

The tone/language of this is consistent with the 2 or 3 James tales I've read - admirable, enjoyable work.

Pete Marshall said...

wow....that was great...i doth my cap maureen...barchester ghost rings bells to me but i am struggling to recall....even so you wrote a wonderful masterpiece here...cheers pete

dustus said...

Impressive use of form to recount a story I had never heard, which you make sound intriguing. Your poetic retelling not only presents what transpires, it also delves into highlighting the literary devices used in the original. To distill a complex narrative into 4 word stanzas, and have it ring clear, is remarkable. Cheers

Shashi said...

Dear maureen
You have done a wonderful job in a very concise form and so beautifully.. I liked it so much.
Thanks

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Om Namah Shivaya
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