Monday, October 31, 2011

Mary Shelley Writes in Her Bedroom ~ A Sestina

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
        November dream
revealed us to ourselves in chilling tale writ well, its end, long
        coming, stretched
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
        by moon
and stars no man had conjured: that monster forever famous in ghost-
        story hour.

© 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.


Louise Gallagher said...

Oooooh. A ghostly sestina and a bright and gibbous moon.


Brian Miller said...

fascinting...frankenstein has been a favorite for years...and also an inspiration to those that write that our words may outlast us for time to come...

hedgewitch said...

One of my favorite all time novels, and authors, shown here in fine form in a fluent sestina. I just finished my last of four for Samhain, so the form is fresh in my mind, and I like how you've kept this on point despite the discursive nature of the construct, and yet given it just the right flourishes to make it flow naturally."Stretching"--that's a most challenging keyword--well-handled.

waysisdewordgarden said...

That book was a favorite read of mine... and your sestina flows smoothly. Well done.

Chris G. said...

A classic for a seems only fair, no? Curiously, I find a lot of folks today though that find Shelley's Frankenstein as dry, boring, and utterly unengaging...I'm not sure whether to smack them or just scowl them into admitting their preference for Twilight. *shudder*

Charles Elliott/Beautyseer said...

"an artificial Adam" in a novel that "revealed us to ourselves"! Nice. Enjoyed this read!

Beachanny said...

Oh how beautifully constructed, this sestina! You mirror and bring back to life for me that book I read so long ago. The Romantics resurrected and all their poetry with it. I simply loved this. So perfect for the season. Fabulous!

Shashi said...

Dear Maureen...

Its a great verse.. and I could not help but feel the journey... within... without. Perfect.

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
At Twitter @VerseEveryDay

The Orange Tree said...

fabulous verse.

Amena and Simon said...

Oh Maureen what a beautifully construted sestina was in a trance reading it its got to be one of the favorite all time novels ever good olf frankenstein has been a favorite of mine for years again thx for the interesting read