Lynd Ward, Hand of Creator, Creature, Woodcut
Illustration for Preface of 1934 Edition of Frankenstein*
Mary Shelley Writes in Her Bedroom ~ A Sestina for Halloween
A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine
[. . .] To one on his back in the dark [. . . .]
~ Samuel Beckett, Company
Mary Shelley with her shut eyes conjured
past the midnight witching hour
a gothic tale, full out and stretched,
its signs the life that heart's dark engine sparked,
a monster set free from waking dream
and born by light of waning moon.
On a June night a bright and gibbous moon
so strange did shine on villa Diodati, and she who conjured
fiction before its face had no small waking dream
but large it was, and glimpsed in dreary early hour,
mind bestirring what sleeplessness sparked,
imagination challenging what Mary must have stretched
beyond her young-girl bounds. Through shutters closed a skein of light
taut. From shadows was phantasm birthed, deformed as moon
on this pre-Hallow's Eve. Her monster on a night indoors was
by tales not told before on sailing trips nor quickly conjured
'round lake's shores but rose as bid to rival they who whiled the hour
during nights shut in. The nightmare Mary herself would dream
awake no Byron nor a Polidori penned. Her dream
took time in coming, its outline shaped and molded and stretched
by her alone in a womb-dark room. Uneasy were the hours
Mary spent on tortured vision of a student pale as light of moon
and kneeling at the thing he put together, half-vital, conjured
as supremely frightful, urging what little life its engine sparked.
Mary awakened thus in unhallowed arts, her new-begun novel sparked
a Victor Frankenstein and his fiend. A year it took her, her dream
to gel and write, a modern fable of an artificial Adam, well-
a first for science fiction, too, but mostly just fantastic hopes
long into inhuman frame, so large and hideous to the eyes no moon
was sought to shed its light on face unnatural. And so in that hour
that such quiet reigned was a monster born, and hour following hour
shaped into a story every after-generation reads. What lived sparked
fear and grief and self-reproach, felt love, as if by spell of moon,
and in its loneliness despaired. A Lucifer cast clear of Mary's
revealed us to ourselves in chilling tale writ well, its end, long
into remorse and mourning keen, its darkness known and conjured.
Her imagination sparked in waning light Mary boldly stretched
her tale beyond mere horror, galvanizing in her hideous dream what
and stars no man had conjured: that monster forever famous in ghost-
© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas
* This is one of the marvelous woodcuts of Lynd Ward, 1905 -1985, American artist, that illustrated the 1934 edition of Frankenstein published by Harrison Smith and Robert Haas in New York. (Copies of that edition are available through AbeBooks and other rare book dealers.) To see more of the illustrations, go here or see the video below. Also of interest: Art Spiegelman, "The Woodcuts of Lynd Ward", Paris Review, October 13, 2010.
Sestina explained here.
Also see: Tim Radford, "Frankenstein's Hour of Creation Identified by Astronomers", The Guardian, September 25, 2011.