Clay F. Johnson

Writer | Poet | Pianist | sometime Alpinist | hopeless Romanticist

Ghosts of 1816

Ghosts of 1816

“My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me…I saw the hideous phantasm…and I wished to exchange this ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around…the dark parquet…the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me.”

—Mary Shelley, Introduction to Frankenstein (1831 edition)

Deathlike beneath the cold ray of the moon
Bathing in its sinful silver-white shine;
Enshadowed in the distance as my gloom-
Teased eyes glean over one last sanguine line,
Reading by moonlight in wickedness divine.
Teeming now with thoughts that God may impugn,
I pour the perfumed peridot,
And set imagination loose
In the opalescent louche,
Raising the unhallowed arts in poetic woe.


The sky told a story that haunted me
As the galvanized air lit up with light;
It was a tempest meant so fittingly
To raise Death’s shadowy forms of delight.
And yet who could say that this dreary night
Did not console the ghost-gleamed literati?
The livid hues and shades of death
Inspired the spark of creation,
Infusing life with re-animation
To thick my lab-maddened blood with its stifled breath.


My dark imagination murmurs in
Subtle numbness, a drowsy sense among
Sour smells writhed in softened yellow-grey skin
As moaning escaped its mold-flowered tongue—
To the galvanometer I now clung,
Watching its death-plucked eyes and wrinkled grin.
The drops of the ice-cold drip
Releases the ethereal spirits,
Creating dew-frosted ringlets
From a pontarlier I now lovingly sip.


As I drink I think of Ariel sails,
Sleepless gossamers toward my blonde-haired harlot;
Her cerulean blue eyes bring back tales
Of her sinister-sweet lips, dark scarlet,
Made for the tear-soaked attic of my Gothic Charlotte.
The poetry of swirling herbal trails
Presage my dark seduction:
The green anise that did benumb
My tongue as a bitter drop of laudanum
Brought forth my faery-borne glitter-eyed abduction.


Suddenly, in a conscious memory,
Solemn, serene, in mysteriousness
I gazed upon the ice of Chamonix;
Cheating despair in moonless wilderness,
Musing and anxious in the calm darkness
Upon the peak in awful majesty.
Discovering undiscovered solitudes
On this wind-swept edge—one more step, never,
Yet I wished to fall, and fall forever
Through swift vapors in Nature’s breathless altitudes.


Dark vibrant colors begin to take me,
Jade and emerald gems, light golden hues,
Fragrant oils released, death-white and ghostly,
With blood reds, Veronese greens and lush blues—
An aesthetic paleness in herbal dews
Stirs the madness in chilling melody.
The licorice sweetness I crave
Of delirium and nightmares,
Beckoning for other-worldly cares
From the enviable qualities of the grave.


This elixir of life brings back my ghosts
To roam freely in imagination;
Visions of the spectre-barked dead that toasts
To solemn delights of putrefaction
As breasts with eyes watch with satisfaction.
Bitter wormwood, its herbaceous taste boasts
Of what its poison does to a sweet face,
Twisting in Nature’s poetic madness,
Brooding over Her loveliness
That the sallow effects of Death will one day grace.

© 2019 Clay F. Johnson