CAELICA, #100 (In Night, When Colors All to Black)

In night, when colors all to black are cast,

Distinction lost, or gone down with the light,

The eye, a watch to inward senses placed,

Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,

Where fear, stirred up with witty tyranny,

Confounds all powers, and through self-offense

Doth forge and raise impossibility,

Such as in thick depriving darknesses

Proper reflections of the error be,

And images of self-confusednesses,

Which hurt imaginations only see:–

     And from this nothing seen, tell news of devils,

     Which but expressions be of inward evils.

Here is the ultimate Halloween poem of a certain kind–the debunking or psychologizing kind. Writing in the 16th century, Fulke Greville gives a detailed, analytical explanation of the psychological process that makes people see devils and spooks. At the same time, phrases like “vain alarums,” “witty tyranny,” “thick, depriving darknesses,” and “hurt imaginations” have their own scary color and force, making the poem far more than a witty, detached dismantling. Greville evokes the feeling of uncanny fear, beyond merely rationalizing it. (He accomplishes this within the confines of a sonnet.)

–Robert Pinsky