A Witch’s Chant for Halloween

Happy Halloween from me and the poet James Hogg (whom Google decided is my twin, in an odd coincidence, which I remembered only after selecting this poem).

James evokes better than I can this night, when the border between this world and the next is blurred, and, even if we are too old to wander the world in costume, we dress up our imaginations in unusual images and wander the strange border country between daydream and nightmare.

From Hogg’s “A Witch’s Chant:”

All is not well: by dint of spell
Somewhere between the heaven and hell
There is this night a wild deray;
The spirits have wander'd from their way.

The purple drops shall tinge the moon,
As she wanders the midnight noon;
And the dawning heaven shall all be red
With blood by guilty angels shed.


Sleep'st thou, wakest thou, lord of the wind?
Mount thy steeds and gallop them blind;
And the long-tailed fiery dragon outfly,
The rocket of heaven, the bomb of the sky.

Over the dog-star, over the wain,
Over the cloud, and the rainbow's mane,
Over the mountain, and over the sea,
Haste - haste - haste to me!

Music Review: Chillingham by Oliver Davis

If Ralph Vaughan Williams were composing today, he might have a style similar to Oliver Davis. When the two sopranos and rhythmic strings of Chillingham first played in my Spotify feed, I had no choice but to stop what I was doing and listen, transported from my sterile white desk in Manhattan to a spring day on the coast of England, striding through a manicured garden towards the ocean.

There’s an elevated purity to Davis’s music that is still rich with emotion. It’s particularly English, in the same way that Wordsworth’s plainspoken but deeply felt portaits of the Lake District are, or the landscapes in the background of Kit Williams’s paintings. The greens are pure, the edges of the world are smoothed, and the charms of the old world are somehow resuscitated.

The location evoked in my first listening is specific. Chillingham is a village near the North Sea in England, and it’s also the title of the poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (grand niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) that Davis set to music.

The words, like the music, are a wish to be transported:

    Strike, Life, a happy hour, and let me live
    But in that grace!
    I shall have gathered all the world can give,
    Unending Time and Space!

Philip Larkin’s “Collected Poems”

Bleak, unrelenting, and full of wit, with a sense of irony that cuts to the bone, something that the Norse would have identified with while sitting around a fire telling stories of Ragnarok. In Larkin you get that deep Northern sadness in the voice of a fussy, overeducated, exquisitely miserable English fuddy-duddy.  To fall in love right away, open it up to “Livings,” or “Church Going” and read aloud.