Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
– Lord Alfred Tennyson
Lord Tennyson was Great Britain’s Poet Laureate under Queen Victoria, and a big fan of mythology. Thus the 1830 scary monster poem, “The Kraken”.
He was also a romantic, a bit of a moralist, and one of the most quoted poets around. Yet W.H. Auden was no fan: “There was little about melancholia he didn’t know; there was little else that he did.”
But many have found Tennyson to be enchanting, giant monsters from the deep notwithstanding.
To find out more about Tennyson, start with Love Without Wings: Some Friendships In Literature And Politics, by Louis Auchincloss (1991, filed in the Lennoxville Library in biography at 920.073). It includes the friendship of Arthur Hallam and Alfred Tennyson.
Hallam’s early and tragic death inspired some masterful poems, including “In the Valley of Cauteretz” and “In Memoriam A.H.H.” Queen Victoria credited that last bit of versifying with helping her cope with the death of her husband.
His Lordship’s poems are in the public domain, and therefore available for free online. They are well worth your time (and the Lennoxville Library has a public computer, as well as free wifi for those with their own smart phones and laptops).
You’ll be able to find the full works from which come some of the most famous lines in the English language:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
And, on war: “Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die.”
But let’s get back to “The Kraken”. The Canadian teacher Dr. Philip Allingham has suggested that “the poem draws its images from the Norse legend of a gigantic sea-monster that supposedly preyed upon shipping off the coast of Norway (and was probably founded on the observation of an enormous cuttle-fish or squid… It was said to be capable of dragging down to the sea-bottom even the largest ships).” The imagery, he writes (at VictorianWeb.org), suggests the Biblical end-times, while also referencing the discovery of dinosaur bones that were dug up just a few years before.
Modern folk might see this Kraken character as an inspiration for American horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s iconic Cthulhu creation.
Lovecraft’s scribbles did not bring him much money or acclaim, even during his most prolific writing years, the 1920s and ’30s: “Lovecraft’s readership was limited during his life, and his works, particularly early in his career, have been criticized as occasionally ponderous, and for their uneven quality,” wrote one critic.
But what does he know?
H.P. Lovecraft is now an acknowledged master of horror. There is very little gore – it’s all atmosphere. Good Reads is especially partial to the terrifying short story “The Rats In The Walls”, the tale of an American who returns to his ancestral lands in the U.K. to discover an evil legacy…
It can be found in the anthology The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Weird Stories, a 2011 collection with an introduction that adds all sorts of fascinating info, and a collection of endnotes to make even the most ardent academic smile happily. You can get Call Of Cthulhu via an interlibrary loan; in fact, run a search for Lovecraft in all Townships libraries (through our website), and you’ll find a collection of novels and stories inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, in English and in French. (You can also find much of Lovecraft’s oeuvre online, at http://www.hplovecraft.com, and audio recordings via www.openculture.com. And here’s a warning: the good guys are invariably white; the bad guys are invariably not.)
To ease the younger set into a Lovecraftian state of mind, the Lennoxville Library has Professor Gargoyle, the first volume in a series (by Charles Gilman, 2012, filed at C-228) set in Lovecraft Middle School. Twelve-year-old Robert Arthur has transferred to a new school, and it is… filled with rats. And has an attic whose entrance Robert can only find every so often. There’s a girl living up there. Maybe she’s a girl. As for his teachers, they might not all be human either….
Flip this book’s cover and the teacher morphs from human to devil, and back again.
Well, not a devil, really. Lovecraft was devoted to science; his creepy Cthulhu monsters were not evil ancient gods feasting on human souls, but rather, horrific alien beings from another dimension (still feasting, however, on human souls).
Young Robert seems to cope rather well with the scary weirdness of his school. But Lovecraft’s adults are not so tough-minded. The terror they encounter invariably drives them mad.
Wait. I feel… what… What? Something is here, with me,
am afraid – very
– Eleanor B r
July 17, 2015