Four poems to read on Halloween instead of “The Raven”

Graphic: Emily Foster/Emerald

It’s time to do something scary for Halloween.


Instead of watching a horror movie or searching for clowns, read some poetry. There are plenty of poems and books out there that can send chills down your spine beside Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Skip your old stuffy literature class and find some spooky poems by contemporary and classic poets below. 

Read these with candles lit and some Halloween music playing — or if you’re daring, maybe even in the Pioneer Cemetery. You are in for a good scare or maybe just a good cry when poetry is involved this Halloween.

“Autumn Equinox and the Harvest Moon” by Anne Champion

This poem is about two spooky things: growing up and death. Both of these things are very scary to college students in relatable ways, but they become very real in a poem like this. Instead of cemeteries and funerals, it deals with images of empty playgrounds and full hospital beds. Champion writes,

“Now, the world hurls
itself at us instead.
The sky’s a royal
purple cloak tonight,
draped over the lake
at the old playground”

With every passing midterm bringing us that much closer to the real world, Champion’s poem is an oddly comforting reminder that this stress too shall pass.

“Lanat Abad/The Place of the Damned” by Solmaz Sharif

Solmaz Sharif’s poem might be a more quintessential Halloween poem than Champion’s because of its dark imagery, but the real-life impact still hits home. Sharif, who recently spoke to the Kidd Tutorial program at the University of Oregon, writes political poetry about war and surveillance. Her first book of poetry entitled Look uses terms lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to talk about the human cost of war. “Lanat Abad/The Place of the Damned” twists your gut with lines like:

“Peepholes burnt through the metal doors
of their solitary cells,
just large enough
for three fingers to curl out
for a lemon to pass through.”

Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

For anyone who has read “The Bell Jar” or “Ariel,” Sylvia Plath stands out as a dark but incredibly important figure in American poetry and literature. Her poems deal with depression and death in a twisted, smart manner. Lady Lazarus is frightening because of the way Plath writes about death, comparing it to odd images with her dense wording. She writes:

“Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me.”

Plath articulates her emotional struggles with her own specific poetic cadence. Her visceral poetry seeks to redefine how people perceive death.

Poem [Your breath was shed]” by Dylan Thomas

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is the most similar to Halloween favorite Edgar Allan Poe on this list. Thomas’s poems are full of rich, veiled imagery, with references to monsters and the night. Reading any of Thomas’s longer works is like being shrouded in a velvet cape. It is not grand, but it is all encompassing. This poem is clearly based in a graveyard. Why not read it at Pioneer Cemetery and try to conjure up a monster of your own this Halloween?

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