The Haunting of the Dark Ages
The Haunting of the Dark Ages
A Lyrical Ballad
The castle has laid dead for seven centuries, its mortar corpse unwilling to erode,
The soil on its hillside bronzed with leeched blood, the earth barbed with thorns from an invisible rose.
Not even the wind can be raised here, in this yawning where desolate war wages;
This part of old England has hidden from life since the legendary ‘Haunting of the Dark Ages’.
The heavy door weeps with rot as it shrinks from its frame, the metal hinge bites against the stone wall,
A shaft of light coughs through the dust of seven hundred years, eating into the shadowed bleak, barren hall.
The sun scrambles into the labyrinth of darkness, waking this gallery for the burial of the dead;
The Portrait looms like cancer o’er the stairwell, live eyes blazing like vengeful fire from its head.
The young man has come here on a mission, braves the spine-shivers of this Mock-Beggar Hall,
Blocks his ears from the screams that still sound here, where blood is smeared like doomed writing on the wall.
On the hill here they hung thieves and burned witches, death veils the valley like a porous red flood;
A horror so cruel his skin bleeds it; he’s all but endowed with the hangman’s stained hood…
The ring o’ fire did raise cheers at the clearing, showed up the Devil in the shape of a black goat;
The witch screamed as the cruel hangman’s sardonic knife seared the delicate white of her throat.
He stood back as the high flames engulfed her, gloatingly laughed at her last plaintive cries,
He swigged from his flask: she slumped to the ground – a swirl of mist coiled ’bout the castle portrait’s eyes…
The tenth-grandson down of the malevolent headsman now lifts the haunted painting from its mausoleum on the stairs,
Carries it up to the castle’s windy turrets; raises his arms, throws heavenwards his prayers.
There’s a cold wind, a low moaning all about him: At last, the witch walks out of the flames,
She falls listlessly to her knees before him, lets out a guttural wrench of long held pain.
His smile picks through the hoarfrost of her heartache, with unsteady longing she fingers a lock of his hair;
She takes the hand of the saviour who’s released her at last from the cold climes of limbo’s lost lair.
But when she looks into his soul, deep into his past, she smells her blood on his family’s pride:
She closes her eyes and relives it — the night she was just sixteen and innocent, yet died.
Fronds of resignation churn like blades as she swallows, she nuzzles her nose ‘gainst the velvet curve of his throat;
He’s beguiled when he feels her warm lips there — then feels his scarf twist like a cobra of rope.
She kisses the last breath of her love-mate, then calls forth the ancient mighty flames of old hell;
Soon all that’s left of the castle is rubble… and a haunted portrait where loneliness ever will dwell.
© Carly Dugmore
Wow! Great poem, haunting and evocative.
Thanks, Heather. I wrote it years ago, when I was going through my ballad phase.