My Favorite Gothic Poems

"Still life with skull and quill" by Pieter Claesz
“Still life with a skull and a writing quill” by Pieter Claesz

One of the many stereotypes of the gothic subculture involves reading poetry and brooding in a corner. While the brooding isn’t entirely necessary, poetry is a great way to indulge in your daily dose of darkness. Here are just a few of my absolute favorite gothic poems:

1) “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

The works of Edgar Allan Poe were some of my first gateways into the realm of gothic literature. Poe is regarded as a leading patriarch in the American gothic tradition. He helped to popularize the genres of both horror and mystery with his numerous short stories. But for me, the true gothic beauty of Poe resides chiefly in his poetry. Now, I’m sure you’re all familiar with “The Raven,” so I figured I’d introduce you to one of my other favorite poems of his. “Annabel Lee” is a hauntingly beautiful poem about two of Poe’s favorite things: a beautiful woman and death. In fact, many of Poe’s poems and stories involve the death of a beautiful woman, perhaps influenced by the early death of his young wife, Virginia. “Annabel Lee” tells the story of a man and woman who were so in love that the angels in heaven grew jealous and took the woman away. The poem has an ethereal cadence that works beautifully put to music, as in this electro dance cover by one of my favorite musicians, Psyche Corporation:

You can also read it for yourself here.

2) “The Goblin Market” by Christina Rosetti

Another one of my favorites, but I have to warn you—this one’s a long one. If you’ve got the stamina for it, “The Goblin Market” is a delightful narrative poem about the dangers of succumbing to seduction—in this case, the seduction of delicious fairy fruit. The poem tells the story of two innocent golden-haired sisters, who nightly witness the parade of goblin men hawking their wares, calling out, “Come buy, come buy!” One of the sisters gives in, but as you may know, there’s always a price for tasting fairy food. In many ways, the poem is a dark fairy tale like Hansel and Gretel, meant to caution little children. But the poem goes much deeper, with hints of distressing sexual overtones, although it ends on an uplifting note about the power of sisterly love. Read the whole poem here.

Illustration for "The Goblin Market" by Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Illustration for “The Goblin Market” by Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

3) “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This trippy poem was allegedly inspired by an opium-induced vision Coleridge had after falling asleep reading about an ancient Mongol leader. The poem describes the legendary palace of Kubla Khan with the wistful longing for the opulence of the past common in gothic literature. However, the descriptions of ancient opulence are accompanied by rather dark imagery of a “sunless sea” and a “deep romantic cavern.” The poem is brief—Coleridge claims it is only a fragment of the brilliant masterpiece he composed during his reverie—yet, it gives a good impression of the rich imagination inherent in the gothic sensibility. You can check it out here.

4) “We Are Seven” by William Wordsworth

More often known for his joyful poems about the freedom of imagination, Wordsworth delves into the macabre in one of his lesser known poems about one of my favorite topics—the individual’s relationship with death. “We Are Seven” is composed of a dialogue between the speaker and an innocent little girl who doesn’t appear to fully understand death. When the speaker asks her how many siblings she has, she answers that they are seven total, including the two buried in the church yard. The speaker tries to convince the girl that she can’t include the two who are buried, because they are dead. The girl however, continues to insist that she is one of seven siblings. In her innocence, she does not fear death, nor does she view the dead as separate from the living. She continues to hang out with her siblings just as she did when they were alive, knitting, sewing, and taking her meals by their graves. The speaker seems to think there’s something wrong with the girl, but I think our culture could learn a lot from her these days about having a closer relationship with death. Take a look at it yourself and let me know whose side you agree with.

5) “The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Alfred Tennyson

"The Lady of Shalott " by John William Waterhouse 1849-1917
“The Lady of Shalott ” by John William Waterhouse 1849-1917 Source.

“The Lady of Shalott” is another long narrative poem, this time situated in the medieval mythos of King Arthur. Not traditionally regarded as gothic literature, the poem nonetheless is quite dark and centers on the macabre but common Victorian theme of the beautiful dead woman. The story told in the poem is like a darker version of Rapunzel. A beautiful woman is trapped in a tower and she sees a handsome man—Sir Lancelot—outside her window. Unlike Rapunzel, the poor Lady of Shalott does not get rescued by her prince, so instead she must try to rescue herself. Despite the prophecy stating that she will surely die in the attempt, the Lady can endure her prison no longer and makes her escape. As predicted, this does not end well for her, and the poem concludes with Sir Lancelot morbidly commenting on the Lady’s beauty as he sees her corpse floating by. Give it a read here and tell me what you think.

Do any of these poems strike your fancy? What other solemn stanzas do you like to ponder over? Tell me about some of your favorite gothic poems in the comments!

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