Low Barometer

Listen to Robert Pinsky reading this poem. The English poet Robert Bridges may be best remembered as the champion and protector of Gerard Manley Hopkins, when Bridges was celebrated and Hopkins was obscure. But Bridges was a wonderful poet, with a tremendous command of sound. His “Low Barometer” analyzes our imagining of monsters and phantoms, the horror inventions of Halloween and the movies.

The comparison is beautifully simple: As the barometric pressure of air falls, a storm is unleashed; as controlling psychic pressures fall, primeval violence in the mind is released. Robert Bridges was born in 1844 and died in 1930. (Interesting to compare with the dates of Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939.)


                                                                                   —Robert Pinsky

The south‑wind strengthens to a gale,
Across the moon the clouds fly fast,
The house is smitten as with a flail,
The chimney shudders to the blast.


On such a night, when Air has loosed
Its guardian grasp on blood and brain,
Old terrors then of god or ghost
Creep from their caves to life again.

And Reason kens he herits in
A haunted house. Tenants unknown
Assert their squalid lease of sin
With earlier title than his own.

Unbodied presences, the packed
Pollution and remorse of Time,
Slipped from oblivion re-enact
The horrors of unhouseled crime.

Some men would quell the thing with prayer
Whose sightless footsteps pad the floor,
Whose fearful trespass mounts the stair
Or bursts the locked forbidden door.

Some have seen corpses long interred
Escape from hallowing control,
Pale charnel forms—nay ev’n have heard
The shrilling of a troubled soul,

That wanders till the dawn hath crossed The dolorous dark, or Earth hath wound Closer her storm‑spread cloak, and thrust The baleful phantoms underground.