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Source: William Hilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Keats is definitely one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking of this season, with his Ode to Autumn almost always quoted. But this is also the season of spooks and creepiness, and I came across another of his poems, a very short one, that certainly sent chills down my spine, which makes it another one apt for it is also nearly Halloween. There is a very good (and proper) analysis of this poem, The Living Hand, on Interesting Literature here,exploring its different themes,so do look that up but in this short post, I’m  just planning to stick to the very creepy aspects of this one. 

Keats writes of a “living hand” which, at the moment is “warm and capable“, and thus perhaps comforting, something that one might want to hold. But if that very same hand were on the other side of the tomb, it would have a very different effect. I think the effect is best when you read the full poem, so here it is:

 

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed – see here it is –
I hold it towards you.

 

I know some of the themes associated with the poem (see the Interesting Literature analysis linked above, and this one here), include of course, Keats’ thoughts of his own impending death, and what his fiancee would go through after she loses him. But when I simply read the poem without the context, the image it conjures up for me is very very different. I think of a living person here on earth haunted by a icy hand stretched out from the depths of the underground, reaching out for the living person. That hand stretched out haunts one so much, that one wishes oneself deprived of life (“thine own heart dry of blood“) so as not to be haunted anymore, to be free of that hand that is seeking you out. Though here of course, Keats having addressed the poem to a loved one comes through even without context, for why else would one wish oneself deprived of blood so as to reanimate the one who has gone.

 

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But most chilling for me is the image thrown up by the last part of the poem (“see, here it is–I hold it towards you“), for whether  he means it or not, all it has me thinking of is that icy stretched hand just waiting to pull the living person right into the tomb with it!

 

Have you read this poem before? Or even if you just read it now, what did you think of it? Bone-chilling, or not so much? Any scary, spooky poems that you’d like to recommend?Looking forward to hearing about them!

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4 thoughts on “Chills Down Your Spine

  1. Ooh, that is chilling! Without knowing anything about the background, it read to me like a threat – as if he were threatening to kill himself and warning the person he was addressing that they would feel so guilty if he did that s/he would wish him or herself dead in his place…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting-I never though of it that way- it read more to me (without the context) like a dead hand reaching out for the live one- pulling it in with him. But yes, with the line that directly addresses the loved one, guilt would be an interpretation too.

      Liked by 1 person

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