Vampiric Poems for Lovers of Gothic Prose
“Like the legend of the living dead, so the origin of the word ‘vampire’ is clouded in mystery. For most readers and authors alike, the vampire is a dark and ominous creature of the woods of Hungary or Transylvania. His name is often believed to be of the same national origin.”
—Katharina M. Wilson in The History of the Word “Vampire”
Vampires have long been portrayed as children of the night. The ancient Greeks believed that redheaded people would become them when they died. They were even accused of spreading the plague in the Middle Ages. Vampirism flourished in European folklore in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century vampires were blamed for another disease: tuberculosis. Vampires became emblematic of Gothic and grotesque literature. There are countless short stories and novels that feature vampires—but what about poetry? Below are four vampire poems to read if you are a lover of Gothic prose.
“Lenore” by Gottfried August Bürger (excerpt)
Up rose Lenore as the red morn wore,
From weary visions starting;
“Art faithless, William, or, William, art dead?
‘Tis long since thy departing.”
For he, with Frederick’s men of might,
In fair Prague waged the uncertain fight;
Nor once had he writ in the hurry of war.
And sad was the true heart that sickened afar.
The Empress and the King,
With ceaseless quarrel tired,
At length relaxed the stubborn hate
Which rivalry inspired:
And the martial throng, with laugh and song,
Spoke of their homes as they rode along.
And clank, clank, clank! came every rank.
With the trumpet-sound that rose and sank.
“Lamia” by John Keats (excerpt)
Upon a time, before the faery broods
Drove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods,
Before King Oberon’s bright diadem,
Sceptre, and mantle, clasp’d with dewy gem,
Frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns
From rushes green, and brakes, and cowslip’d lawns
The ever-smitten Hermes empty left
His golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft:
From high Olympus had he stolen light,
On this side of Jove’s clouds, to escape the sight
Of his great summoner, and made retreat
Into a forest on the shores of Crete.
For somewhere in that sacred island dwelt
A nymph, to whom all hoofed Satyrs knelt;
At whose white feet the languid Tritons poured
Pearls, while on land they wither’d and adored.
Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont,
And in those meads where sometime she might haunt,
Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse,
Though Fancy’s casket were unlock’d to choose.
You who, like the stab of a knife,
Entered my plaintive heart;
You who, strong as a herd
Of demons, came, ardent and adorned,
To make your bed and your domain
Of my humiliated mind
– Infamous bitch to whom I’m bound
Like the convict to his chain,
Like the stubborn gambler to the game,
Like the drunkard to his wine,
Like the maggots to the corpse,
– Accurst, accurst be you!
I begged the swift poniard
To gain for me my liberty,
I asked perfidious poison
To give aid to my cowardice.
Alas! both poison and the knife
Contemptuously said to me:
“You do not deserve to be freed
From your accursed slavery,
Fool! – if from her domination
Our efforts could deliver you,
Your kisses would resuscitate
The cadaver of your vampire!”
“The Vampire Bride” by Henry Thomas Liddell
“I am come—I am come! once again from the tomb,
In return for the ring which you gave;
That I am thine, and that thou art mine,
This nuptial pledge receive.”
He lay like a corse ‘neath the Demon’s force,
And she wrapp’d him in a shround;
And she fixed her teeth his heart beneath,
And she drank of the warm life-blood!
And ever and anon murmur’d the lips of stone,
“Soft and warm is this couch of thine,
Thou’lt to-morrow be laid on a colder bed—
Albert! that bed will be mine!”
If you enjoyed these vampiric poems, I would recommend the following for further reading: “Oil and Blood” by William Butler Yeats, “Thalaba the Destroyer” by Robert Southey and “The Bride of Corinth” by Johann Goethe.